Predators Prowl with Tom Callahan

Tuesday, 06.09.2009 / 9:02 AM / Features
By Tom Callahan  - Nashville Predators
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Predators Prowl with Tom Callahan
 
Greetings Predators Fans! I would like to welcome you all to what will be come a pretty regular blog here on NashvillePredators.com as I chronicle the comings and goings of your Predators team.

Since this is my first NHL campaign, you’ll get to experience everything with me for the first time. I’m sure I’ll have stories about getting lost in buildings or cities, finding those little out-of-the-way places, and discovering which player can’t live without his lucky rabbit’s foot/slingshot/gym socks.

I’m sure from time to time not only will you get an entertaining story from the road, but a few select beauties plucked from my own personal hockey past, dating back to the 1999-00 season when I started in the Western Professional Hockey League. When you look back over your shoulder at five teams, four leagues, and a million miles of memories, there’s bound to be a few that stand out.

So with that, I’m looking forward to keeping you all in the loop during the season, and sharing the smiles along the way. Keep your browser pointed here all season long!

Hey fans – join me on Twitter at twitter.com/predsradio. News, notes, what’s new in Preds land – as soon as it happens!

Tom Callahan
Predators Radio Voice

Blog Entries
October - 3 | 5 | 7 | 9 | 15 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 30 | 31
November - 5 | 10 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 26
December - 2 | 4 | 12 | 17
January - 9 | 13 | 16 | 19 | 26 | 27 | 28
February - 9 | 13 | 19 | 24 | 25 | 28
March - 6 | 7
April - 1 | 9 | 14 | 17 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 28
May - 6 | 14 | 19 | 22 |
June - 2 | 9 |


June 9
So Game Six tonight… hardware on the line, two teams left but barely standing, and the ever-unfortunate off-season right around the corner. Yes hockey fans, it’s time to savor the last game or two. I’m thinking last game, but it is in Pittsburgh and the Pens have played well there.

I’m preparing a list of off-season remedies and how-tos for everyone to enjoy a bit later on, but for tonight, here are some difference-makers:

Henrik Zetterberg – I know, I know, obvious choice, right? Why not pick Pavel Datsyuk? Well, I think that not only is Zetterberg able to help offensively but his defensive contributions have been fantastic. Watch his two-way play, it’s setting him apart.

Marc-Andre Fleury – I don’t know if he’s ready to come back from Game Five, but he’d better be. This guy is all that will stand between the Pens still having a shot… or not.

Brian Rafalski – He’s chipped in a few goals, but I’ve been amazed at how many times he’s been out of position in the Final on Pitt goals. Lidstrom looked like he was going to strangle him at some point. Rafalski has to mind his own end better. The Penguins need to attack on his side of the ice.

Miro Satan – Anyone at this point really doubt why they tried to wave him? He’s making pretty good cake and not really doing much. I’m thinking maybe he’s the guy who sits out tonight. Zero points, -3, six games.

Bill Guerin – It’s time… 1 A, -3 in the series… he needs to break out TONIGHT.

Dan Cleary and Darren Helm – I’ve loved watching them the whole playoffs. Heart and hustle, combined with some sandpaper in the game… don’t underestimate the contributions from these two!

Well, that’s all I have for you en route to tonight’s action. Enjoy it, TiVo it, or in my case, VCR it, and watch it again over the summer. Right after my tape of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey win by Team USA.

Keep your stick on the ice.



June 2

Game Three is tonight, and I’ll be glued to the tele watching this one. I’m going to be watching to see if Sid the Kid is going to show up tonight, or if Henrik Zetterberg is going to continue rendering him completely invisible as he has the first two games of the series. Hank has all but eliminated Crosby from any offensive chances, period. To watch those two battle is to truly see how working hard in both ends of the ice can help produce wins, and ultimately, championships. I think that this superstar matchup is one that deserves even more attention than it seems to be garnering.

Pittsburgh must also get more out of Marc-Andre Fleury, but you already knew that. So did I. So does the entire hockey world. At times this post-season he has been the sole reason the Penguins have been able to count games in the win column, but he hasn’t stolen anything for them. Look for his emotion, and the rest of the team, to ride high tonight. This may be the only game of the series they win, but I think they will post a win tonight, thanks to a rebound from their top netminder.

