The Nashville Predators will hit the ice for their first game of the 2021-22 season in 44 days. However, the team will look different than in seasons before. Key players who suited up in gold for their entire NHL careers will be missing. One of the biggest losses – on and off the ice – is long-time goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The former face of the franchise announced he was hanging up his skates during a press conference on July 13, 2021. The Finnish goaltender has been Nashville’s starter since the 2008-09 season and helped the team to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2017. His career has been filled with highlight-reel moments. Here’s a look at the best of Rinne.
#10. First NHL Win
Rinne’s first win was on Dec. 15, 2005, in a home game against the Predators’ division rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The young goalie suited up for this first NHL game and made 35 saves to secure the 5-3 victory.
Before his NHL debut, Rinne played most of the 2005-06 season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (AHL) and earned a save percentage of .904. He was only called up to the NHL twice during that season and it wasn’t until 2008-09 that he became a Panthers regular.
#9. NHL’s All-Time Leader Among Finnish-Born Goaltenders
On Nov. 21, 2018, the Predators beat the St. Louis Blues, and Rinne secured his 320th career win to become the all-time leading Finnish goaltender. His idol, Miikka Kiprusoff, previously held the title with 319 career wins. The home team beat their division rival, 4-1. Rinne made 28 saves and played a perfect second and third period.
“A long time ago it wasn’t even close to being on my mind,” Rinne said after his team’s victory over the Blues. “[Kiprusoff] was well ahead of me and playing at a very high level when I was just trying to battle my way into the league. These are the things that you’re not focused on, but it’s pretty cool. When you’re fortunate and stay in the league a long time you’re going to face some milestones. This one, for sure, it’s a cool one.”
#8. A Predators’ Franchise Leader
The Nashville franchise has been in the league for 23 seasons, and Rinne played for the organization for the last 17 of them. He holds every franchise goaltending record, and he’s the only Predators goaltender to play in a Cup Final. It’s a matter of time before his number hangs from the rafters at Bridgestone Arena.
“For years, Pekka has been the face of our franchise on and off the ice,” general manager David Poile said. “The role he played in making the Predators organization into something so much more than just a hockey team cannot be understated, and what he means to our team and community makes him one of the most special players and people you’ll ever meet. It’s cliché of what you would want from your best players, but Pekka gave us a chance to win in every single game he played and led our team during the most competitive era of our franchise. While we will miss his talent and leadership in our locker room, we want to congratulate him and his family on an exceptional career, and we’re all looking forward to seeing him continue to make a positive impact on our community in the years to come.”
#7. 300th Win at Bridgestone Arena
It is always special when a player reaches a milestone in front of their home crowd. On Feb. 22, 2018, Rinne became the 34th goaltender in NHL history to win 300 career games after Nashville beat the San Jose Sharks by an impressive score of 7-1.
During an on-ice interview with Kara Hammer, Rinne took a few seconds to answer what it meant to him. He took it all in before saying how emotional and fortunate he was:
“Right after the game, I got a pretty cool reaction from the crowd,” Rinne said after the game. “I really appreciate it. You don’t really set that kind of goal for yourself, how many wins you hope to win in your career. It’s a lot of wins. I’m proud of it. Being here for a long time, playing for really good teams and winning hockey; I think that’s the biggest factor in my success. I didn’t want to cry, to be honest with you…[It was] the crowd’s reaction. In those moments, you take a look back. It’s a lot of things.”
#6. 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund
Rinne co-founded the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund along with former Predators’ captain Shea Weber. During his time in Nashville, he was dedicated to the community and won the King Clancy Trophy in his final NHL season awarded “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice.”
Since its inception, the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund has donated more than $3.3 million towards cancer research. During the pandemic, Rinne communicated with young patients via scheduled weekly zoom calls. In Nov. 2020, he presented a check for $365,000.20 to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
#5. His First Goal
In life, when you get a shot, you have to take it. That is exactly what Rinne did when his team played the Blackhawks on Jan. 9, 2020, and became the 12th goaltender to score a goal in NHL history. After a few attempts throughout his career, he finally lit the lamp at the United Center.
“I obviously understand that it might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I really enjoyed it,” Rinne said with a smile after the game. “It was an awesome feeling, seeing the puck go in. To be honest with you, I thought it was curving left a little bit, and then it took a little correction and it ended up in the middle. And then, I’m like trying to see, and then [defenseman Roman Josi] and [forward Nick] Bonino, they were going nuts.”
#4. King Clancy Memorial Trophy
“I view the King Clancy Memorial Trophy as a lifetime achievement award of sorts, and Pekka winning this year is totally reflective of what he has done on the ice, but equally, if not more importantly, what he’s done off the ice in our community,” Poile said in a statement. “For years, and for good reason, Pekka has been the face of our franchise and our most popular player. This is shown by the countless hours he’s spent working to make our community a better place and the sacrifices he’s made to make the lives of everyone around him better. Pekka is completely deserving of this honor, and our organization couldn’t be happier for him,” (from ‘Pekka Rinne wins NHL’s 2021 King Clancy Trophy for efforts in Nashville community,’ The Tennessean, 06/14/21).
He became the first Predators player to take home the honor since the award was introduced in the 1987-88 season. On top of his work with the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund, he is also involved with “Feed the Frontline” fund, which provided meals to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
#3. Vezina Trophy Triumph
For Rinne, four times’ a charm. After being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy – awarded to the league’s best goaltender – in 2011, 2012 and 2015, he took home the hardware in 2018. He received 47 more votes than runner-up Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. During the 2017-18 season, he finished with 42 wins, including an impressive 11-game win streak, and he led all goaltenders with 8 shutouts.
If not for his outstanding play between the pipes, Nashville would not have won the Presidents’ Trophy.
#2. 2017 Stanley Cup Final Appearance
There’s no guarantee a player will win the Stanley Cup in their career, and it should be considered an accomplishment to reach the Cup Final. In 2017, the Predators faced the defending Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins but lost in Game 6 on home ice.
The true victory of the Predators’ Cup Final appearance was seeing Smashville come to life. Fans were treated to a free outdoor concert by Alan Jackson, and the city shut down Broadway for the celebration. National Anthem singers included Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Martina McBride. An estimated 100,000 fans swarmed Bridgestone Arena to root for a city located below the Mason-Dixon Line who embraced their hockey team.
#1. Take a Final Lap
It was a finale fit for a king. On May 10, 2021, Rinne led his team onto the ice for the last time. The Predators faced the dominant Carolina Hurricanes in the last game of the regular season, and after sixty minutes, the home team was celebrating a 5-0 win after Rinne secured his 60th career shutout.
Rinne’s teammates swarmed him after the buzzer before telling him to take a few minutes to enjoy the moment. The home crowd changed “Pekka!” as the Finnish goalie took his final lap around Bridgestone Arena.
“I never wanted it to be about me… but I truly appreciate what happened tonight. I haven’t made any concrete plans about my future. But if it is [my last], I’m pretty happy. When that day comes, I’ll be looking back at what happened [tonight]. We still have bigger and better things ahead,” said Rinne after the game.
Rinne is a class act and will always be a staple in the Nashville community. A Stanley Cup Final appearance was the icing on top of a decorated career. His presence in the locker room and the city will be cherished and missed. He left big shoes for Juuse Saros to fill, but thankfully, he learned from one of the best.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettosBlog and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.