There are certain rivalries that get a sports fan’s heart to pump a little stronger than usual. For hockey fans in Middle Tennessee, that has been the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings.
That can be attributed to the large number of auto workers and their families who relocated here for the Nissan and Saturn plants years ago. They were the relocated Red Wings fans who effectively “seeded the clouds” for hockey in Music City.
In the beginning for the Preds, one of the “Original 27” NHL franchises, Nashville and Detroit met as many as eight times in a season, playing in the same division, the Central.
By definition, a rivalry is a competition. When it heavily tilts to one side, there may be competition, but it isn’t a truly heated one. When the Predators began in the fall of 1998, the Red Wings had won the previous two Stanley Cups. No team has won back-to-back titles since then.
However, Detroit has won two Cups (2002 and 2008) since the birth of the National Hockey League in Nashville, as have the New Jersey Devils (2000 and 2003), the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 and 2013) and Los Angeles Kings (2012 and 2014).
As the games between Nashville and Detroit began, it clearly was a case of Little Brother vs. Big Brother. In their first trip to Joe Lewis Arena, Mike Dunham faced 57 shots as the Red Wings took a 5-2 win.
As I’m sure you will recall our recent bout with ice storms here, there was a massive one just before the Predators’ first Christmas in the NHL. It hit the night before the Red Wings first visit to Nashville. This time, Detroit mustered 53 shots on Tomas Vokoun, who made 50 saves in a 5-3 Predators victory. That was the only win against Detroit in six games that season.
Nashville’s “rivalry” with Detroit began with the Predators going 2-9-1, including 0-5-1 at Joe Louis Arena. That made their first win against Detroit extra special. Let’s go to overtime on October 19, 2000.
That turned out to be the start of a two-game “winning streak” over the Red Wings, but it would be five more games after that before the Preds could mount a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2) against them – and that good stretch all began in Nashville on December 29, 2001:
Those victories truly stood out over the first five seasons in Predators’ history. Nashville went 6-16-5 against the Wings. Those seasons encompassed the last four of the legendary Scotty Bowman’s coaching career and another Stanley Cup title, so what would you expect from a start-up team?
Things took a decided turn for the better in 2003-04. The Predators won their first three games against Detroit that season, including their first-ever shutout win:
That was the start of the Predators making the playoffs for the first time. Their opponent, fittingly enough, was Detroit.
Detroit took the first two games at the Joe. It opened on April 7th.
On Easter Sunday afternoon, the Predators hosted a playoff game for the first time. It was a magical afternoon.
Adam Hall performed some heroics:
David Legwand got a shorthanded breakaway:
The noise was deafening...
And if that wasn’t enough – Tomas Vokoun had quite the Game 4…
At this point, you could actually call the Predators and Red Wings a rivalry and feel good about it. The series was even at two wins apiece. When the Predators arrived in Detroit for Game Five, a newspaper headline roared: “Panic in Hockeytown!”
Detroit Coach Dave Lewis switched goaltenders at that point, from Manny Legace to Curtis (“CuJo”) Joseph and took the next two to close out the series. Thanks to the lockout that cost the NHL the 2004-05 season, that was it for a while.
The first scheduled meeting of the teams out of that lockout was in November of 2005. The Predators scored early and had the lead, but the game would not be completed until January.
Here’s the story:
After that night, I never would have thought we would be talking about Jiri Fischer taking part in any game, but I am grateful he will join us for the Preds – Wings alumni match today!
To make up the suspended game, a home-and-home was changed to two back-back games in Detroit on January 23 and 24, 2006. The Predators were more than up to the task:
The Predators split their eight games with the Red Wings that year and finished with 106 points, but lost in the first round to San Jose.
The following year was the best in Predators’ history (at least until the current season). The team finished with 110 points. Perhaps the most dramatic win of that season came at home – 10 days after the Predators had acquired future-Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia:
There have been so many incredible nights when these two teams have met. How about the night before Halloween in 2003: “Fight Night” on Broadway. Chris Chelios going after Scott Hartnell all night long, Steve Yzerman getting a game misconduct, and the Preds winning, 5-3? There was the night of the “Harmonic Convergence,” the last day of February 2009, when the Wings, outshot the Preds 30-23, yet Nashville won, 8-0.
In all, the Predators and Red Wings have met three times in the playoffs. In addition to the Red Wings run to their most recent Stanley Cup championship in 2008, they also met in 2012:
Beginning in 2013, the two teams have not met as frequently, as the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference. Now the opportunity for more memories has been reduced to a pair of meetings per regular season. However, that seems to give each one even more weight.
