On Saturday, we were granted the opportunity to return to Smashville for an entire day full of excitement. With an Adult Skills Clinic, followed by the double-header featuring a Vanderbilt hockey alumni game and the Knoxville Ice Bears hosting the Huntsville Havoc, fans left Bridgestone Arena Saturday night very pleased with the day’s activities.
The Adults Skill Clinic was first on the agenda. Nashville Predators coaching staff, broadcasters Terry Crisp, Stu Grimson and Tom Callahan, along with Predators staff members, offered an opportunity for novice hockey players with five or less years of hockey playing experience to participate in a skill development clinic. This was the first time in Predators history that an Adult Skills Clinic was offered, and the turnout was outstanding. With a total of 30 skaters and six goaltenders present, the clinic sold out within the first three hours it was available. According to Predators Executive Vice President Chris Parker, this is a true testament to the growing popularity of hockey in Middle Tennessee.
“If you look at the adult level clinic that we are running today, we now have the youngest kids and the oldest kids involved in the game and involved in playing the game,” he said. “To see the kind of support for an event like this is tremendous.”
The cost for each player was $50, and all proceeds went to the Nashville Predators Foundation. The clinic was divided into several skill stations, each focused on basic hockey skills such as skating, stick handling, shooting, passing, goalie positioning and puck-handling. Small-area games were also organized, allowing participants to envision themselves in the skates of a Predators player playing a game on home ice. Participants were also granted a tour of the Predators locker room and two tickets to an upcoming Predators weeknight home game. Due to the extraordinary success of the first Adult Skills Clinic, the Predators plan to continue offering more for years to come.
Next up was the inaugural Vanderbilt Alumni game, pitting current students against 17 alumni of the more than 30-year-old team. The contest was a high-scoring, yet close one, with the current players scraping by with a 6-5 win. Alumni, who ranged from recent graduates to middle-aged professionals, and students alike were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this unique event. Even Thomas Bernstein, head coach of the Vanderbilt club team, decided to lace up his skates for the game, playing on behalf of the current students. He could not have been more elated to see the two groups facing off in Bridgestone Arena.
“I have rarely seen 35-45 year old guys this happy and excited about playing hockey, and everybody is equally psyched to be back,” Bernstein said. “We want to do this as often as the alumni prioritize it. Every year might be tough; every other year is very doable. What makes that possible are the bonds this team have forged over the years, and it’s very exciting to see those last a lifetime.”
The hallmark of the day’s itinerary came very quickly, as fans sporting Havoc and Ice Bears apparel streamed in early to secure their spot for what was expected to be a riveting showdown. This was the second preseason game for both clubs, as the teams squared off the night before at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, with the Havoc topping the Ice Bears 5-4. The Ice Bears, in turn, looked for vengeance as the puck was dropped in front of a crowd of 6,021. At 3:33 of the first period, gloves were thrown to the ice as Brad Pawlowski of the Ice Bears and Corey Fulton of the Havoc exchanged blows that slapped five minute majors on both. With both teams riled up, the Ice Bears quickly took the lead at 11:48, as Peter Neal fed Mark Van Vliet for a beautiful goal, beating Havoc netminder Dan McWhinney. The Ice Bears, whose penalty kill was spotless, were able to fend off the Havoc for the remainder of the game. Though Van Vliet’s goal was the only one scored Saturday night, there were plenty of scoring opportunities for both squads, keeping fans on the edge of their seats. The shot total for the Ice Bears was 25, while the Havoc generated 21. The final score was 1-0 Ice Bears.
“In the state of Tennessee, the hockey fans are actually great,” Van Vliet said regarding the unique opportunity to play in Smashville. “It was a really exciting atmosphere for us to play in tonight and all the guys were excited to come here.”
Ice Bears Head Coach Mike Craigen could not have agreed more.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see that lower bowl filled up,” Craigen said. “I’ve been to many Preds games too. I sure enjoy the atmosphere here and the atmosphere wasn’t that far off tonight. It was loud, the game ops staff did a great job, and it was just an incredible experience for everyone involved on our end. We give so many thanks to the Predators organization for allowing this opportunity. It was definitely a great night.”
501 Broadway was alive with energy as fans left Smashville Saturday night. After more than five months of waiting, they were finally able to watch live hockey, and even play some as well. We all look forward to making our way out to Smashville in the near future.
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