Sunday was an off day for the Nashville Predators. While many of the players took advantage of the time to rest up after spending much of the last two weeks on the road, winger Brian McGrattan was very active. And he documented a lot of his day on Twitter; mostly by giving updates on some new ink the already heavily tattooed tough guy was receiving in an apparently painful session under the needle directed by his tattoo artist friend Jimmi the Clam. McGrattan followed the tattoo session tweets with some on last night’s Guns N’ Roses concert at Bridgestone Arena.
His on-ice role is mostly in support of his teammates, but McGrattan used his first Tweet Sunday to acknowledge a special day in his life and the people who have been looking out for him the last few years while he battled the toughest opponent of his life. And this opponent was not wearing skates and throwing punches in the direction of his face either.
“3 years clean and sober today… wanna thank all the people who have supported me and believed in me!” the Tweet said.
Following Nashville’s practice Monday, McGrattan said that he looks forward to the anniversary of his sobriety much the same as a child looks forward to their next birthday.
“It is one of the things that means most to me in life,” he said. “I had some really hard times before I had to change my life. I can’t believe it has already been three years. It is kind of shocking. It just shows you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
NHL teams do their homework before bringing a player into their organization. When the Predators claimed McGrattan off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, they thought they knew what they were getting in McGrattan. But head coach Barry Trotz was surprised at what he saw when McGrattan joined the team October 11th.
“He is a much better player than I remember in terms of he has ability to play,” Trotz said. “He is a lot tougher than I remember too.”
In addition to what McGrattan can do in games, Trotz thinks his addition to the locker room has been just as valuable. McGrattan brings an element the team that has been missing since Wade Belak stopped playing midway through last season.
“One of the things that teams miss sometimes is those intangible ingredients; the life that they bring in the room,” Trotz said. “We have a young team, we are a quiet group, and he has a little bit more of an outgoing personality. That was the great thing about Beeks. Beeks brought a lot of life and joy to the rink, which is infectious for your team. Grats is not as boisterous as Beeks was, but at the same time, he brings a lot of those intangible elements to the room that there is no stat for. When he is there, there is some life in the room, when he is not, it is very, very quiet.”
While McGrattan has to take his recovery one day at a time, as the days have progressed and his troubled past gets further behind him, he finds things are getting a bit easier for him.
“I’ve gotten pretty adjusted to the lifestyle I have been living over the last couple of years,” he said. “The first year it was a lot of changes. I had to change the entire way I lived my life. It was an adjustment year. Especially over the last year, I have been feeling very comfortable. Life has been great. It is really awesome.”
As part of the process of transforming into the person he is today, McGrattan had to make some tough decisions about the people that he surrounded himself with as he began his recovery.
“The old crew of friends, I kind of threw out the window,” he said. “I have a little tight-knit circle of friends, four or five really close friends; obviously the guys I play with, my brother, my girlfriend, and family. That’s it. That’s all I have, and that’s all I really need. The team is kind of your second family, but you have to separate the two. My personal life is my personal life and my career is my profession.”
His profession and his Predator teammates are things that McGrattan holds near and dear to his heart.
“These guys have been awesome,” he said. “I will come to battle and fight for them any night of the week.”
Trotz has previously announced that someone in his family had gone through substance abuse problems. Following Monday’s practice, Trotz acknowledged how difficult McGrattan’s journey has been to this point.
“I was very proud of him,” Trotz said. “I knew December 4th was a big day for him personally. It is hard to do. It is easy to say and hard to do. I have dealt with it in my life in a family situation. I know how hard it is. I have lived through it. I am very proud of any person who is able to do that, not only a player on my team, but anybody in any walk of life who can do that. I really applaud their determination, their focus and their commitment to do that because that is not easy to do.”
In addition to McGrattan’s outgoing personality in the locker room, Trotz has noticed the effect that McGrattan has had on teammate Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo left the team late December last year to voluntarily enter the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.
“I think he is a great example,” Trotz said. “Jordin has gone through that and he still is. Every day he is a success story. I know Grats has been, I don’t know if mentor is the right word, but he has been kind of a sounding board that Toots can go to and it shows in how Toots is playing in his game. He has better order.”
Trotz said this during his media availability outside the team’s locker room following Monday’s practice. In an ironic twist, while Trotz was discussing McGrattan’s impact on Tootoo, McGrattan was seated at his locker stall having a conversation with Tootoo just outside of Trotz’ field of vision.
Being a good friend and good teammate are evidence of a player and a man who really enjoys where he is in life right now.
“You enjoy it,” McGrattan said. “You appreciate it, you are clear-headed and minded. I get to take it in every day.”