The Nashville Predators make a very brief stopover in Buffalo on Sunday. Buffalo is a place which means a great deal to me on so many levels. In two different stints, I lived there for almost 20 years. I can’t thank the people there enough for my personal and professional development.
I was just a few years out of college, a die-hard fan of all sports, when I was hired by Public Radio station WEBR NewsRadio 970 as a sports reporter. I had already done a great deal of radio play-by-play of basketball and football, but the experiences I gained there were extremely valuable.
We had a two-man department with a part-timer and covered all home games of the NBA Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers), the NHL Sabres, and the NFL Bills. I went from watching those leagues to covering them professionally almost overnight.
The Braves had Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith and Ernie DiGregorio (along with his former Providence teammate Marvin Barnes), and for roughly one week, Moses Malone.
The Sabres featured the “French Connection Line’ of Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, with Head Coach Floyd Smith and Hall of Famer Punch Imlach as the General Manager.
The Bills had O.J. Simpson (always a great interview) and his “Electric Company” offensive line leading the way, coached by the combustible Lou Saban.
Whenever we were finished covering the pro teams, we also had a play-by-play package of college games. Those had us doing Canisius College football, along with University at Buffalo hockey and basketball from Canisius, Niagara, St. Bonaventure, the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State University.
After a year at WEBR, we also started a regular sports talk show. Our first guest on “SportsLine 970” was Lackawanna’s Ron Jaworski, who had just been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles from the Los Angeles Rams.
What I learned during two years there helped prepare me to move on to Los Angeles, and three seasons working with another outstanding broadcaster and teacher in the Voice of the Kings, Bob Miller. Working with him, I learned how to prepare for a game. I took those lessons briefly to Seattle (with the NBA SuperSonics), then back to Buffalo and the beginning of my “freelance career.”
I signed on with the minor league baseball Buffalo Bisons for the 1983 season and had 13 delightful seasons with them. War Memorial Stadium (or “Knights Field” in the Robert Redford film “The Natural”) was home for the team through 1987. After that, the team moved downtown to a (still) beautiful park in 1988 – then known as Pilot Field, now Coca-Cola Field. The team became the second in the history of the minor leagues to draw over a million fans in one season, and then continued to do that for a number of years.
What to do in the baseball offseasons? I spent some time hosting Buffalo Sabres cablecasts and radio. Paul Wieland was the Communications Director (and sometimes practice goaltender) for the Sabres. A very creative man, he specialized in great April Fool’s pranks. I was fortunate enough to be part of one of his Classic April Fool’s telecasts:
While I always wished I could have done some time travel to go back and find out how crazy it must have been to work on the staff of Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” (with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and others as writers), I doubt they could have had more fun than we did on that telecast.
During that period of time, I also was introduced to the love of my life, Claudia. We had friends in common who put us together before a January 27, 1985, game with the Quebec Nordiques and we went out after that game as part of a group. A young defenseman on that Buffalo team is now a Predators Assistant Coach (Phil Housley) and one of the team’s centers now does color on the Predators’ radio broadcasts (Brent Peterson). Who would have guessed that 30 years later we would all be together in Nashville?
While Triple A baseball and the NHL overlap a bit, there was still a gap in my schedule. The Buffalo Bills helped me out there. I did color for the broadcasts in 1983 and co-hosted a weekly cable show of the team’s highlights from 1983 through 1985. That was a challenge, as the team posted 8-8, 2-14 and 2-14 records. Then I also worked on the Bills pre- and postgame radio shows. On the postgame show, I felt like I had become “Western New York’s bartender,” as people cried on my shoulder when calling in.
All of that was preparation for the move to another radio station in the fall of 1988. Rich Products, which owned the Bisons, had purchased WGR Radio. They wanted me to be the Sports Director. It wasn’t long before the Bison games, followed by the Bills and Sabres, moved there. Later, we added University at Buffalo football and basketball, along with the Major Indoor Lacrosse League’s Buffalo Bandits. All of them became “instant hits.”
In 1988, the Bills rose from the doldrums and began a string of five AFC Title game appearances in six seasons, along with four trips to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl run began with a 51-3 AFC Title game win over the Los Angeles Raiders on January 20, 1991.
The Buffalo Sabres then obtained a franchise in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (now the National Lacrosse League) to occupy some dates in the Aud. It didn’t take long for them to capture a strong audience.
