An Interview with Nadia Popovici, the Hero Behind the Bench

The Jan. 4 edition of the Morning Skate newsletter featured an interview with Nadia Popovici, the 22-year-old med student and Seattle Kraken fan who was tracked down by the Vancouver Canucks after tipping off the team’s assistant equipment manager regarding a concerning growth on his neck. Since being identified and recognized for her laser-eyed alertness and care, she got a chance to meet the man she saved, received a $10,000 scholarship and made headlines globally (from “Hockey Fan Spots Cancerous Mole at Game and Delivers a Lifesaving Note,” Eduardo Medina, New York Times 01/02/22).

Needless to say, it’s been quite the whirlwind for Popovici since the Canucks and Brian “Red” Hamilton initially took to social media to seek her out on New Year’s Day. Still, she took the time to answer my questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of the newsletter, we had to cut a significant portion out.

Here is the full, uncut interview:

Question: So many people have remarked on your incredible awareness in detecting Brian’s mole amidst so much chaos and excitement. Are you always on high alert when it comes to helping others?

Answer: “As a crisis intervention specialist at a crisis hotline, I am in the unique position in that I am constantly surrounded by stories of tragedy, sadness, and pain (both mental and physical). I often need to be the one making difficult decisions and having hard conversations amongst chaos, a skill that I have built up over time. The energy on that first game night [on Oct. 23] was palpable and things were very much hectic on both the rink and amongst the crowd.”

“Rather than being on high alert throughout the game, I would describe it more as being able to shut everything else out and focus on the decision at hand. My difficult decisions here were 1. Should I trust my split second observation and believe that this is a concerning mole, 2. How can I bring this up to a stranger in a private and sensitive way, and 3. Should I even be bringing this up in the first place? I thank my job for giving me the skills I needed to finally act upon these questions.”

Q: We love the Kraken headwear! Any story behind it? Also, why Brandon Tanev’s jersey?

A: “Thank you! People absolutely LOVE the crocheted hat as much as I do! It’s actually my mother’s hat that she sought out specifically to show her Kraken pride! She found it on Etsy and it was sold by the “cardinalmooncrochet” shop! Brandon Tanev is easily my favorite player not only for his skills on the ice (TURBO TANEV!), but his spirit that is so electric. I think the fans naturally gravitate towards him and his personality and I fell into his trap as well!” (from “The rise of ‘Turbo’: How Brandon Tanev became the Seattle Kraken’s cult figure,” Ryan S. Clark The Athletic, 11/03/21)

Q: During the home opener, you got a stick from the Canucks. Where is that stick now?

A: “That hockey stick was one that was broken during that first game! It’s a stick from the player, J.T. Miller. The reason I got it was because I am also a Canucks fan, being Canadian American, and so I was smiling at the Canucks staff and players the entire game.”

“I ended up making eye contact several times with a staff member (not Red), and at the end of the game, he pointed to the broken stick and asked me if I wanted it. Of course, I was freaking out and was SO excited so he handed it to me over the plexiglass! It now is hanging up in my room attached to the wall. That was such an unforgettable moment.”

Q: It seemed like an emotional night for you and Brian on New Year’s Day. Does any moment stand out in particular?

A: “As much as I could talk about the scholarship, and getting a private tour of the Climate Pledge Arena, and countless other moments from that night, the most impactful moment for me was being able to FaceTime Red’s partner and 13-year-old daughter. Red requested for this to be done without cameras or recordings and I’m so glad he said that because it was such an intimate, emotional moment that I will cherish.”

“I got to hear what an incredible father and man Red is and hear how this scary but relieving news felt to his closest family. Everything up to that moment felt like a daze of interviews and questions but that FaceTime brought me back to reality. His family and mine are now all connected and planning future dinners and meet ups once COVID protocols lift. It’s baffling how in one day, Red went from a stranger to family to me.”

Q: Thanks to Brian, you’ve obviously now got a special connection with the Canucks. Are there any torn allegiances between your teams?

A: “I have basically been a Canucks fan from birth thanks to my mom who is the most hardcore fan I know. She would road-trip for hours up to Vancouver in college with her two friends just to watch games and then drive back to America in the same day. She passed down the Canucks love to me and so we were extremely torn when we heard Seattle was going to have the Kraken team.”

“That first game night, we sat in her room and debated whether we should wear our Kraken or Canucks jerseys but ultimately decided to support the Kraken in their inaugural game. After this story, I don’t feel torn, I actually feel very unified as I feel many fans on both sides feel right now. This story has brought both teams together and certainly it has made me love both of them even more. How could I pick now?”

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Q: With your medical volunteer experience and now a $10,000 start towards further education, what are your plans for school?

A: “So I graduated from undergrad in 2019 from the University of Washington in Seattle and then I took a couple of years off to work as a certified nursing assistant and at the crisis hotline until applying to medical school this past year (2021). I was lucky enough to get into a couple of medical schools but I have not made my decision on where I want to go yet. I need to make that decision by April so I have a few tough months ahead of me!”

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