Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne opens his heart in retirement letter: 'It just meant everything to me'
In a dark Bridgestone Arena, there was just one spotlight.
Surrounded by cheering fans and teammates, an emotional Pekka Rinneskated across his home ice for what would be the final time in pads.
Rinne announced early Tuesday morning via an open letter with The Players' Tribune that he is retiring from the NHL after an epic 15-year career with the Nashville Predators.
The long-time goalie opened up about his career in Nashville, looked back on some memorable stories and his decision to retire.
He alluded to that night in May 2021, not knowing in the moment when he took the ice against the Carolina Hurricanes whether that game would be his last. It was, and it was a "movie-like" ending for a career that brought a boy from Finland to Nashville and made it his home.
"Skating around and hearing the fans' cheers for me," Rinne wrote. "It just meant everything to me."
'HECK OF A CAREER': Pekka Rinne retirement announcement brings flood of memories, well wishes
'One big family'
Rinne was born in Kempele, Finland, before coming to North America to play hockey in the NHL. The Predators selected him in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Draft, never letting him leave Nashville.
The goalie referred to the organization as "one big family," recalling a story about how much time and effort Nashville's scouts spent with him. Their belief in an "over-age, potential late-round pick" motivated and drove him, and he remembers how strong it really was.
"There’s so much more to it than trades and picks and signings," Rinne wrote. "It’s about building a family. And that’s what’s happened here in Nashville."
'We turned Nashville into a hockey town'
Rinne said he has no regrets, he still thinks about the 2017 Stanley Cup run. The franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise's 19-year history, the Predators fell two games short of lifting the Cup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That postseason, he had a 14-8 record, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Even though the franchise had never been there and was considered underdogs, Rinne learned a lot about Nashville that year. Especially in its series sweep over the Chicago Blackhawks, a series that, according to Rinne, put Nashville on the hockey map.
'It means as much to me as any banner'
Rinne retires with a Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best goalie, and a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to a player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made noteworthy contributions in his community.
In 2018, Rinne finished 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA, .927 save percentage and eight shutouts, making way for his first Vezina Trophy after finishing runner-up in 2011 and 2015.
Among Rinne's humanitarian contributions in Nashville, he partnered with former teammate and captain Shea Weber with the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund, raising money and awareness for cancer research. Since its conception in 2012-13, the fund has donated more than $3 million to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
"The impact the Predators organization helped us make in the community," he wrote. "It means as much to me as any banner hanging in the rafters at Bridgestone."
'Nashville, I will remember that feeling for the rest of my life'
Though Rinne won't be goalie for Nashville any longer, he says he's leaving the goal in good hands with his predecessor Juuse Saros.
He said he'll miss the fans and believes he could continue playing physically, but mentally and emotionally he was ready to move on. With his fiancée, Erika, and his 6-month-old son, Paulus, Rinne plans to stay around the city for the long-term.
"It’s the right time," he wrote. "All I can say is thank you, and I’ll see you again."