You may recognize a name there on the Bandits – John Tavares. He is the 46-year-old uncle of the New York Islanders Captain of the same name, and is the lacrosse league’s all-time leading scorer. The team started play in 1992 and won the championship each of their first two seasons, then two more afterward.
College basketball had been the premiere attraction in Western New York before the Bills, Sabres and Braves came to town. In the late 1980s, it began a resurgence. The University of Buffalo was part of that and I was lucky enough to call their games for WGR.
The Bulls moved from conference to conference, before gaining entry to the Mid-American (MAC) after I had left for Nashville.
By 1995, I wanted to get back to hockey full-time (after part-time work for the Sabres and their AHL team in nearby Rochester). The Sabres chose me to do their radio that summer, going into their final season at the Aud (where I had met Claudia). So, as I had in baseball, I closed out one facility and opened another, with no lack of excitement.
After the first season in Marine Midland Arena (later HSBC Arena, now the First Niagara Center) the Sabres decided to simulcast their games. Then I moved to the regional TV Network (Empire Sports Network) that carried their games, along with those of the Bisons and featured heavy Bills coverage. Little did I know at the time that when I covered the June 1998 NHL Entry and Expansion drafts in Buffalo that I was beginning my long association with the Nashville Predators!
Claudia and I still have many friends there and I usually go back for the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies every summer. We are still in contact with the people we met with the various teams. It really was where we “came of age.”
A few days ago, a friend and former coworker who has been a life-long fan of the New York Islanders approached me. He asked if I would submit to an interview to talk about the performances this season by the Nashville Predators and Islanders in anticipation of the Preds’ last trip to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This was the result:
I should add that “Scoreboard Steve” had another obsession. Her name was Linda Fratianne.
Years ago, when Bob Miller and I were representing Los Angeles, Linda’s hometown, I think Steve gave us more details than some other broadcasters. I believe he was hoping we could help arrange a meeting with her.
However, I digress. There were many more memories that came back to me after participating in the interview.
My first time at the Coliseum came in December of 1972 – and it was for a basketball game: the ABA’s New York Nets (before they landed Doctor J. from the Virginia Squires) against the Utah Stars. They had Jim Chones, Billy “The Whopper” Paultz, Brian Taylor and John Roche. The Nets lost that one to Zelmo Beaty and company, and though the Islanders (along with Terry Crisp) had begun play that season, the building did not yet have a big scoreboard.
I had just finished my senior year in college when I saw that Nets game. I would not return to the Coliseum until 1978, when I went to work for the Los Angeles Kings, as the Islanders were beginning their emergence as a force in the National Hockey League.
That Islanders team won the President’s Trophy with 116 points, a point in front of the Montreal Canadiens. That season, the Canadiens wrapped up their fourth-consecutive Stanley Cup championship. The Islanders swept Chicago, and then lost in six games to the Rangers in the semifinals.
In 1980, the Islanders began their run to four-consecutive Stanley Cup titles and five-straight trips to the Cup Final. (I don’t think any team will ever win 19-consecutive playoff series again!) The Kings and Islanders met four times that season, the Islanders went 3-1-1 in the regular season and 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs. Their season ended in Game 6 of the Cup Final, as Eric Nystrom’s father, Bob, tipped in a pass from John Tonelli to win the Islanders’ first title in overtime.
During those four trips to the Coliseum that season, I got to meet so many great people. Fellow Notre Dame alumnus Tim Ryan was doing the TV play-by-play with ex-Bruin and Islander Eddie Westfall, handling the color. Westfall would handle that job through 1998, spending 14 seasons with another good friend, Jiggs McDonald.
Preceding Westfall was a WABC disk jockey, who wanted to get full-time into sports. That was George Michael. George’s dream was realized a few years later, as George would launch his Sports Machine:
That show did all right, airing in syndication from 1984 through 1997.
During that time, I spent a lot of time comparing notes with the Islanders broadcast host, Stan “the Maven” Fischler. Stan saw to it that I was introduced in the Coliseum pressroom to the team’s media consultant, former New York Herald-American baseball writer, Barney Kremenko.
For me, he always had a great story about his days as a baseball writer, covering Willie Mays and the Giants at the Polo Grounds, and the battles over the years with the Dodgers.
During that 1980 regular season, we did all of the Islanders games on television back to Los Angeles. For the post-game, I would go down to the penalty box and pick up a microphone and communication box so I could hear Bob Miller in the booth. We had a signal worked out with Islanders PR Man Hawley Chester III to request whom to send out to me for the interview.
Billy Harris had a great game that night, so I signaled for him. So I am in the on-camera position, facing upstairs before my guest arrives. Bob threw it to me. My microphone cable was very short, so I could not turn around to see who was skating toward me. I then made a huge mistake. I assumed I was getting the player I requested.
I began to introduce Billy Harris, running down his game that night, including the night he had enjoyed on the penalty kill. The skates stopped as I finished, I turned to my right having already asked the question of Billy. Problem was – Billy was on the Islanders’ telecast and they had sent me Wayne Merrick! We straightened that out in short order, but my face was in living-color red!
Those are the sorts of memories that will remain with me as the Preds play their last of nine games on Long Island. I’m certain another set of stories will be collected beginning next season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
There’s no accounting for it, not that I can see. The word used most frequently to describe this season’s Nashville Predators has been “resilient.” It’s a team that seems to regularly bounce back like the Energizer Bunny.
We can study the numbers all we want and attempt to determine what they reflect. The fact of the matter is they do no more than state what has happened. The stats I see don’t provide the most important answer, the one to the greatest question of them all: “Why?”
In order to have a fairer look at these numbers, at least as they pertain to the Predators, I have decided to use their last four seasons in this study.
It’s a good mix of teams and success rates. In 2011-12, they were fifth in the League, finishing with 104 points. In the shortened 2013 season, they were 27th out of 30. Last season, they finished just out of the playoffs and this time around has been a fantastic ride to the top (or in the vicinity) of the League standings.
In 2011-12, the Predators were in the middle of the NHL pack – 15th – for winning percentage after allowing the first goal of the game. In 2013, they were 29th. Last season, they were 26th. So this time around, they are second, going 16-11-2 after allowing the first goal. This would seem to follow with the team’s overall ranking within the League in each particular season, right?
So that’s one level of “comeback ability,” allowing the first goal and still managing to win. The goal could come in the first minute of play, or the last 30 seconds. How about when trailing after two periods? That should be the more severe test.
Same sample seasons here. In 2011-12, the Predators were second to Pittsburgh, coming back to win seven times in 27 games, a winning percentage of 25.9 percent. Seven times that season, they trailed by three or more going into the third period and lost every one.
The very next season, they fell into a tie for last with Calgary, going 1-18-2! On five occasions in that shortened season, they trailed by 3 goals or more after 40 minutes of play. This is the best example of what I expressed earlier. That 2013 edition of the Predators was tied for 29th in coming back in the third period, 29th after allowing the first goal, 29th in League offense and 27th overall in the NHL standings!
Perhaps the team was just finding its own level, because in 2013-14, they were 26th in both overcoming the first goal of the game and when trailing after two periods. That squad allowed the first goal 46 times and won less than a quarter of those. They trailed 35 times after the second period and again faced a 3-goal-or-more deficit with 20 minutes left in regulation, losing each.
Now to the 2014-15 Predators: as of this writing, they are second in the NHL, winning 55.2 percent of the time after allowing the first goal. That aligns well with the Predators’ overall standing at the top of the League.
When trailing after two periods, twice they have been down four goals (at Detroit and at home vs. Anaheim) and dropped both. They most often have faced one or two-goal deficits this season. To this point, they are ninth in the League in this category, with a winning percentage of 21.4 percent.
Those are the facts, but there is more to it than that. It’s a feeling the players seem to have. A feeling that they are never out of any game, which helps feed their compete level.
It started early, giving up the first goal in the Season Opener against Ottawa, then coming back to win. Two nights later, the same thing happened against Dallas. Arizona and Chicago followed, and then they did it on the road in Vancouver. They were 5-2-1 after allowing the first goal and that was through their first 11 games of the season.
It’s almost as if they had proved something to themselves. This is a theme that has continued throughout the season. Against the Rangers early this month, Rick Nash provided the lead. The Predators came back with goals from Roman Josi and Shea Weber in a 40-second span to take the lead, then won, 3-2. The next afternoon, they were down two goals after two in South Florida and came back with two power-play goals to tie the score, then won in a shootout.
That was why the 4-0 lead the Ducks had after two didn’t convince many to leave Bridgestone Arena early. The Predators outshot the Ducks, 24-2 (one into an empty net) in that third period and had Anaheim on the run. James Neal’s power-play goal with 4:07 left pulled them within two goals and the building was almost as loud as it ever had been. Why? Because this team – and its fans – believe they are never out of it.
This has already been one of the most incredible campaigns of the Nashville Predators 17 seasons. Currently, this season's team is the best in franchise history with 76 points through 53 games (the 2006-07 version of the Predators had 75 with an equal number of contests played).
Only the 2006-07 team, the one that finished with 110 points, was ahead of this team’s pace.
You know many of the reasons for the team’s improvement: a (mostly) healthy Pekka Rinne; the improved attack, with Filip Forsberg, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith and James Neal. But whatever you do, do not underestimate the contributions of Mike Fisher.
Yet, what did you expect from him after the early-July news that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon during offseason workouts?
After all, Fisher is 34-years-old and an Achilles injury is a very difficult ailment for even a young player to overcome. In parts of 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators before his trade to Nashville in February of 2011, Fisher had four, 20-goal seasons. He has gone on to register two, 20-goal seasons in three full seasons here.
Fisher insisted all along that he would return earlier than any timetable would indicate. He began skating regularly with the team in November and was back for a game at Bridgestone Arena against the Edmonton Oilers on November 27th.
To that point in time, the club had really struggled on the power play (13.9 percent) and the penalty kill (75.9 percent). The team was playing one-goal games regularly (9-3-2 in the 21 games Fisher missed, two-thirds of the team’s games). The Predators managed 2.9 goals-for per game without him.
When he came back, things began to change. On the power play, Fisher began to play the role that Patric Hornqvist had played here for so many seasons, going to the front of the net to obscure the goaltender’s vision. In fact, one night in Anaheim, the Ducks Frederik Andersen was so frustrated, he wrapped his gloves around Fisher’s eyes! It didn’t take long for Fisher’s impact to be felt on the power play, as he leads the team with six power-play goals.
As a result of his efforts there, the power play has converted 17.6 percent of its chances. That isn’t Fisher’s only contribution to the special teams though. While Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom are usually the first forwards out on the penalty kill, Fisher and Calle Jarnkrok are usually up next. As a result, the penalty killers have killed off 81.5 percent of the opposing man advantages.
Overall, the team’s scoring is up on a per-game basis, from 2.90 per game to 3.14 per game. Fisher has also helped straighten out the depth chart at center. He has taken on the duties of second line center, allowing Jarnkrok to take the third line, with Gaustad the fourth.
Fisher has also helped Wilson realize his potential. Since Fisher took over the second line, Wilson has scored 13 of his 17 goals as well as 13 of his 19 assists. In addition, James Neal has scored 8 of his 17 goals, even though Neal has missed six games in that span.
Fisher hasn’t only played the role of set-up man, however. He has managed 13 goals in his 30 games. That’s a pace that would project to over 35 goals (25 goals is his career high) over the full 82-game schedule. If he could maintain that over the remaining games, he would finish with a career high 26 in just 61 games!
Fisher’s injury had another effect on the team. Shortly after it happened, the team being concerned about its depth down middle and signed free-agent, Mike Ribeiro. A tremendous playmaker, Ribeiro has spent most of the season centering the Predators top line, and Forsberg and Smith have benefited from that greatly.
Clearly, Fisher has made a remarkable recovery from what could have been a devastating injury to any athlete. The injury prompted the signing of another center who has more than met the expectations of him. Similarly, the return of Fisher has provided the team with a great spark. No one would have predicted that back in early July, but he is putting together what may turn out to be his career year!
I really hope you didn’t base your predictions for the 2014-15 NHL Central Division race on last year’s final standing of the clubs.
2013-2014 Central Division
The above standings included the top five in the division making the playoffs in the Western Conference. This year has proven to be quite different. Three of last year’s surprise teams have proven to be disappointments thus far.
The Colorado Avalanche have fallen on hard times. They are still above break-even, but barely so. Last season, Patrick Roy’s first as head coach in the NHL, the Avs seemed to get every break: They won the majority of their one-goal games and goaltender Semyon Varlamov was spectacular, leading the league with 41 victories in 63 starts. That hid a suspect defense.
Because of injuries, Varlamov will not be playing that many games this season. The Avs have had to adjust to a team that isn’t able to simply outscore opponents. Last season, with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, (2013-14 Calder Trophy winner) Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny all scoring more than 20 goals, they were the premiere run-and-gun team in the League.
Colorado lost Stastny as a free agent to St. Louis, but signed Jarome Iginla from Boston, and brought back Alex Tanguay up front. But this time around, it is likely they will have just three 20-goal men (Iginla, Duchene and Tanguay). Last week, they lost their top defenseman, Erik Johnson, to knee surgery. Even though the Avs took three of four points from the Predators this past week, they still have a double-digit points deficit to make it to the top three in the division, which carries an automatic playoff berth.
