Hockey Tonk Hangover

perds loss

This is not the post I wanted to make this morning.   This is the morning after the Nashville Predators lost Game Six of the Stanley Cup final, giving the Penguins another title.  It was a heartbreaking defeat as the game was scoreless until the final few minutes of regulation.   As we were assuming overtime might decide it, Patric Hornqvist slipped the puck in off of Predators’ goalie Pekka Rhinne for the game winner.  Carl Hagelin ended all hope of a comeback with an empty net goal with 14 seconds left.

I won’t lie.  It hurts.

Yes, I know the Predators had an amazing run and played in their first Stanley Cup final but at the moment it means nothing.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are grueling.   Two months of playoff hockey.  It takes its toll on players, coaches and fans.  I’m tired and emotionally spent.  I’ve always said that the playoffs should all be best-of-five series instead of seven game marathons.

preds fansYes, the Predators did the unthinkable.  They swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games and out-hustled the Anaheim Ducks in six to advance to the Stanley Cup final.   Music City was absolutely crazy and a town painted in gold.  Fans packed viewing locations on Broadway, Hall of Fame Park and other designated viewing areas to support the team.   It was an amazing experience.

As far as the final thoughts about the Stanley Cup final, I think the Predators missed Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala.  It might have been a different series had they remained healthy.  I read some comments on social media where Predator fans are posted memes about the refs but as Predators’ captain Mike Fisher said, “It’s just sports”.   Yes, the refs were horrible in this series.  The NHL needs to do something about that but the fact remains that the Predators still had power play opportunities and were still shutout – even with a 5-on-3 advantage – so you can’t pin that one on the refs.  Another thing I have noticed is the poor sportsmanship from Penguin fans.  One went back and commented on my post on a Predators’ site that was unnecessary.  I’m just surprised on their reactions.  I even saw a Penguins fan and I wished them good luck before the game.  He did the same.  There was no “Penguins suck” or any other trash talk.

I also wish Predator fans would get rid of the ridiculous chant after our team scores.  So the sportsmanship works both ways.

P.K. Subban already predicts that the Predators will be back.  I guess he means the Stanley Cup final.  Honestly, I wish he would stop talking.  I’m really not sure he’s that good on the ice.  I have not been a fan.

In every postseason there is always a goaltender that gets hot and leads his team.   Pekka Rinne did that but he really had problems on the road in the final.  He was as bad as he could have been.  He wasn’t particularly great during the regular season.  I’m just wondering if the Predators might need to get another goalie ready.  I don’t think Saros is the answer.

Another area the Predators need to get better is on the power play.  The team has not been much of a threat on power play opportunities.  When the Predators start on a power play I have not gotten my hopes up because it hasn’t been an advantage.

The most frustrating part of the play of the Predators is shot selection.  When the puck is in the offensive zone the team passes too many times in an attempt to get a perfect shot.  It seems very indecisive and then when they take a shot it is a poor choice.   With the goal scorers the team has on offense, this shouldn’t be happening.

Yes, I’m a little bitter right now.  If you get this far you should win it because you never know if you will ever get back here or not.  It’s a long season.   In fact, training camp starts again in September.

With that said, it was a season that no one expected.  Not even myself.  If you look back at my past blog posts you will see that I did not pick the Predators to win any of their playoff series so they surprised me and exceeded any expectations anyone had.  For the first time, I watched more hockey this season than any other.  My wife and I were doubtful how good the Predators would be after the regular season.

Losing always hurts but I’m sure it will hurt less in the days and weeks ahead.  It has been a fun season.

Hockey Conversion Of A Southerner

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When I grew up, hockey was something that was said to come out of a bull – as in – bull hockey.  So the word “hockey” was associated with what we call in the social media world as the “poop emoji”.

From an early age I loved American football, especially high school football.  I grew up in Georgia and you either liked football, baseball or both.  There wasn’t much attention paid to any other sport.  I never knew much about the sport of hockey until the late 70s.  We were living in Villa Rica, Georgia and somehow I got to see some Atlanta Flames games on television.

