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!
Fashion has always been a concern in hockey, especially for those who present the game to you on television. Thus as we are in the holiday time of year – and you may still be looking for THE gift for the hockey fan in your life, I thought I would try to give you some ideas.
Years ago, when I was working for the Buffalo Sabres, we had an annual April Fool’s telecast (not that it differed THAT much from our regular fare). As part of it, we had our Sabres TV blazers – brilliantly resplendent in gold, (OK, a little like the Century 21 realtors, I admit). Take a look at those blazers here.
You know the phrases: “Clothes make the man” is popular. Another from my days working in South Bend, Indiana: “One man tells another.” That was the slogan for Gilbert’s Menswear and those were the people that made me worthy of Slapshot!’s Jim Carr in this photo to the right.
You need to know this, the salesman assigned to me actually put this ensemble together for me: jacket, shirt, tie and slacks. Who knows how much I paid for it in 1974, but with the sponsorhip deal WNDU had with Gilbert’s, this picture was used when I phoned in reports to the station.
My good friend at the Associated Press, former Washington Capitals public relations man Dave Ferry, took the original WNDU photo and paired me with the Voice of the Charlestown Chiefs. Truly two hockey contemporaries from the 1970s!
I haven’t seen that jacket in many years now, except photographically. I wonder where it went? Some of you men know what happens when you get an item of clothing that is just so comfortable, you never want to get rid of it, right?
That brings us to another mystery. See this picture of the 1989 Calgary Flames, celebrating their winning of the Stanley Cup at the Forum in Montreal?
The jacket worn in the lower right corner by Terry Crisp turned out to be his lucky jacket that season, right through the winning of the Cup in Game Six on May 25, 1989. Guess what? Terry hasn’t seen it since! He would like to find it. I would like to find my “Jim Carr” jacket as well! I still have my Sabres’ jacket, but my collection will not be complete without the other.
Speaking on Terry’s behalf, we both would like to offer cash rewards for their returns. The conditions of the jackets will be taken into consideration as we calculate those rewards! Believe me, getting them back would make it a Very Merry Christmas for the both of us!
We hope you have a great holiday too!
The news came Monday. After 15 seasons tending goal in the National Hockey League, Tomas Vokoun announced his retirement. He played 383 regular season games for the Nashville Predators, 248 for Florida, 48 with Washington and 20 for Pittsburgh.
When an expansion team begins play, as the Predators did in October of 1998, the players have chips on their shoulders. They were basically unwanted by their previous teams.
Tomas Vokoun could really feel that way. He had spent three professional seasons (114 games) in the Montreal organization, and had played just one period for the Canadiens. In that one, he allowed four goals in Philadelphia. Jose Theodore was ahead of him in the American League and Jocelyn Thibault was the starter in net for Montreal.
Rejean Houle was the General Manager in Montreal at the time of the 1998 Expansion Draft. His strategy was to lose Vokoun then, in order to protect against losing some of his younger goalies in the expansion drafts that were to follow, stocking Atlanta (1999), Columbus and Minnesota (2000).
So, Houle made a deal with Predators General Manager David Poile. Houle sent center Sebastien Bordeleau to the Predators for “future considerations,” so that Poile would take Vokoun in the expansion draft.
It was a depth move at the time, but turned out to be a great one very shortly. Tomas began that first season with the Milwaukee Admirals and played nine games, as Eric Fichaud began as Mike Dunham’s back-up with the Predators.
Tomas got into his first game on the road in Vancouver on Nov. 7, allowing five goals. His next appearance was a week later in St. Louis, and he turned in a scoreless period in relief of Dunham. By early December, Tomas had appeared in four straight, including a 2-1 win over San Jose.
By that point in time, Tomas would often sit on the seat behind me on the team bus and would ask me about his hockey hero, Dominik Hasek. I had been on the Sabres’ broadcast team before moving to Nashville and he wanted to hear whatever he could about “The Dominator” from me, as well as goaltending coach Mitch Korn.
In January, Vokoun started eight straight, the second of those against Phoenix at 501 Broadway. Tomas stopped 31 shots that night for the first shutout in team history. (Watch first shutout in team history)
Vokoun would go on to play eight of the team’s final 11 games and establish himself as no worse than a solid No. 2 goaltender. He was 12-18-6 with a 2.95 goals-against average behind an expansion team’s defense. He played 99 games over the following three seasons. Then, the determination was made that he was ready to be the starter.
Like in football, where the backup quarterback oftentimes becomes a crowd favorite, Tomas did just that. He did it with some spectacular saves, like these, which began with a breakaway by Florida’s Pavel Bure:
The team was 6-14-8 at the time of the trade and broke even the rest of the way (21-21-12) as Vokoun started the final 53 games, 69 in all.
The team rallied behind a man they realized would battle for them, literally: (Watch Tomas Vokoun fight Jarome Iginla and then Jamie McLennan)
That was on January 16, 2003, as Tomas was in the early stages of his ironman streak in net. They didn’t make the playoffs that season, but Vokoun had set the stage. With Tomas in net, the Predators made the playoffs the next three seasons.
The first playoff game in Nashville was on Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, against the Detroit Red Wings. Vokoun beat the Red Wings, 3-1. Two days later, he shut them out, 3-0.
