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A Good Dude

VokounI wanted to try and get to know new Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun a little bit, wanted to get away from Vokoun the hockey player. I tried talking to him about his charity work in Nashville, his work with the young cancer patients that was so important.

He didn't want to talk about it. Said he did it for the kids, not for the publicity. That's admirable, but not OK by me. Ed Belfour did a lot of good work in his time with the Panthers, only no one got to read about it because Eddie wouldn't talk to any of us about it.

I spoke with a Make-A-Wish director last week who admitted that was a shame; Not because we couldn't praise Eddie (that's not the point), but because people didn't get to read about someone doing good. Sometimes, those stories spur others on.

Plus it was nice to write a story about a good guy, and South Florida can use all the good people it can get.

Anyway, here's my feature on Tomas from today's Miami Herald:  CLICK HERE WILL YA?

Here's my story on Tomas the hockey guy (with some tidbits about his time in Nashville playing hockey): CHECK THIS OUT TOO, YEAH?

And here's some of the bonus stuff.

This email is from Mike Smith, whose son Ryan became friends with Tomas Vokoun through the children's hospital at Vanderbilt University:

It's hard to believe two years ago, I was afraid I would lose my boy to cancer. In Feb. 2006, Ryan had endured seven months of chemotherapy and managed to have blood counts high enough to attend a Predator's hockey game against the Black Hawks. Because of the generosity of Tomas Vokoun, Ryan sat in a suite, visited the locker room, and was given souvenirs from the game, including an autographed game puck from Tomas. Tomas also gave Ryan a 6-0 shutout!

When Ryan went into the arena that night, he was a battered, worn-out child. When he emerged after the game, a change had taken place. His spirit was so elevated, and it has never returned to the level it was before that night. It has never even been a concern to me since that night. I have told Tomas more than once that he'll never know how much he did for Ryan. I can't even type these words today without tears welling in my eyes. Tomas gave Ryan so much that night, and for the next 16 months with his gift of season's tickets for our family, and meeting with him on several occasions throughout the season.

Ryan was visiting a friend of his on 6th floor when I heard the news about Tomas being traded to Florida. It was as if a best friend had died. There was total silence, then the accusation that I was lying about the trade! I would guess that when Florida visits the Preds in the fall, Ryan will be hoping for a "W" for Tomas.

(*) This email comes to me from Nina Bickford, whose son Austin is friends with Tomas:

My son was diagnosed December 2005 with stage 4 Neuroblastoma.

After his first inpatient stay for chemo, he was given tickets to the Nashville Predators game. He was able to sit in Tomas Vokoun's suite. This was his first hockey game and he, as well as our entire family, have been hooked ever since. Austin received four tickets. He took his cousin, his dad, and his dad's boss (the police chief in Dover, TN).

Tomas was so amazing with the kids. He gave Austin a couple of pucks, and his stick that he played with in the game. To this day Austin has them displayed on his wall. This was a memory that we will never forget.

In Dec.2006 we found out that Austin had relapsed. His odds of survival were much less than the low 25 percent odds we were given at original diagnoses. Once again, we were given tickets to the hockey game, compliments of Tomas. This time we were given six tickets. Austin chose to take his three favorite doctors as well as me and his little sister. This was by far even better than the first game we attended because Tomas sit with us in the suite the entire time, due to a hurt hand.

Words could never be able to explain to anyone how much of an impact this had on my family. Tomas was the most polite, soft hearted, caring individual I have ever met. Our family is saddened of the news that he will be leaving the Preds but wish him the very best.

(*) Out of the mouth of Austin:

Tomas is the best hockey player ever. He always saves the pucks. I loved sitting with him in his suite. I am sad he is leaving the Predators. He was my favorite. I guess I will just have to go to Florida to watch him. I love Tomas. Austin

(*) Here is some leftover stuff from Tomas on various subjects.

On coming to Florida:

It's going to be a lot of work moving and all of that and it's a big change. This is an organization that has a great future if you look at the players here and how young they are. They're building this team right. They didn't just sign five free agents for a year and that's it. They're in it for a while. It's very similar to what happened in Nashville before the changes in ownership and the market and all that. We're similar teams. We got to the point where we were one of the top teams in the league. It hasn't happened here yet, but I feel with the signings they've made, this team is improved a lot. I want to be part of changing things here.

On Nashville's playoff history and they'll unfulfilled goals:

It's definetly tough because the first year we made the playoffs no one thought we should have been there. We were eighth, played the President trophy winner Detroit. We weren't supposed to win. The next time, we were better, but still a lot of the experts thought San Jose was the favorite. This past year, I thought we had the team to win the Stanley cup. But you don't play the games on paper. We had the names, we just didn't get it done. We didn't play good as a team and weren't disciplined. San Jose just outplayed us. It's simple; they were better. Maybe not individually, but they had the better team and deserved to win. It wasn't a fluke. They were better than us.

On  expectations in Florida:

As a No. 1 goalie, you have to be a difference maker. The margin for error is so small. There are 20 teams out there right now who feel they are better than they were last year. We're one of those teams. There are a lot of people excited. But if all you do is talk about hat you're going to do, we're going to be sitting here at this time next year talking about the disappointment. This franchise is headed in the right direction., that's obvious, but we have to go out there and win. We just need to get into the playoffs. It doesn't matter if you're the first seed or the eighth. Every team gets a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Getting there is very important. Anyone can win it if you make the playoffs. You don't have to be the best team on paper to win. There have been plenty of teams that have been written off that ended up winning it all or at least making the Finals. If you would have asked me last year that Ottawa would have a better year than the one before, I wouldn't have believed it. In sports, hockey especially, you can't buy a championship. The team has to go out there and win it themselves. It's not about payroll, not one or two players. It's the ultimate team sport and it's more important to have the best team together on the ice.

On his illness in 2006:


It was very scary. I'm young, but I have a family and I was very scared. It gives you a much different perspective on your life. Hockey is a very serious sport, and it's the most important thing. But if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. You could have all the money in the world, but it doesn't help you if you don't have your health.