The Dallas Stars offseason moves centered on fleshing out of their top six forwards. They brought in Jason Spezza from Ottawa in a trade, along with another Senator - Ales Hemsky - as a free agent. Both of them have had their problems producing as expected. Aside from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Stars most reliable forward combination has been Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt. They have been struggling on defense, the blue line specifically. Kari Lehtonen has done his job in net, but the Stars are essentially treading water, slightly behind Colorado and slightly ahead of Minnesota.
Minnesota’s (three points behind the Avs at this writing) major problem this season has been looking at their goaltending. They used five at that position last season and four so far this time around. In 2013-14, Josh Harding - even though he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis early on - was their best, but he hasn’t played for them this season. Devan Dubnyk has become the man in net for the Wild the past few weeks and has accumulated eye-popping numbers. He will need to maintain those for the Wild to have a chance, and the Wild need more scoring to help Zach Parise.
Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators:
On the plus side in the Central this season: the emergence of the Predators and the Winnipeg Jets.
Let’s go to Winnipeg first of all. A big part of the story in Manitoba has been the emergence of rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson. He has pushed the previously unchallenged Ondrej Pavelec in net and has produced a Top 10 defensive rating. That is remarkable in that only Dustin Byfuglien has been regularly available on the blue line. Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom and Mark Stuart have all missed significant time.
The Jets score by committee - much like the Predators. The committee is getting contributions from seven players with double-digit goal totals. It looks like the Jets are solidly in as a Wild Card team in the West now, and they are closing in on the top three.
We all know the Predators’ story: excellent goaltending from Pekka Rinne right from the start. At the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, there were more than a few players who indicated that Rinne would be their choice to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP, not to mention the Vezina as top goaltender. He was in the process of putting his career-best together when he was injured against Vancouver.
Nashville’s scoring committee also features seven players with 10 or more goals and a defense that has been doing an outstanding job both ways.
Bottom line: No one could have expected the seasons the Predators and Jets have put together so far based on last season’s play.
St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks:
As for St. Louis and Chicago – they are simply maintaining what they have done the last several seasons. The Blues hope this is the season they advance further in the playoffs, while the Blackhawks have their eye on another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
It was a typical morning after playing the first night of a sequence of back-to-back games.
I felt a bit hazy getting up on Saturday. There was still some of the exuberance from the previous night’s game, the Nashville Predators 4-3 comeback win over the Washington Capitals. Yet, I was sleepily checking my computer for news just before leaving the room for our production meeting to set up that night’s broadcast in Detroit.
The first inkling that something had happened came in a tweet from the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont:
Bob Wilson had been the radio voice of the Boston Bruins from the time I broke into broadcasting until his retirement following the 1994 NHL Lockout. He was blessed with a tremendous, authoritative delivery. He described the play of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheevers, Brad Park, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely. This is Bob Wilson at his best, working with WBZ “Calling All Sports” host Bob Lobel during the 1978 Stanley Cup Final with Montreal:
Before the Bruins named the home radio booth at TD Garden in his honor almost four years ago, he was a guest of “Felger and Mazz” on the SportsHub in Boston:
Bob influenced so many young announcers. I would listen to him over the 50,000-watt signal of WBZ Radio many a night – whether I was in South Bend, Indiana, or Buffalo, New York. In those days, he would even take listener calls between periods, talking to people all over the Northeast.
When I was working with Bob Miller on the Los Angeles Kings broadcasts, the Bruins and Kings met four times each season, so I had many opportunities to chat with them (one of the great benefits of my real-life education!). When the Bruins got to Los Angeles, I lived close to the Marriott on Century Boulevard where many of the visiting NHL teams stayed, and we would continue our conversations there.
Bob Wilson was quite the character. Reminiscing about him with long-time Montreal Canadiens and Hockey Night in Canada voice Dick Irvin, I got this story:
“Peter Bronfman was showing some visitors around the Montreal Forum,” Irvin recounted. “He was showing them everything, even the broadcast area. Bob Wilson was already on the air, smoking a cigarette as usual, and as ‘the tour’ lingered in his area, Bob, having no idea what was going on, mumbled: ‘What’s with this guy, does he think he owns the place?’”
Of course, Peter Bronfman DID own the place, as well as many others!
The impact of Bob’s loss is probably best expressed through this blog from a long-time New England listener.
We knew him as “Bob Wilson,” but here is the story of his true identity.
No matter the name, we lost him from the airwaves over 20 years ago, but he had that magic that made him seem as if he was a good friend, talking to you alone, from the first time you tuned in one of his broadcasts. One of the early winners of the Foster Hewitt Award, given to broadcasters by the Hockey Hall of Fame, Bob Wilson was one of the best!