So the Predators in their first series were even after four games with Detroit. Before Game Five, a headline in the Detroit Free Press was: “Panic in Hockeytown.” However, the Red Wings themselves came back to take the series in six games.
Because Tomas seemed to relish taking risks in (and out) of the net, I took to calling him “Evil Knievel” on occasion. That spirit would lead to his scraps with Jarome Iginla. The thing with Tomas, he loved to challenge the shooters. (Watch Tomas Vokoun leave the crease to stop Jonathan Cheechoo on a breakaway)
Vokoun was clearly the man, ready to stop any and everything. It could be Teemu Selanne or any of the NHL’s game-breakers at the time:
As well as things were going for Vokoun and the Predators at the time, it all ground to a halt with the NHL lockout, which resulted in the loss of the 2004-05 season. By mid-July of 2005, the two sides had a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and they hurriedly prepared for a full season that fall. Tomas joined me on my talk show at that point on Nashville’s 106.7 the Fan:
Vokoun was no stranger by that time with Nashville’s radio audience. He once heard something on a morning show and called the station to refute it. The problem, the producer thought it was someone doing a “Tomas Vokoun impression” and hung up on him. Tomas was persistent though, calling back and getting on the air to make his point.
When the Predators were put up for sale in 2007, Tomas was among the losses from the roster. He was dealt to Florida, where his workload increased. He spent four years there with no playoff activity. Then it was off to Washington for a season, then to one final (lockout-shortened season) with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.
There, he became a leader and savior again, stepping in for a faltering Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs. The Penguins had the top record in the Eastern Conference, but their series with the Islanders was even after four games. Dan Bylsma put Vokoun in and he won the next two to close out the Islanders. It was at that point that Tomas got some love from a future Hall of Fame goaltender on Hockey Night in Canada: (Watch Martin Brodeur praise the career of Tomas Vokoun)
The Boston Bruins swept the Penguins in the Conference Final as Vokoun’s magic ran into the Bruins’ buzz saw.
Last season, Tomas was hit with blood clots for the second time in his career. He had missed the 2006 playoffs with the Predators when he was diagnosed with them in his abdomen, but had come back strong the following season. In late September of 2013, he developed blood clots in his leg and the report from the Czech Republic was that he had a near-death experience.
The treatment with blood thinners kept him out of action most of the season, as he managed but two “conditioning assignment” stints with the Penguins’ American League club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Monday morning came word over Twitter that he was retiring. "I can say that it was a successful career," Vokoun said to iSport. "I'm proud of what I did.”
He should be – with 300 NHL wins, two gold medals from the World Championships and a bronze medal from the 2006 Olympics in Turino. He represented the Predators in two All-Star games, and as this is written, appeared in more games (383) than any Nashville goaltender (Pekka Rinne is at 343).
Tomas Vokoun will always be remembered here as the blue-collar goaltender that helped turn the Predators franchise from its expansion infancy to a perennial playoff team. He played 12 seasons out of the “mainstream NHL,” but his efforts, results – and his humanity – were always distinguished. I would love to see “The Russian Rocket” breaking in on him again!
Earlier this season, during the Nashville Predators first trip into Winnipeg, I happened upon a story. As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” That’s all I was doing – watching.
Sitting at the same table at the MTS Centre prior to the Preds versus Jets match were Brent Peterson and his brother, Greg. Greg was in town from his Calgary home and the visit with his brother was a bonus. Greg would be doing the radio analysis of the following night’s Canadian Football League game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders.
In other words, sitting at the same table were brothers who worked as broadcast analysts in two different sports! Of course they each played at the professional level. Greg spent nine seasons (1984-92) with his hometown Calgary Stampeders after his college career at Brigham Young.
Brent played 620 NHL games between 1978 and 1989 for the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers. He then spent 21 seasons in coaching, 14 of them in the NHL, including the Predators’ first 12 seasons.
Certainly there are other sets of brothers who have played different sports. UCLA’s Bill (basketball, later NBA champion) and Bruce (football, later with the Dallas Cowboys) Walton come to mind. Another family combination: former American League batting champion (1970) Alex Johnson’s brother Ron was a running back for the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys from 1969-76.
Broadcasting has been a bit different. There are brothers who have done play-by-play of various sports. The Alberts come to mind immediately: Marv (with NBA, NHL and NFL credits) is the most famous. Al has worked primarily in the ABA and NBA. The youngest brother, Steve, is now with the Phoenix Suns, but also did the Nets-Mets-Jets trifecta along with hockey’s Islanders, Rangers and the old WHA Cleveland Crusaders.
The legendary Dan Kelly – long-time network TV voice of hockey nationally and voice of the St. Louis Blues, had two offspring who also called NHL play-by-play: John Kelly has worked for Tampa Bay, Colorado and (now) St. Louis. John's younger brother, Dan, announced for the Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.
Those brothers all called play-by-play, which truly is a different animal from being an analyst. The analyst needs to most often answer the questions “How?” and “Why?”
Maybe my memory is failing me, but I can’t recall anyone other than the Petersons who have performed that role in two different professional sports.
You can listen to them tell their individual stories right here: