It’s a typical Tuesday night practice at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. Some parents are half watching the action on the ice as they casually chat on the bleachers while others are in the lobby following the broadcast of the hometown Predators.
At the 12:45 mark of the first period, Blake Geoffrion fires a quick snap shot past Edmonton Oilers goalie Martin Gerber to give the Predators an early lead. The news begins to spread like wildfire, through the lobby, down the corridor, across the bleachers and eventually onto the ice where the coach informs his players that Geoffrion has scored his first NHL goal.
The practice suddenly stops as players begin to cheer and bang their sticks against the boards in celebration of the accomplishment by their hometown hero.
“Hearing that was pretty special,” Geoffrion said from his parents’ Brentwood, Tenn., home.
His message to those playing hockey in middle Tennessee is that he was once in their shoes. He grew up a Predators fan, played his youth hockey in Nashville, traveled throughout the South and points north in search of competition, and eventually made it to the highest level of the game.
“I hope that I can prove to some of these kids that just because you’re in the South you can still make it,” the 23-year-old Geoffrion said. “I played my youth hockey here, and even though I moved away from home, this is where I developed most of my skills as a young child.”
From the National Team Development Program to the University of Wisconsin, where he won the Hobey Baker Award, to being drafted by the Predators in 2006 and playing his first NHL game this season, it’s been a wild ride.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Geoffrion was known more as the great grandson of Howie Morenz, one of the original inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the grandson of Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. That’s beginning to change as he writes his own chapter in the family hockey history.
He recalls sitting around dinner tables hearing stories about the exploits of his family members, including his father, Dan, who was a former first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, but it wasn’t until he saw his first live NHL game that his passion for the game reached another level.
Geoffrion recalls his first live NHL game, the Predators first home game against the Florida Panthers, with the same clarity as his own first home game, Feb. 27 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a night after making his NHL debut in Dallas.
“Being a huge fan of the Predators since they got here in ’98, watching them and wanting to be one of them one day and finally coming full circle was a pretty special feeling,” said Geoffrion, who had to pony up 35 tickets for friends and family.
“My first shift the fans gave me a nice cheer when I stepped on the ice, so that was pretty cool. Just playing in one game and being able to say that I’ve played in the NHL is a great feeling, and it was awesome.”
Still, he won’t lie. He had more than a few butterflies when he jumped on the ice for the first time.
“I was a little jittery with the puck at certain points in the game, but I tried to keep it simple out there and not mess up, especially with the important points on the line with the playoffs coming up,” he said.
Like Geoffrion, hockey has come a long way in Nashville since he grew up idolizing some of the first Predators, like Cliff Ronning. One day he hopes that the same kids who stopped their practice to cheer his first NHL goal will look to follow in his footsteps.
“Hopefully I can continue to get better,” he said, “and have more of a role someday and have more of an influence in the community and youth hockey in Nashville.”