Friday is going to seem so very strange to many of us.
Barry Trotz will be at Bridgestone Arena, but he (along with Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn) will be working the bench of the Washington Capitals, not the Nashville Predators.
Through 15 seasons, 1,196 regular season and another 50 playoff games, Trotz was the Predators original coach, hired in 1997.
I had first run into him during my radio play-by-play time with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres had closed out their final season (1995-96) playing in their original home, the Aud. They didn’t make the playoffs that year, but their American League farm club, the Rochester Americans did.
In the 1996 Calder Cup Final, the Americans faced the Portland Pirates, coached by – Barry Trotz. Trotz had won the Cup for Portland in 1994. But this time, he would be the disappointed one in the handshake line, as he congratulated John Tortorella on Rochester’s win.
Two years later, I was in Southern California in late January as the Los Angeles Kings flew me in to honor my former broadcast partner, Bob Miller, then celebrating 25 years (and still going strong to this day) as voice of the Kings. After being in awe at being on the ice with Bob, Los Angeles Lakers legend Chick Hearn and Los Angeles Dodgers Voice Vin Scully, I had credentials for the Ducks versus Blackhawks game the next night.
So, I take my seat in the press box next to a scout for the soon-to-be Nashville Predators. His name? Barry Trotz. That night, Chicago’s Gary Suter crosschecked Paul Kariya in the head, knocking Kariya out of the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Little did I know that within a few months, I would be working with Barry Trotz in Nashville.
Or that seven years later, Paul Kariya would join the Predators.
Barry and I had many pregame visits over the years, including this one, after game one in Japan to begin the 2000-2001 season against the Penguins:
The memories are many, from all aspects of the time on the road, where you really get to know each other. I have been blessed in my broadcasting career to work with so many great people in the coaching/managing role. They include Marv Levy, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Scotty Bowman, Terry Collins and Del Crandall. Barry Trotz is a special person.
If you hadn’t realized it before, it all came out in one of the most emotional news conferences I have ever attended, last April 14 at Bridgestone Arena.
If you thought Predators General Manager David Poile was emotional as he went over the dismissal of his friend, give a good listen to the first portion of Trotz’s statement:
Friday’s game with the Washington Capitals will carry all of that emotion, and perhaps more. Trotz told reporters earlier in the week, the transition to Washington for him, and for Peter Laviolette to the Predators, has been a “win-win” for both sides.
It’s hard to argue that. This has been the most successful Predators season ever to this point, and the Capitals have straightened things out defensively, as we would have expected.
Let’s get the puck dropped already!
The hockey offseason of 2011 was a difficult one. While I hate to remind anyone of it, that was the summer that we lost (in chronological order) Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and our own Wade Belak.
Each of them suffered from some form(s) of depression, and scouts would evaluate them as in ascending order (according to penalty minutes/per game) Rypien (1.9), Boogaard (2.13) and Belak (2.3) as a policeman or protector. Rather than judging each of these cases as being the same, we are able to delve into one of them.
The New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, John Branch, released a book this fall detailing the life story of Derek Boogaard: “Boy on Ice – The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard.”
As you might imagine, it can be a difficult read. Derek overcame a lot to make it into the junior hockey ranks in the Western Hockey League, let alone the NHL. It is unbelievable to me that he had the drive (or perhaps, the stubborn streak) to make it to the Minnesota Wild in 2005.
Somehow, Boogaard hooked on with Regina of the WHL in 1999 and then moved on to Prince George and Medicine Hat for portions of four seasons before catching on with the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL at mid-season 2002-03. This after Minnesota used a 7th round pick on him in the 2001 Entry Draft. That got him to the AHL’s Houston Aeros, where future Detroit assistant (and now San Jose Sharks head coach) Todd McLellan was in charge.
He created room for his teammates, with over 200 minutes in penalties both seasons in Houston (207 and 259). Finally he began his 277-game NHL career with the Wild in the fall of 2005 and never played another minor league game.
The hazards inherent to the job of a team policeman did not allow him to ever play more than 65 games in a season. As big (6-feet-7, 258 pounds) and fearsome as he was, the damage he inflicted on some was counterbalanced by the too-numerous-to-mention injuries he suffered. Therein was much of what would turn out to be his demise.
The medications he felt he needed to combat, or defeat, the pain were at the bottom of it all. He would build up a tolerance for them, and with his size, figured he needed an even greater dosage than “normal” people. He would get desperate and obtain many prescriptions from legal and extra-legal sources.
