Warm welcome for Mattias Ekholm
1 month ago
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm knew facing the Nashville Predators tonight was going to make for an emotional day and he was right.
Ekholm, a clean-cut kid from Borlange, Sweden when he first arrived in Music City during the 2011-2012 season after being taken in the fourth round, 109th overall, of the 2009 Entry Draft by Nashville, didn’t have to wait for puck-drop for his feelings to get stirred up.
When Ekholm, 33, who played 719 games in Nashville silks before the Oilers acquired him last spring, walked into Bridgestone Arena for today’s pre-game skate, he walked right into the arms of Craig Baugh. Baugh, known by everybody around the rink and the NHL as Partner, has been a fixture as Nashville’s visiting dressing room attendant since the Predators entered the league to start the 1998-99 season.
As people like Ekholm who’ve come to know Partner will attest, when he hugs you, you aren’t loosening that grip until he decides to let you go. I saw that a time or two over the years after the Preds joined the NHL with Barry Trotz behind the bench. This morning it was Ekholm’s turn to get the grip.
WHAT HE SAID
May 3, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) warms up before the start of game one of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
“It’s going to be special,” Ekholm said before the Oilers jetted to Nashville. “It’s been a big part of my life, it’s been a big part of my family’s life, two of my three kids were born there, and I have a lot of great memories — success, failures all that stuff. I think it’s just the people around the rink, the guys in the parking lot, coaches, management, fans all that stuff, it’s going to be really special.”
Word is the Predators will pay tribute to Ekholm tonight, although I haven’t heard exactly what form that’ll take. What Ekholm and the Oilers want more than anything is a win and two points as they face the Predators at 0-2-0. That said, Partner provided a great start to the day that Ekholm won’t soon forget.
“I don’t have any idea what it’s going to be like,” Ekholm said. “I’m going to try to be even-keeled, and at the same time, let it be emotional, let it be special. I’m sure it’ll be something I’ll never forget. It’s something that I’ll try to manage as much as possible because we need the win as well.”
In hockey as in any walk of life, relationships formed over many years endure even when the realities of the game, like the trade that brought Ekholm to Edmonton, see people go separate ways. That scene with Partner is another reminder of that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The guys that really make your team are the trainers and your everyday personnel that’s always there no matter what,” Ekholm said.
“They’re there for you and try to support you and try to make your life as easy as possible to help you play at your best, everything from equipment managers to strength and video coaches, medical staff and everybody. I’m sure it’s going to bring back a lot of memories and those are the kind of people you look forward to meeting as well.”
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