I watched them in their best season in Atlanta in the 1978-79 season, but they were swept by the Toronto Maple Leafs in two games in the first round of the 1979 Stanley Cup playoffs.  I paid more attention to them the next season which turned out to be their final season before they packed up and moved to Calgary.

Then, who could forget the “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. Olympic Hockey team won the Gold Medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics?  I listened to the Gold Medal game on radio.

It wasn’t until 1983 that I attended my first hockey game in person.  I was going to a school in Indianapolis, Indiana and learned that the United States Olympic Hockey Team was playing an exhibition game against the Indianapolis Checkers.  The Checkers were a minor league hockey team.

After that, I watched hockey occasionally but didn’t get to attend another game in person until I worked for the Macon Telegraph and met a co-worker who was a big hockey fan.  Specifically, he was a fan of the New York Rangers.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hockey team in our immediate area at the time.  The closest hockey team was a minor league team in Tallahassee, Florida.  We actually drove down for a game.   In 1992, Atlanta got a minor league team called the Atlanta Knights in the International Hockey League (IHL).  We went up to see a game there.  It was a higher caliber hockey but not quite the National Hockey League (NHL) level.

In 1996, there was a renewed interest in hockey in Macon, Georgia where I lived.  The Macon Whoopee started playing in the Central Hockey League (CHL) for five seasons.  I attended many, many games there.   Early on I remember attending when it was a packed arena and thinking it would be around for a long time.  The team finally left in 2001 but in 2002 the Macon Trax brought hockey back.  They bounced around three leagues over the next three years before leaving.

When my wife and I moved to Nashville in 2014, we started trying the different sports teams.  She bought us tickets to a game for a Valentine’s Day gift but on the night we were supposed to go, a heavy ice storm hit the area and it wasn’t safe for us to drive.  When we talked to the Nashville Predators front office about this situation, they gave us some free tickets for the next season.

In October 2015, we attended our first game.  We had great seats and survived the annoying lady next to us that was trying to tell us how to cheer the Predators.  We did pretty good on our own and from that game we were hooked.   My wife had never seen a hockey game in person but now she is just as much a fan (or maybe more) than I am.  She has definitely been converted.  I still have to explain the rule about offsides to her but she’s definitely “coaching” the team during the game.  It’s been fun watching her conversion.

Hockey is an awesome sport.  Lots of action.   We don’t like the fighting and wish they wouldn’t do it.  In fact, in all the games we have attended in person, there weren’t any fights at the game.  During this past season we have watched almost every game on television.

Football is still number one for me – although the last Super Bowl almost did me in.  Hockey is definitely a close second for me now.

Friday Flashback: Nashville Dixie Flyers

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With Nashville painted in gold as the Predators playing in the Stanley Cup final, we go back to the early days of hockey in Nashville with the Dixie Flyers.

The Dixie Flyers were a minor league team that played in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) from 1962-1971.  They were Nashville’s first hockey team.  They played their home games at the Municipal Auditorium which had recently been completed.  Their name came from the “Dixie Flyer” train which used to come through Nashville.  The railroad was still in existence when hockey came to Nashville in 1962.

Their first game was played on October 27, 1962 when they lost 2-0 to the Knoxville Knights.  The Knights would become one of Nashville’s biggest rivalries.

The most successful seasons on the ice for the team were in 1965-66 and 1966-67 when the Dixie Flyers won back-to-back titles under head coach John McLellan.  McLellan went on to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL).  The Dixie Flyers only missed the playoffs once in their nine seasons in Nashville.

dixieflyers02In the 1965-66 season, the Dixie Flyers swept Knoxville in three straight games then cruised past Charlotte in four straight.  In the EHL’s Walker Cup final, the Dixie Flyers dominated the Long Island Ducks in four games to take the title.  The Dixie Flyers repeated as champions the next season as they once again defeated Knoxville and Charlotte before dispatching of the Jersey Devils four games to one in the Walker Cup finals.  Nashville returned to the Walker Cup finals two years later as they battled Clinton for the Walker Cup but lost in seven games.  Only two goals separated the teams in the series.

