Kimmo Timonen and his wife Johanna noticed their recent drive around Nashville took a bit longer than it would have 10 years ago.
“It looks like a different city; there are buildings coming left and right and there’s actually traffic on the road,” Timonen laughed. “It wasn’t that bad when I was here.”
Roadway congestion aside, Timonen, who was in town for the Nashville Predators Alumni Game on Feb. 27, recalled plenty of fond memories of the city in which he spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career.
An original Predator, and captain of the club in 2006-07, Timonen is now retired. The former defenseman won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season to finish out his NHL career, one that spanned 16 seasons and over 1,100 games, but Music City will always hold a special place in his heart.
“My career started here in 1998, and who knows, without his team, this city, these fans and the whole organization, who knows where I would be today if it weren’t for my start here in Nashville?” Timonen said prior to the Alumni Game. “My eight years here were so special, from the time my kids were born here, and we had such a good memories from this town and this organization and the fans.”
Cliff Ronning, who spent four seasons of his career in Nashville beginning in 1998, was also among the attendees for the game. The former winger played 301 games for the Preds through 2002 and remembers those early years fondly.
“The biggest thing is the way the fans just really embraced our team and how our team grew, through [Predators General Manager] David Poile explaining to us that we needed to get out in the communities and talk to the kids and go play road hockey,” Ronning said. “It definitely made a difference that we, as a group being the earlier players, put a lot of hard work into the communities to really love the game that we love, and it shows now. The passion for the game here is special.”
Both Timonen and Ronning enjoy seeing the progress and growth Nashville has made since their time in the city, remarking on the vibe, a unique character that they haven’t found in other towns.
“When we first came here, it seemed like a young city and now it’s all grown up,” Ronning said. “It’s fun to see how it’s been developed because it’s been developed so well. It’s a warm feeling when you come into downtown Nashville and you feel safe, there’s just so much going on here and with the country music, that’s just an added bonus to the whole process.”
“This city is growing and that’s a really good thing,” Timonen said. “You see people on the street, the live music and you miss that atmosphere. It’s a really nice atmosphere and this rink and this organization have a special place in my heart.”
As players who were here from the very beginning, Ronning and Timonen are well aware of the progress the franchise, and the city, has made from the first puck drop. Even if there are a few more cars on the road, the return to Music City is worth it to recall how they were able to transform Nashville into a hockey town.
“The best memories are just how generous and how easy it is to talk to the people and the fans in Nashville,” Ronning said. “That’s something that I’ll never forget, just the kindness of the people of Nashville; it’s special.”