A blue cap, a white T-shirt, jeans. The Nashville Predators’ tallest player showed up to his retirement press conference at Bridgestone Arena as if he had just remembered it was today.
To all those who wonder why Pekka Rinne is so special, so deeply loved: this is why.
It’s not that Rinne refused to dress for the occasion. It’s because it didn’t even occur to him that this was such an occasion.
He answered questions on Tuesday for about 30 minutes on camera. Then he just dragged off the camera, shaking hands, taking pictures, greeting staff and whoever was there. Rinne couldn’t know all these people. Of course, treated them like he did, however, that they were the only thing that mattered.
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For them, for you, Rinne has all the time in the world. This day was no different. It would have been the same last Tuesday or the one before.
It’s just Pekka, as always.
“Off the ice, just an ordinary man. Just a man of the people, ”he said. “I feel like this is who I am.”
His “common man” line received laughs in the room as soon as Rinne said it. The goalkeeper timidly realized he had uttered the equivalent of a cheesy campaign slogan.
But hey, everyone understood what he meant.
Because it was true, and perfectly. Ask anyone. While you can never really know what someone looks like, Rinne opened that door without seemingly knowing he was doing it. He never took on airs. He never acted like he was famous, although he has undeniably become one. The perfect teammate and person, not just a great goalie, but someone who would keep you on the phone just to talk, just because they enjoy conversation.
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Here in Nashville, we’ve been fortunate enough to find out – and to know it long before Rinne’s inevitable exit on Tuesday. Anyone who follows hockey has seen the importance of his career and his accomplishments. But here, that inevitable day was always going to be more than that.
Man of the people.
“Who’s not going to miss Pekka?” Said Managing Director David Poile.
Rinne may have been born in Finland, but the athlete who stepped down on Tuesday was – and will continue to be – celebrated like no Predators player before him. Middle Tennessee is beside himself – for the first time, really – on the retirement of a hockey player.
The proverbial Mount Rushmore of sports figures in Nashville, questionable as it will continue to be, has not included the Predators so far.
Our relatively young NHL franchise – despite all the jokes about its excessive love of banners – didn’t pull out a jersey number. Because no one has been near. That is obviously changing now that Rinne and his No.35 are retiring after 15 years, 683 games, 369 wins, a Vezina Trophy, several all-star appearances and a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
In hockey alone, Rinne would be a Predators legend.
But all on top of that makes him a Nashville legend.
“He’s Nashville’s most important athlete since he’s been here,” said Poile. “The influence he had on the franchise. … The sale of hockey as a sport in Nashville. Combine that with what he does in the community, there’s no one who matches that combination for what Pekka has meant and done for the Nashville Predators and the city.
If Rinne had wanted to continue playing for the Predators, he could have. Poile told him he would re-sign him for next season.
Rinne is also thinking about it seriously. But he would have turned 39 as a replacement for Juuse Saros and with his newborn son at home. In the end, Rinne’s decision made sense. Poile wanted him to come back, but even he admitted that, “Now is the right time.”
“A lot of times, unfortunately, it never ends up the right way with the players,” Poile said. “’They should have been a year older’ or ‘An organization did not treat them properly. I guess what I mean is they didn’t go out on their own terms, and Pekka is out on her own terms.
“It’s fantastic. He wrote the script and he signed.
Rinne’s last title as a playing member of the Predators – even after that wonderfully emotional stoppage in the regular season finale – was somehow even more fitting. He won the 2021 King Clancy Trophy, essentially the NHL equivalent of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, through his work in the community. It goes back years.
Man of the people.
We knew that, but the longer Rinne stayed in that press conference room on Tuesday – seriously, do we even know if he’s gone yet? – the more it became obvious:
It was special.
And Nashville had the best, man. The stuff most haven’t seen, jeans pieces and a white T-shirt.
See you soon and a tip of the hat, Pekka Rinne.
It was a pleasure.
Contact Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.