In October 1968, Nashville and Jacksonville played the first hockey game in Georgia at the Macon Coliseum in Macon, Georgia.

Hard times came for the franchise in their final seasons in Nashville as attendance dropped to 2,000 to 3,000 fans and finances continued to mount.  There was a story that there was some dissension in 1970 when the players defied an ultimatum from the team’s president and general manager and participated in a strike.  The EHL suspended all 14 players.  The turmoil and financial problems eventually caused the team to fold.

The most notable players for the Dixie Flyers were Ted McCaskill, Marv Edwards and George Standing.  McCaskill played in four games with the Minnesota Northstars of the NHL, and later with Vancouver and Phoenix of the World Hockey Association (WHA).  Edwards played with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and California Golden Seals.  Standing played one season with the Minnesota North Stars.

The Dixie Flyers paved the way for eventually bringing the Nashville Predators to the Music City.

 

 

Can The Predators Dethrone The Penguins?

Here we are.   The Stanley Cup final.  I never imagined that the Nashville Predators would be here.  It’s an amazing time to live in the Music City.  The Predators have exceeded all expectations.  Swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.  Eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six.  Then out hustled the Anaheim Ducks in six physical games.  The Predators have not trailed in any of their playoff series so far.  

So how will they do against the Pittsburgh Penguins?

The Penguins are overwhelming favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.  They have the experience with having won four cups in their history.  They have a superstar in Sidney Crosby.  The Penguins have dispatched of the Columbus Bluejackets in five games, Washington Capitals in seven and the Ottawa Senators in seven. 

I think it’s going to be difficult for the Predators to defeat the Penguins.  This series might really show how much Ryan Johansen’s injury will hurt the Predators’ matchups with the Penguins.  

The Predators still have a problem with shot selection.  They make too many passes looking to set up the perfect shot.  They also have too many breakdowns on the defensive end which an experienced championship team like the Penguins could exploit.  

The one wildcard in all of this is Pekka Rinne.  He has been the best Predators’ player in several games.  It will depend which Pekka shows up in the final as to how successful the Predators will be in competing with the Penguins.  

I do not think the Predators have enough to overcome the Penguins.  Although I would love to see the Music City to win the Stanley Cup, realistically I think the Penguins will repeat in five games.  

Nashville Is Hockey Tonkin’

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I just went to the Predators’ team store at Bridgestone Arena during my lunch break to purchase Western Conference Champion T-Shirts.  Sold out.   The store was packed.  I have been before during my lunch break and have been the only one in the store.  A television camera crew was outside interviewing random fans leaving the store.

The Music City is fully infected with Predators’ fever.

The Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks last night 6-3 to win the Western Conference title and advance to the Stanley Cup final against either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators.  A sold-out, standing room crowd watched inside the arena and another 6,000 fans watched in a park near the arena.

It is exciting to be in a city that is excited about their sports team.  It doesn’t hurt to be a winning team and playing for a championship either.

The Nashville Predators sold out every home game for the first time this season which is a rarity and in addition to that, for a team that is mostly in a Southern market.    It’s hard to imagine now that just 10 years ago the Predators were close to being sold and moved to Hamilton, Ontario.  Fortunately, the team found local ownership and stayed in the city.   Hockey wasn’t really the first choice in the beginning.   A group was actually was trying to lure the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association (NBA) to move to Nashville.

So for the first time in their history, the Nashville Predators will be playing in the Stanley Cup final.  The only other time that a Nashville pro sports team played in a final was in 1999 when the Tennessee Titans played their first season in Nashville and lost in the Super Bowl to the St. Louis Rams 23-16.

It would be nice to watch the Stanley Cup final in person but the running price right now for a seat in the “nosebleed” section is currently $727.   Prime seats in the center ice, second row are going for $15,000.  Unbelievable.   More than likely I will be one of those in the park watching on the big screens with other fans not able afford or willing to pay those prices for tickets.

Hockey in Nashville?   Yep.  You wouldn’t think it would be a “thang” here.   Most people in the South only think of football, baseball and NASCAR.  What’s a hockey?  Why are they skatin’ on ice?

