Mattias Ekholm: Nashville’s golden puck retriever

By Jim Diamond

When David Legwand was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Calle Jarnkrok and a draft pick at last season’s trade deadline, it opened up several vacancies that needed to be filled by others.

Legwand was always the second guy to skate onto the ice before the start of a game behind the Predators starting goaltender that night. Well, he stepped onto the ice behind him, but at home games, instead of skating through the gigantic Predator head, Legwand always took a hard right and started his laps that way.

Whenever the Predators were up late in a game and their opposition pulled their goaltender in favor of an extra attacker, Legwand’s penchant for scoring empty-net goals was always a favorite topic of conversation. Truth be told, guys who are on the ice in those situations have gained the trust of their coaching staff to be out there with the game on the line.

One unheralded position that Legwand held seemingly forever was one that fans had to arrive early to see. During the warmup skate, Legwand had the responsibility of being the player who would fish the pucks out of the net and get them to their proper locations during the team’s pregame warmup.

After Legwand’s departure, Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm took over the puck managing position in the warmup.

“I don’t know if someone really stepped up and wanted it, so I think it was just a decision the game after the last game he played,” Ekholm said. “I took it and had it for the last whatever games we played. Then this year, just started to do it again. It’s been working so far. I am happy doing it.”

Down the stretch of last season, Ekholm did follow the starting goaltender, but this year, the order starts with the goaltender, then comes James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Eric Nystrom, and then Ekholm appears.

Once the warmup starts, Ekholm distributes pucks to his teammates as they go through the prescribed routines of line rushes, individual rushes, and the like.

“That was Legwand’s job for a long time, so he has big shoes to fill,” Nystrom said. “He’s filled the void pretty well.”

Ekholm dutifully puts all of the pucks into the net before moving them all to the crease. Once there, he fires groups of three pucks up ice to his teammates who are spread out just above the blue line. Once the pucks are gone, he gives whichever goaltender is there a tap on the pads with his stick and then daps the same goaltender up with his glove.

When the time comes for individual rushes, he again collects the pucks and then deposits a cache of them in the right corner. As the Predators fan out across the zone, Ekholm grabs a puck and then proceeds to feed them to his teammates one by one for their mano a mano attempt at the goaltender. Ekholm either collects the rebound or takes another puck from his pile in the corner and gets it to the next guy.

“It’s kind of a little bit of a duty because people have their habits with the pucks a little bit, so you have to place them in the right direction all the time,” Ekholm said. “You have to know what you are doing there, but it is just a habit now for me and I am used to doing it.”

The players have to be awake for when it is their turn, but just like everything in hockey, Ekholm has developed a routine order that he follows. But his teammates still don’t have it down for sure just yet.

“He’s got the order,” Nystrom said. “I’m trying to figure out the order. I think he has something going on. He has a little routine going.”

All of those extra touches on the puck have had a positive effect on Ekholm, at least according to his sharp-tongued teammate anyway.

“You can tell in the game, his passing skills are looking pretty nice also,” Nystrom said with a laugh.

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