The Nashville Predators may have had a disappointing playoff exit, but the organization and its fans still had some fun with a different sort of tournament.
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was among 60 NHLers nominated for the EA Sports’ NHL 13 cover vote. After Rinne beat out teammate David Legwand in the first round of voting, the Vezina Trophy finalist went on to beat the likes of Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, New York’s Henrik Lundqvist and Islanders forward John Tavares.
That left Rinne in the final round against Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, which ignited an intense week-long voting period that ended on Monday. The last update EA Sports gave was that Rinne had “barely” taken the lead over Giroux with just a few hours left in the voting.
The results won’t be released until June 20th at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas.
Predators COO Sean Henry explained, “It’s almost like making the big dance in the NCAA; you get your brackets and you look at your team and you’re playing North Carolina in the first round, and if you win you play Duke and then Kentucky. That’s what ours was like.
“We opened up against Chicago – it doesn’t matter who the players are; you’re playing Chicago – and then you look at it and realize we’re going to face New York. We beat Chicago, we beat New York twice, which is really incredible.”
Over 25 million votes were casted in the two-month voting period. Henry was active in the voting leading up to Monday night’s deadline, and so were the rest of his co-workers in the team’s offices.
“For us we said ‘Let’s attack this and have some fun with it,’ because it would allow us to further engage with the fan base,” Henry said. “Within our walls I underestimated what it would mean. Our employees were having more fun than they were having for a while.
“Internally it was a lot of fun; externally it gave us a platform to have fun about hockey in a time when other teams aren’t.”
The organization’s campaign to get Rinne on the cover took on a life of its own once the final round started. They put together a video calling Rinne the “Most Interesting Goalie in the League,” a spinoff of the popular Dos Equis beer commercials. They shared campaign signs around town with local businesses and were aggressive in promoting Rinne hourly on Twitter and Facebook throughout the week.
Rinne has made enough highlight-reel saves in recent years to be a household name amongst hockey fans around the league, despite playing in Nashville. This success in the cover vote further proves that he is becoming one of the NHL’s most popular players.
“I couldn’t believe that it was going to be like this,” Rinne said Monday in an interview with 102.5 The Game. “Now that I’m so close, obviously I want to get the cover and that would be pretty cool.”
Henry admitted that he, along with his family, did more voting than actual work in recent days.
“[Our family] had just seen Men In Black 3; my younger son hadn’t seen 1 or 2, so we rented 1 to watch it on Sunday night,” Henry explained. “I looked over and I was voting on my phone and my iPad, he was voting on my wife’s iPad and computer, my older son was voting on his phone and computer, and my wife was voting on her phone. I don’t know if we even watched the movie because everyone was just voting.
“[Monday night] my oldest son had 8-10 friends over at our house and we had a voting party. We loaded the house up with pizza and soda and we just had a good time.”
EA Sports’ award-winning NHL franchise sells millions of copies to hockey and video game fans all over the world on an annual basis. To have Rinne on the cover with all of those people buying the game would have a lot of benefits.
Henry really hopes all the hard work from the organization and fans pays off in the end and Rinne gets on the cover. When Henry was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he saw the benefit of having Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier both on the cover of separate video games.
One of the biggest rewards of having Rinne on the cover, in Henry’s opinion, would be proving to the hockey world just how passionate the Predators fan base is.
“We know this is a good hockey market,” Henry said. “It had the blip in 2007 where the team almost left, but you look at what has been re-generated since then and where we sit right now – you’re hard-pressed to name many markets better than ours. Almost every market is larger and has more fans, just not more passionate fans.
“It would further establish what started last year in the Vancouver series, that North America was waking up to what he had going on. That continued this whole season and into the playoffs. If we get the cover, I think that puts the cherry on top of that.
“How crazy to think that a video game cover can give further legitimacy to a market, but to some degree it does.”