Yeah, it’s an amazing thing to witness here.  Somehow it works.  The capital of country music is now the capital of hockey.

Stanley Cup Final Schedule:

  •  Game 1 – Monday, May 29th:  Nashville at Pittsburgh or Ottawa
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, May 31st: Nashville at Pittsburgh or Ottawa
  • Game 3 – Saturday, June 3rd: Pittsburgh or Ottawa at Nashville
  • Game 4 – Monday, June 5th: Pittsburgh or Ottawa at Nashville
  • Game 5 – Thursday, June 8th:  Nashville at Pittsburgh or Ottawa (if necessary)
  • Game 6 – Sunday, June 11th:  Pittsburgh or Ottawa at Nashville (if necessary)
  • Game 7 – Wednesday, June 14th:  Nashville at Pittsburgh or Ottawa (if necessary)

 

Predators Blow Golden Opportunity

predsducks

Gut-wrenching.

That’s the best way I can describe last night’s game between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.  In what has been the familiar script for the Predators, they rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period with goals from P.K. Subban and then Filip Forsberg tied the game with 44 seconds left to send the game into overtime.  It seemed that the Predators were once again going to work their magic but the Ducks scored to win the game and tie the series at 2-2.   The series now goes to Anaheim on Saturday for Game 5.

Some observations about the game:

  • Power Play is horrible.  The Predators even had a 5-on-3 opportunity and couldn’t score.  How is that possible?   Another very annoying thing is that the Predators pass way too much looking for the perfect shot then when they finally take the shot it is a very low-percentage chance.
  • Too many defensive breakdowns.  We seem to have lots of trouble and need to work harder in getting the puck out of our zone.    The Ducks have made adjustments and really harass us on our end.
  • Kesler is in Ryan Johansen’s head.  Johansen’s play has deteriorated as the series has gone on and I think Johansen is more worried about Kesler than he is in playing his game.
  • Too many passes.  On offense, we are making too many passes looking for the perfect shot (see Power Play is horrible above)
  • Not making good shot selections.   Ducks’ goalie John Gibson is not that good.  We are making him look better than he is.  It’s not too difficult to stop shots when you shoot at the pads.
  • We’re Playing Their Game.  The Ducks aren’t as good as we are making them look.  We are playing down to their level than playing our game.  You have to give the Ducks credit for making the adjustments to take us out of our game.

I hate to say this but after last night’s loss, I think the series is going to get away from the Predators.  Obviously Game 5 will be huge.   Can the Predators regain themselves and take it to the Ducks or will they fade and let the Ducks take control of the series?

No, the series isn’t over but if the Predators haven’t played their best hockey yet, they might want to do it now.

Predators Go Duck Hunting

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The Western Conference Final is here and the surprising Nashville Predators face the Anaheim Ducks in the final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.   These two teams are no strangers to each other.  Last season, the Predators stunned the Ducks in the first round by eliminating them in seven games.  This season the Predators have gone where they have never been before while the Ducks finally won a Game 7 on Wednesday night after losing their previous five series deciding games.

The Predators have had almost four days’ rest since eliminating the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Sunday.  I think the rest will help them after such a physical series and have them ready for the Ducks.  The Ducks, who just played on Wednesday, will be ready to take it to the Predators and attempt to get revenge for last season’s loss.

One thing that might be the Predator’s undoing is a mindset that they have nothing else to prove.  They have advanced further than any team has in the past.  Hopefully, they will play more loosely and relaxed in this series.  The Ducks on the other hand, seem to be on a mission.  They have had good teams in the past season and seem set to push through to win the Cup.

Game One begins tonight in Anaheim.

In the regular season, the Ducks won the first meeting on October 26th convincingly 6-1.  In their only meeting in Nashville, the Predators blanked the Ducks 5-0 on November 12th.  In their most recent meeting, the Ducks won 4-3 in a shootout on March 7th.

The Predators are 2-0 in playoff series against the Ducks.   Winning four games to two in 2011 and winning in seven games last season.

I believe that the Predators’ magical playoff run will end here.   I look for the Ducks to take the series in six games and advance to their second Stanley Cup final.