Pekka Rinne wins NHL's 2021 King Clancy Trophy for efforts in Nashville community
Pekka Rinne's best friend is 56 years old.
The Nashville Predators goalie met Mike Maguire many moon ago, along with former team captain Shea Weber, as part of the "Best Buddies" program they started in 2011-12.
Rinne, then the budding hockey king of Nashville, was in his seventh season as an NHL goalie, his fourth as a regular starter. Maguire was a 47-year-old Predators fan with Downs Syndrome who happened to win four tickets to a Predators game.
A friendship, born then, and still strong now, was born.
Now the two share more than a friendship. They also share an award.
Rinne won the NHL's 2021 King Clancy Trophy on Monday.
The award is given to a player who has exemplified "leadership on and off the ice and who has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."
Rinne's honor included a $25,000 donation by the NHL to the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund, which works with Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to raise funds and awareness.
"He truly is my best buddy," Rinne said Monday night. "He's also Shea Weber's best buddy. I feel like I'm a part of their family. It's been special. I wanted to mention him. I'm hoping he's seeing some of these clips somewhere. I love him a lot. Everybody in Nashville knows him and I'm proud to be his buddy."
Rinne went on to say there are many more people responsible for his love for the city, so many who have "impacted me."
"We've raised over $3 million," Rinne said. "... It's amazing, and just being a part of it has been truly special."
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rinne led an initiative to help provide free meals and coffee to front-line workers.
Another Rinne fan, Predators general manager David Poile, also had kind thing to say about Rinne, who has spent his entire NHL career in Nashville.
“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.”
The 38-year-old Rinne's Predators contract expired after this past season, resulting in a memorable regular-season finale that took the form of an emotional sendoff for the franchise legend.
Rinne has said he would weigh his options this offseason in regard to possibly retiring or pursuing an opportunity to continue his playing career in his native Finland.
"It goes way deeper than just hockey," Rinne said. "It's a relationships, it's helping people. Being part of the community. Mike Maguire, it's a true friendship. We're going to be friends for the rest of my life. ... You get to be part of people's lives, and in some cases you get to touch their lives. It's a special feeling."
Email Paul Skrbina at pskrbina@tennessean and follow him on Twitter @PaulSkrbina.