All of this made him feel very much alone in his world, a fate he dreaded. He was dead before his 29th birthday.
Sad as this all is, this book deserves reading. We shouldn’t be too quick to say that the role of the enforcer has been diminished over the course of recent seasons. John Branch, with the help and cooperation of the Boogaard family, has taken us inside Derek’s life. I certainly wish we could erase those difficult memories of 2011, but I feel there are lessons for us in this book, making it a worthwhile read.
Earlier, Paul McCann and I were lucky enough to talk to the author on Slapshot Radio, if you would like to hear from him:
Click here to listen to the Slapshot Radio episode featuring an interview with author John Branch
I would have a difficult time determining if ever I have enjoyed a “doubleheader” more than I did on Dec. 30.
It was a football and hockey affair, with two great games and some nice reunion-type activities. I really can’t complain about the results either. The only thing was – it was over so fast.
Sunday and Monday was the Predators annual Fathers' trip. This one was to Chicago, which brought me into proximity with many friends. There was also the reconnecting with some of the “veteran fathers” I had met on previous trips, along with the usual telling of old stories. (Remember the first trip, in January of 1999? The Preds beat Dominik Hasek in Buffalo and Marty Brodeur in overtime at New Jersey?) We had a little delay getting home Monday night and into Tuesday morning. That night and morning turned out to be a short one, with adrenaline taking me through Tuesday.
By 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I was at Acme Feed & Seed on lower Broadway for a University of Notre Dame and Middle Tennessee Notre Dame Club Alumni Pep Rally. It was so great to see so many friends there, including a couple of my contemporaries from school, defensive end Ross Browner and cornerback Mike Townsend.
The stories were great, and they made me realize that thanks to my job with the Predators and the team’s schedule, I would be attending my first Notre Dame Bowl Game since the Sugar Bowl following the 1973 season. Ross and Mike played on that team for Coach Ara Parseghian, and the Irish beat Alabama that misty New Orleans night, 24-23, to take the National Championship.
After that, it was a walk across the bridge to LP Field and the game. Keep in mind, the Music City Bowl kicked off at 2 p.m. I had a hockey game to do that night at Bridgestone Arena at 7 p.m. Going into this, I realized I would not be able to stay for the whole football game. It was just a question of when I would need to leave.
I could not complain about the game. It was back-and-forth affair, and the Irish seemed to have discovered their quarterback of the future in Malik Zaire, who seemed incredibly composed to me. There was the controversy over LSU’s fake field goal at the end of the first half, but video review did not produce sufficient evidence to overturn the call (that would happen in Tuesday’s hockey game as well, costing the Predators a goal). In the third quarter, the score was tied at 28 when I left LP Field and began my 20-minute walk back to Bridgestone Arena.
I got to my broadcast location immediately, turned on the TV there, and was able to catch the entire final sequence leading to the game-ending/game winning field goal for Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory. Once again, the thunder had been shaken down from the sky.
Many cups of coffee later, it was time to sign on for the coverage of the Predators’ second-straight night facing a top Central Division team in the St. Louis Blues.
The Predators were coming back with Pekka Rinne for this one. Rinne had faced 42 shots the night before in the shootout loss in Chicago. The Blues had played the night before as well, shutting out the Avs in St. Louis and holding them to just 16 shots on goal.
The Blues would not be so stifling on this night. They fell behind on Shea Weber’s goal late in the first, but bounced back with two second-period goals to go in front. It appeared as if Filip Forsberg had tied it at 16:03 of the second. However, the officials on the ice had ruled no goal, and after a lengthy review, the NHL Situation Room in Toronto felt there was insufficient video evidence to overturn that call. Gabriel Bourque did tie it up three seconds later (on the scoreboard clock anyway), setting the stage for third period drama.
Filip Forsberg set up that drama, in a manner of speaking. He took a penalty for tripping T.J. Oshie, putting the Predators on the penalty kill. Paul Gaustad and Shea Weber each blocked shot attempts by Alex Steen, but then the Predators got possession and had a 2-on-1 going: with defensemen Roman Josi and Weber. A wrister by Shea gave the Predators the lead, along with their first short-handed goal of the year. The Blues threatened late with goalie Brian Elliott pulled for the extra attacker but couldn’t find the equalizer.
The Predators held on to win it and had found a way to put 87 shots on net in back-to-back games while taking three of four points in the two nights – AND it was one of the most enjoyable day/night doubleheaders I have ever had!