In what some describe as a non-traditional market, the Predators have proven that hockey cannot only survive in the south, but thrive. When Pope John Paul II goaltender Vijay Mueller was younger, he fell in love with a game.
“I first started playing hockey about six or seven years ago when I was in middle school,” Mueller said. “What really piqued my interest was, I was always a huge Preds fan, I just never really played. One moment that stuck with me, when I was younger, one of the goalies had a rough game and he snapped his stick over the crossbar. That moment sort of got me interested in hockey.”
From that moment, Mueller was drawn to hockey. Not only did he get to enjoy playing a new sport, but he found an unlikely role model in Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
“It’s amazing to have professional hockey around here,” Mueller said. “Neither of my parents grew up as hockey fans just because it wasn’t around. To have the opportunity to go and watch the Predators and get to see them, and with me being a goalie getting to see great goaltending with Pekka Rinne for so many years, I can’t even put into words what that’s like. In Nashville, Tennessee, you wouldn’t think hockey is as big as it is. It’s just incredible with the way the team has played over the year.”
Mueller chose to play goalie, in part, because that is the position Rinne plays. The JPII senior looks up to Rinne for more than just excellent hockey skills, stating he has learned from Rinne the kind of person he wants to be as well.
“Pekka Rinne is definitely my favorite Predator,” Mueller said. “For so many years, with me being a goalie, he’s been a really good role model. He’s a really nice guy. It’s incredible to get to watch him and to also have the opportunity to get to meet him once. What’s awesome about him, you watch him in interviews and he deflects all of the attention. He always says the team played well in front of him, the team scored goals for him and stuff like that that makes him a humble, down-to-earth person. It’s great to have that kind of person to be your role model.
“I met him about four years ago at a Predators hockey camp, back at A-game. He came in and I had the opportunity to talk to him for a few minutes. Even with the really long line of wanting to meet him, he took the time to ask me what my name was and personally autograph what I wanted. He’s the kind of person that you can really look up to.”
Mueller recently participated in a prospect skate at Ford Ice Center, hosted by the MTSU hockey team. Both MTSU and Vanderbilt have college teams, and the Predators recently broke ground on a new ice rink in Bellevue. Because of the success of the Predators, the sport of hockey is growing across middle Tennessee.
“I’m definitely thinking about college hockey,” Mueller said. “I’m really looking at MTSU, not just specifically because of hockey, but because they are highly ranked as far as sports broadcasting goes. Having a hockey team is a huge plus, that’s definitely something I’d want to do there. It’s great to see hockey really growing around here. It’s cool to have two schools in the area that have college hockey teams and provide opportunities for people who maybe aren’t Division I-level, but can still get the chance to play.”