The first time I attended a Nashville Predators game, my ears rang for three days.
They didn’t bleed, though, so that was a win.
Back on May 22, 2017, in Game 6 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals, the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks, 6-3, at Bridgestone Arena to reach the high point in franchise history, a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
For me, that evening was also memorable on other fronts. I witnessed a Colton Sissons hat trick and an Austin Watson two-goal game, a combination that felt just shy of a unicorn sighting. I witnessed fans prior to the game wielding a sledgehammer on a car, which seemed aggressive even by hockey standards, and marked a first for me in the few thousand hockey games I have attended. And even though the guy down the row from me in the third deck kept crowing about the Preds – bless his super-fan heart – truth was the home team was mostly on the wrong side of a tilted-ice game. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they were outshot better than 2-to-1. That 6-3 was deceiving – two empty-netters in the mix. Yet Pekka Rinne ruled. As for Jonathan Bernier at the other end – well, woof. Goaltending, man – it’s only everything.
In any event, Bridgestone was as loud as advertised – louder, really – and my ears rang afterward like they had following an AC/DC concert way, way back in the day.
And, with any luck, more of them down the line. All this is an introduction of sorts and a greeting to let you know I’ll be chipping in with hockey thoughts occasionally on this site. With any luck, we’ll share some knowledge, maybe even a few laughs. I’m still fairly new to Nashville – only three years in residence. I am not new to pucks – I’ve written about the game for decades, mostly for my hometown newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News.
I’ve seen a lot. I saw a second puck appear on the ice in the Soviet Union-Sweden round-robin game at the 1989 World Junior Championship. (The Soviet line of Pavel Bure, Sergei Federov and Alexander Mogilny was, as you might imagine, very good at hockey). I’ve seen a piece of a scoreboard fall from above center during warmups, strike a player in the foot and knock him out of the lineup. I’ve stood behind the bench for an ECHL regular-season game – it really didn’t smell as funky as you would think back there. And I’ve seen future NHLers when they were not yet teenagers. (When Scott Gomez was 12, even a mope like me took one look and went, “Yeah, that kid is probably gonna get stupid rich.’’ Update: He did.)
I’ll concede my Preds creds are thinner than a skate blade. Alaskan NHL defenseman Matt Carle phoned me from Nashville the day his career hit the end of the line here and he retired. If any of you old-school types remember Wade Brookbank, who was briefly a Pred nearly two decades ago, well, I covered him some when he played for the Anchorage Aces of the West Coast Hockey League a handful of years before he made it to the NHL. (I once traveled with the Aces on a 19-day, 10-game road trip during which they were kicked out of an California amusement park for allegedly disregarding the establishment’s go-carting rules – I’m telling you, I’ve seen things).
My experience is mostly covering Division I college hockey and the ECHL, though I covered all 16 Alaskans who have played in the NHL, from Gomez (more than 1,200 regular-season and playoff games) to the late B.J. Young (one game, two shifts, 64 seconds of ice time).
Look, I’m not going to go all Scotty Bowman on you – I don’t have that kind of game and, really, no one does. But neither am I a complete dope. A fair assessment is I am probably just knowledgeable enough to be dangerous.
I know the Predators have been in slow decline since that appearance in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and last season they were below league average in the hat trick from hockey hell of team save percentage, power-play efficiency and penalty-killing prowess.
I know General Manager David Poile did very modest roster tinkering in the offseason, though he does enjoy considerable cap space.
I know the Predators lack a truly elite center even though they are paying Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, neither of whom flourished last season, $8 million each in the upcoming season. (And good for those guys – I lean toward labor. Someone wants to throw money at you, it’s polite to graciously accept).
I know that I felt beat over the head by the narrative that Duchene’s love of country music swayed his decision to land here as a free agent two summers ago. I don’t want to hear anymore about it until he releases a record.
I know the second line remains the elephant on the ice.
I know Roman Josi deserved the Norris and Ryan Ellis somehow probably still remains under-appreciated across the rest of North America, and pairing them should almost be illegal.
I know Filip Forsberg is insanely skilled and often leaves me wanting more.
I know the Predators were eliminated from the qualifying round by an Arizona Coyotes club that takes win, place and show in 2020 NHL Dysfunctional Franchise Standings – and that’s saying something in a league that includes the Ottawa Senators. Just this year the Coyotes saw their general manager totally bail on them; saw free agent Taylor Hall, the dude that cost them a first-round draft pick, flee to – and this just screams, “Get me the F outta here’’ – Buffalo; have been docked two draft picks, including a first-rounder, for violating NHL testing policy with prospects; slightly miscalculated in drafting a player whose pedigree included bullying a developmentally disabled Black classmate and who didn’t really sound all that remorseful; and, finally, renounced said draft pick after his off-ice behavior was widely chronicled, which presumably convinced Arizona’s brass that it all seemed suspiciously like what people talk about when they reference “bad optics.’’
And, lastly, I know I’ll put my Twitter handle — @JaromirBlagr – up against anyone’s.