Also on Pittsburgh’s side of the ice, what was a fairly pedestrian defensive corps during the regular season has been shot full of holes on several occasions in the Final. One need only look at the first few minutes of Game Two and witness the many odd-man rushes against the Penguins gave up. Were they pressing too hard, pinching too much? Probably, but Detroit has a way of intimidating you like that, especially at The Joe. Meanwhile, the Penguins have to get back on track in its own end, taking care of business and rebounds to help the above predicted goaltending reappearance materialize.

Finally, the Red Wings continue to plow along and may get some guys back as they go. To be honest, I just don’t feel like it matters. They are going to roll past the Penguins, if for no other reason than they know they can. They don’t panic, they don’t get all bent out of shape… they merely go out and do what they can to dominate the game, scoring when they need to. It’s an absolute confidence and belief in what they can accomplish that makes them so hard to beat.

As a final thought, Chris Osgood has played well in the post-season, although at times I wondered if he was going to keep it going. Some guys would not recover from the stretch run Osgood had, but credit the organization with saying he would be #1 from the get-go, and letting him get his confidence and enable the team in front of him. Almost seems like old times… almost.

PS – Rumors of Hossa signing a 7-year deal with the Wings after the season is done are rampant. That leaves them about 38 cents to sign everyone else. Should be an interesting off-season!

Keep your stick on the ice.


May 22

Well, I was going to use my blog space today to talk about where we were with the current conference final series, but today I am torn in a different, but hockey-related, direction; sadness over the death of Robert Mueller.

Just 28 years old, I blogged about Mueller earlier this year and his courageous battle with a brain tumor. After finding out last summer that his tumor had started growing again and was incurable, he still managed to come back and play in November for his German club. He logged the final eight minutes of a 5-1 win and got a standing ovation from the 13,000+ on hand. He had to leave the team shortly thereafter in December, and lost his battle with cancer this week. I am saddened greatly by the news, but hope that the inspiration and courage he showed will stand as a reminder to others in whatever struggles they may face. Rest in peace, Robert.

I’m off for a week, but I’ll catch up when I return. By then we might have our Cup Finals match-up set? Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


May 19

As the hockey world turns, we are now one game in to each conference final series. Detroit handled Chicago on home ice 5-2 after a rough first period that seemed like the Hawks caught the Wings unaware. After being back on their skates a bit, the Red Wings found a way to put it in gear while simultaneously shutting down Kane and Toews. Both players finished at -3 on the night and combined for just one shot on goal.

What happened? Well, credit Detroit for bottling up the top two for the Blackhawks with stingy defense and good coverage, first of all. But also, realize that with each player at -3 the Wings didn’t just sit back and trap until that line left the ice. They attacked. It’s up to the Hawks to make the right reads and recognize that their offense either over-commits or simply isn’t backchecking hard enough, allowing Detroit offensive opportunities that resulted in goals. The Blackhawks can’t rely on Byfuglien to carry them in a series, or for that matter even Sharp and Havlat (though both players are very talented, take nothing away from them). Chicago needs to unleash all of its threats on Detroit for success. Will that mean line juggling for the Blackhawks? One might think Kane and Toews would benefit from different linemates if they don’t get anything going together in Game Two… and their defense and goaltender will thank them for it, too.

Speaking of goaltending, Nikolai Khabibulin did not play a bad game in the loss, I felt. He made several saves when called upon and really did a good job of not letting the Wings run away with the game. He was simply tested far more times and in tougher situations than Chris Osgood. Again, credit Detroit for shutting down the Chicago attack, and Osgood has needed to be solid, not spectacular. If the Wings can keep him from having to bail them out time and again, it might turn out a much shorter series than anyone expected. Chicago has to find ways to beat the Wings’ D and get pucks to the net, whether by attacking down the wall or driving wide. Detroit’s defense rarely mishandles the puck and moves it right back up the ice just as fast as any corps in the game. That’s where you can get burned by being too deep in the zone and end up a -3.

Also, Pittsburgh and Carolina played a pretty entertaining game last night. Cam Ward is getting all the publicity in this post-season, maybe due in part to Pitt having been at this point last year, too. Ward did a lot to will the Hurricanes past the Devils and Bruins, and now he has his team in the conference final. But Marc-Andre Fleury has flown completely under the radar while playing very, very well. It amazes me that he gets dumped on as much as he does, even now. People continue to be amazed when he makes big saves, and it has a lot to do I’m sure with him being a slow starter in the regular season. Hey, that’s not a favorable way to get the ball rolling, but I’d rather have my goalie show up in the post-season as opposed to tanking when we get there. Fleury deserves more credit than he’s gotten for the Penguins success in the playoffs, pure and simple.

Sidney Crosby will always be the front-and-center guy for the Penguins, and Evgeny Malkin’s hot-and-cold performances hurt his attention as well. But I felt Malkin had a great impact in the game the other night and watching him play, its fun to see how he just slides into open spaces for scoring chances. Not only is he smart with the puck, but without it as well. That’s something that if you think of, watch players who are away from the puck, even goaltenders. Watch how the D-men move, when they give up the zone vs. when they pinch, etc. It makes you understand how plays develop more. Try to pick the next guy you think will get the puck and watch how he gets from A to B. Another guy who is also very good at it after so many years is Bill Guerin. He always seems to end up around the net at the right time. Keep an eye on that guy!

Okay, so today I was talking about a six-button Napoleon Dynamite keychain I had a few years back. Each different button represented a saying or quote from the movie. The natural evolution was to try to come up with six buttons for my co-workers and my friends. How well do you know the people you work with… can you come up with six? Also, I’d like to see what you come up with for my keychain. So follow the link here, and you have six buttons to work with… what goes on my keychain, Pete Weber’s keychain, and Terry Crisp’s? Have fun with that one!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


May 14
Well, no kidding. The Washington Capitals extend their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in exciting fashion, winning Game Six in overtime. A premier matchup between Crosby and Ovechkin, complete with a strong supporting cast on both sides. Prime for a colossal Game Seven, right? RIGHT!?

Apparently the Caps thought the game was tonight, because they did not show up in most manners one would consider normal for hockey. There was lackluster performances on offense, defense, and in net, too. Not to say that I’ll pin the series loss on the shoulders of Varlamov, but by the time he was yanked in favor of Theodore it was too late. There should have been a time out following goal #2, and a goaltending change after the third. It was obvious for whatever reason that Washington was flat, and the team was not going to be able to play through it. Instead the Caps hit the wall with a very loud THUD and the Penguins move on.

Tonight, I expect the games to be pretty good, but who knows? Seems like every chance we get to build this game nationally turns into something unlike the true product. Of course, that’s sports… you never know what you’re going to get. That’s why we all watch every game. Because the Predators can slug the Red Wings 8-0 sometimes. **grin**

I expect Detroit to move on and shut down the Ducks, weathering the physical storm Anaheim must throw at them to generate chances and success. I also think that Carolina might just be the team that can push Boston over the edge… or they can replicate the Caps performance of last night. The first five minutes will be key in this game, and if Boston can blow the Hurricanes out of the rink at home early, it might be a quick night. But the Hurricanes must take what Boston will throw at them, and then chip away at Tim Thomas. Get those big bodies in front of the net and get shots through from the points. Bang away at rebounds. And perhaps pick up a power play goal or two. That’s the way Carolina can win.

Well, I must say I’m still thinking that the next round will feature Detroit vs. Chicago (great matchup there!) and Boston vs. Pittsburgh. I’d love to see a Boston/Chicago final – would be great for either of those two cities to win a Cup. And then you have to break out your history books, or at least your Pete Weber, to follow the rich and storied histories of two Original Six franchises doing battle for the sport’s ultimate prize.

Until next time – keep your stick on the ice!


May 6
So we’re into the second round now and so far the matchups are shaping up well. I particularly think the Vancouver/Chicago series is going to be a massive battle until the end and would not be surprised at a seven-game affair there. I know I ring the goaltending bell a lot, but more so than any other series, this one can be decided by the masked men. It hurts Chicago that Jonathan Toews hasn’t really had the impact he should so far, but also Vancouver does a good job shutting down that line for the most part. I do like the play of Dustin Byfuglien, who in the absence of the top players being able to produce has mixed it up, hit people, and stirred the pot when called for. He’s even generating pressure off the forecheck when he gets in deep. Last year he finished the season on a line with Kane and Toews to some pretty good results. I don’t know if that will come to pass again, but considering this was his first full season at forward, I like what he brings and think he can be a difference-maker in the series.

How much better head-to-head can you ask for than Crosby vs. Ovechkin? If you saw the game where they scored head-to-head hat tricks, you got a special treat that showed two of the top players in the NHL doing everything in their power to pull their teams across the finish line to victory. The efforts were top-notch, although Crosby asking the referee to make Caps fans stop throwing hats just grinds my gears. I doubt Sid the Kid would do that at home, and it just lends even more to his reputation of being a whiner. Sid is the serious, somber side of hockey, and Alex is everything else. He’s the fun, dynamic player who looks like he’s having a great time and playing the game hard. The more Sid goes sour grapes on anything Ovechkin does the worse light I think he paints himself in. It seems that unless you’re in Don Cherry’s camp with his stance on foreign players (he’s not a fan at all) you enjoy something about the way Ovechkin plays the game. I can’t say that I agree with everything he does, but if those two play head-to-head on different channels, I’ll flip to the Caps game. These two going up against each other will make for compelling TV.

Anaheim is giving the Red Wings quite a run for their money right now (and yes, Preds fans, you may give a frustrated sigh at this point… that could be us!). The Ducks do something that the Predators figured out during the regular season – take on the Wings with physical play and a hard forecheck, and the Wings might cough the puck up. Osgood isn’t handling traffic very well, either (although Neidermayer did spill right over top of him to make what was almost goaltender interference in the last game). Ozzie isn’t as young as he used to be or as quick, making screens harder to fight through. Hiller is playing well in the Ducks’ net, and Detroit is trying to pick him high and get him to drop early to find scoring with limited success. Bobby Ryan is continuing to impress in the playoffs, getting involved and it makes Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne and co. even more dangerous with one more threat on the ice. Finally, don’t discount the playoff experience on the blue line from Neidermayer and Pronger. I like what Paulsson brings to the ice, too. He’s quietly become a major pest for the Ducks and has been a thorn in Detroit’s side very quietly.

Finally, Boston figured to blow by Carolina, but Cam Ward appears to have other plans. He might be able to out-duel Tim Thomas and get the Hurricanes a few wins, but in the end I think the B’s are just too strong of a team. The question mark here is whether or not the Hurricanes game confidence from Ward’s performance or if they just end up sitting back and waiting to see if he’ll crack. They have to continue to attack the Bruins and get the big boys in front of the net for any sort of continued success. Cole has got to become a bigger factor for Carolina to win!

Well, that’s the quick-and-dirty version of the playoffs so far, but I’m sure there’s a whole lot more hockey left in this round. Stay tuned!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


April 28
Man oh man… I just don’t know where to begin today’s blog! There’s so much to talk about especially on the heels of a break yesterday. I suppose the best place to start is with the games.

Last night, Chicago and Anaheim moved on after eliminating Calgary and San Jose, respectively. Jonas Hiller and the Ducks did a great job of responding to a Sharks team that tried to play them harder and more physically. For the most part, Anaheim dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged the Sharks’ repeated attacks and waited for opportunities. The difference is that the Ducks were able to cash in on the ones they were handed, while Hiller continues his emergence as a great goaltending story this playoff season.

Credit Ryan Getzlaf not backing down from Joe Thornton, losing the battle but securing overall victory in the war by cementing the game with his insurance marker at 17:06 that really signaled the end of the Sharks’ post-season run at one series. Again.

Now the question remains for Rob Blake, Claude Lemieux, and Jeremy Roenick as to what comes next. Blake signed a one-year deal, Roenick has been putting off retirement for a while, and Lemieux made a comeback this year but injuries kept him from even getting a crack at being a contributor. I don’t think Lemieux was all that big a factor in the Sharks success or demise this year and therefore is expendable. Roenick might actually be done this time after 20 NHL seasons. And Blake… well, his experience and production would be missed most. Granted, he’s not putting up numbers and intimidating opposing forwards like he did ten years ago, but he’s still a presence on the blue line. It will be interesting to see how the Sharks manage without two, if not all three of those names next season.

Calgary, meanwhile, is another team that needs that **something** to put it over the edge. Physical talent aplenty, the Flames just failed to put it together on the ice at the end of the year, sliding out of third place and back to fifth as the Canucks caught them down the stretch. There’s already talk in the media that the changes needed for the Flames may include a new head coach, new GM, and a new Zamboni driver. Honestly, I can’t tell you why the Flames didn’t put it together in the end, whether it was fatigue, lack of ability to come through in the clutch or anything else. When you think the parts are there and the team underperforms, that’s when you look at management. That said, there are already calls in the newspapers for Mike Keenan’s head up in Calgary. When the team has only gotten past the first round of the playoffs once since its 1989 Stanley Cup win (coached by our own Terry Crisp), that being the 2004 Cup Final run, you would think something would change in hockey-mad Calgary. Or will it?

Tonight’s games are just as interesting, with Washington fighting back on the Rangers to force Game Seven and Carolina and New Jersey also going the limit. First of all, I just can’t pick a winner in the Carolina/New Jersey game. Who knows what could contribute to a win or loss there? Both teams need superior goaltending and can get it from their star netminders. Both teams can score goals, too, with grit up front and solid skating ability. Both defenses have shown the ability to step in and get things done, limiting the opposition in shots and scoring chances. So it’s a push as to which team is better at this point. I will say I think that if Carolina out-shoots New Jersey, I would pick them to win. Hidden Heroes for tonight’s game? I would think Joe Corvo is due for the Hurricanes, and perhaps Brian Gionta shines for the Devils. Oh, and the Devils PP going 0-fer will kill them. That can’t happen if they want to win.

Washington was all over the Rangers in Game Six, dominating the play in front of the New York faithful and never letting off the pedal. Simeon Varlamov (pronounced var-LAH-mohv) has been solid and shut the Rangers down effectively while his teammates built a lead. It seems that the Rangers were trying to fire high and stick side on the Caps netminder in the closing minutes of the game and scored a few times with traffic late, but it was more the Caps letting down than the Rangers producing, I think. So now, if Ovie and company come out flying in their own building, and Henrik Lundqvist is anything less than invincible tonight, the Caps will move on.

That’s about all I’ve got for today, although there’s more to be had out there. Glenn Healy’s comments on NHL expansion is interesting. Nobody’s denying there’s an issue with some franchises (well, almost nobody) but there’s got to be more, uh, tact involved when discussing these things, don’t you think? Read the article and let me know what you think.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


April 23
The Calder Trophy is awarded each year to the NHL’s top rookie player. This year’s crop of finalists has been announced as Columbus goaltender Steve Mason, Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan, and Chicago forward Kris Versteeg.

Now, you’ll no doubt notice Pekka Rinne’s name is absent from the list. I am a staunch supporter of Rinne and what he helped the Predators accomplish this year, and am disappointed (but not surprised) to see his name omitted from the finalists.

Mason was a given, and is pretty much able to clear space on his shelf for the trophy as we speak. Bobby Ryan had a solid year playing with Getzlaf and Perry, two very offensive-minded players and I think he’s deserving of being there.

I’m not 100% sold on Versteeg, but that’s no slight to the player. He is talented and had a very good season. But I would put either Rinne, or more likely L.A.’s Drew Doughty on the ballot first. Why? Worth to their respective teams. Doughty will not get the recognition because he doesn’t post a lot of points, and instead puts up solid plus/minus while being a great shut-down defender and leading his team in ice time as a rookie! Rinne obviously helped shape the post-All-Star break run of the Predators with his solid goaltending, and I think that without either player, the Kings and Predators are not as near the running for the playoffs as they turned out to be.

Versteeg plays on a team where Kane, Toews, Campbell, Sharp, and Havlat (to name five) overshadow him for importance, especially offensively. Mind you, Versteeg chipped in and will be a valuable piece of the Hawks moving forward, but I argue that the worth of either Doughty or Rinne to his team because of their play makes them more valuable. That’s my take on it anyway. But again, I really feel like it’s going to be Steve Mason’s trophy.

One last thing to keep in mind: they hand the Calder out for regular-season exploits, not playoffs. So it should never affect the outcome of the voting based on post-season prowess. And again, I believe Steve Mason should be crowned this year’s winner. But time will tell.


April 22
Boy, those wacky St. Louis Blues. They lost in four games to the Canucks, and I’m very sorry to see them swept out of the playoffs. In my mind, it happened that the Canucks just have more horses and peaked at the right time. They started to get hot after the All-Star break much like the Blues, but found a consistent level of play and pace after breaking a team record home losing streak. The Blues, meanwhile, won 9 of 11 down the stretch and entered the playoffs as the NHL’s hottest team… and as it turns out, completely out of gas!

There aren’t too many stories better than the Blues this season, especially considering all the injuries they overcame to the likes of Erik Johnson, Paul Kariya, and Andy McDonald (among others). Everyone who has ever met Chris Mason knows he’s a great guy and you like to see those guys succeed in any walk of life. The locker room there is full of quality guys who play a gritty style for Andy Murray, and if he told them to run through a brick wall, they would. It’s not often you can get a collection of guys who put team ahead of nameplate or paycheck anymore, so I have to say I was looking forward to seeing them do well.

However, much like the Columbus Blue Jackets (who I thought actually had a chance to beat Detroit) the Blues are simply flaming out in the post-season. Columbus hasn’t registered much success against Detroit because they haven’t been able to muster much of an attack or aggressive style against the Wings. Only then does the team commit turnovers that can prove fatal in a series. But with Columbus making it, St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago (what a series that is!) the Predators have a pretty high bar set for next season. I would not be surprised if next year we are talking about every team in this division making the playoffs. It won’t be easy without a significant amount of improvement, but it is definitely within the realm of possibility.

Tonight’s must-watch game: Capitals vs. Rangers. Look out, New York. The Capitals have changed goaltenders and found some offense. That makes them especially dangerous, knowing they can (and perhaps have) flipped the goal-scoring switch and attack a Rangers team that at times this year played suspect defense. Henrik Lundqvist is going to have to be almost perfect tonight to give his teammates the confidence that they can grab a 3-1 lead. If he allows more than two, I think we have a tie series on our hands.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


April 21
Well, it’s good to see the Capitals back on track here and winning a game. They sorely needed to inject life into a series that quickly threatened to fade from the hockey conscious with another loss. By far the most entertaining series thus far have been the Boston/Montreal and Philly/Pittsburgh. Original Six or intra-state rivals, you pick. Both have been fraught with intensity, good hitting, and goal scoring. Philly came up big to win at home and get within a game; the Bruins are clearly a better team than Montreal but the Habs are not going down without a feisty effort in some very entertaining hockey games.

Suddenly, Chicago/Calgary has entered the fray as a series when the Flames won on home ice last night. Did you see the Chicago bench at the end of the game? Five guys were left on the pine. FIVE! And there were the other five on the ice. Cristobal Huet looked like he was about to recline for a nap he had so much space. It got chippy and the Flames rediscovered the fire (pardon the pun) that served them so well during the regular season. Is it too late for the Flames to pull out of the nose-dive that saw the Canucks bolt past them in the final weeks of the regular season? No. Will they be able to come back and win the series? That’s a different question. I think Calgary has the horses, but they need guys to show up again in Game Four and even the series. Finally, they still have the unenviable task of winning in Chicago at least once. That’s a tough road barn to compete in for sure.

In hindsight, how glad are the Hawks they didn’t trade Khabibulin? Yes, they have over $10M tied up in goaltender salaries this year, but it seems to be working out for them. The off-season should be entertaining as far as who stays and who goes, because Huet won’t be easy to deal with a high price tag and Khabibulin is UFA, so if they want to keep him they almost certainly have to move Huet and sign the Bulin wall. Interesting days ahead in Chicago.

Finally, the best series no one is staying up late enough to watch is Anaheim/San Jose. The Sharks finally found a little jump the other night, but it was not enough to overcome the solid unit the Ducks have melded into. At the trade deadline it looked like the Ducks were selling, dropping salary, and hunkering down for the future. Instead the Ducks became leaner, meaner, and have benefitted from the ability to cut the cord with J-S Giguere in time for the playoffs, trusting 27-year-old rookie Jonas Hiller with the netminding dutes. It takes some guts to make the decision to switch like that, but the Ducks have proven (as have the Predators) that it can pay big dividends. In fact, look at teams who have switched goaltenders this year. Nashville, yes, but also St. Louis, the Kings, Capitals, Senators, Leafs, Columbus, Chicago and… does Detroit count? I’m never sure if they’re sure who they’re sure about. Confused? Me too.

Any way, it paid off for some of them, and in the case of the Preds, Jackets, and Ducks, rookies stepped in and took over. Great stories. And now for the Caps, they’re going with Simeon Varlamov, who is 1-1 with his first NHL shutout coming in the 4-0 Game Three win over the Rangers. I’m definitely pulling to see him do well, I love the rags-to-riches stories the playoffs bring.

More later, but tell me, which series are you most excited about at this point, and why?

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


April 17
So the playoffs are underway, and if last night’s patterns hold, it’ll be an interesting post-season for certain.

Top story lines include Jonas Hiller shutting out the Sharks (take that Giggy!) and Sean Avery doing damage to the Capitals and helping the Rangers steal one on unfriendly ice. Also, keep an eye on the Boston/Montreal series. Being from the northeast I decided to watch that game primarily and keep a second eye on the Wings/Jackets, but it looks like the Original Six matchup between those two clubs is going to make for an ugly series. And I mean that in the best possible way – physical, lots of dust-ups and donnybrooks, and some grind-it-out goals that will make the difference in the series. If you didn’t see Game One yesterday, just know it was lots of hitting, chippy play, and some pretty darn good goaltending. In short, a great playoff series in the making.

Otherwise, the Philly/Pittsburgh series has the most potential to be ugly (again in the good way). The in-state rivals clearly have no love for each other and never have. It’s going to be decided by the goalies, but along the way I’m going to enjoy the crushing checks and cage-rattling hits.

Let me take you back to the All-Star break if I may for just a moment. Vancouver had lost eight straight games on home ice and the press was calling for the head of everyone including the Zamboni driver. Since then, Mats Sundin has rounded into shape, the Sedin twins have apparently found their game once more, and Roberto Luongo is playing like his old game-stealing self. I don’t know if the Blues will have enough in the tank after a spirited sprint to the playoffs to make this one go more than five games, but credit the franchise with a great stretch run that saw them post the best record in the NHL over that span. They’re just running into a talented Vancouver club that is really putting it together when it counts. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks are able to venture pretty far into the post-season.

Anybody see the Blackhawks OT win last night? The Flames seem to think there was some goaltender interference on the play, but there was no call and the goal stands. I know more things get let go this time of the year, and it’s tough to judge whether or not the defenseman rides a guy in or if the forward makes it look that way. It’s like of like my mom trying to decide whether or not I was actually beating my brother up or he was exaggerating for effect to get me in trouble. You can’t win either way. At this point, the teams have to know there’s going to be contact in and around the net, and unless it’s a blatant take-down of a goaltender, I think you’ll see a lot of crease-crashing this spring. Keep going until they tell you you can’t, right?

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



April 14
Well, it’s taken me a few days to wind it down, and of course digest the season that was for the Predators. Heck, even digest the season that was for me, too. A fast-paced “rookie” season is behind me, and looking back at the year there were quite a few remarkable things witnessed. I’m going to address these in parts through different blogs, starting with:

Future Stars

The NHL’s Calder Trophy goes to the league’s top rookie every season. Pekka Rinne, Bobby Ryan, and Steve Mason are often cited as the top three candidates. I would also toss Drew Doughty of the LA Kings in there with no hesitation (big-time minutes and impact for a rookie who won’t score a lot… he was amazing to watch this year) with eastern sympathies going to Boston’s Blake Wheeler, who put up good numbers on a wildly successful team. I think in the end it’ll be Mason’s award this year.

First of all, the emergence of Pekka Rinne for Nashville was an amazing process. Early in the year you may remember Rinne was pulled from two starts but got off the hook for decisions both times. But a few months later, those starts were distant memories for a club that rode the young Finn down the regular-season home stretch. He played remarkable at times, making some brilliant saves and instilling confidence in his teammates. I’m looking forward to seeing him produce for years to come.

Don’t forget about Dan Ellis. His amazing performance against San Jose on our first California swing might be one of my favorite games of the year for any goaltender. Ellis is a capable NHL goaltender as he proved last year and this year. We are very fortunate to have them both with us heading into next season.

On our own team, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter continue to develop into solid NHL defensemen, and up front Joel Ward had a surprisingly good season along with guys who showed signs of promise like Cal O’Reilly, Antti Pihlstrom, Patric Honrqvist, and Ryan Jones. I’d like to include Alex Sulzer on this list next season, and I hope he stays healthy for 2009-10.

Other future stars around the league that Predators fans had a chance to watch include Columbus’ Mason, who almost single-handedly tugged the Blue Jackets up from doormats to a playoff team for the first time in franchise history; Ryan, who quietly put together a very good rookie campaign playing mostly with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry; Chicago’s Kris Versteeg, who also made an impact in his rookie year but was overshadowed easily by Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane who are bright young stars in their own right; Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson looked like he belonged on the Red Wings’ defensive line after an apprenticeship in Grand Rapids; pretty much the entire St. Louis team including Jeff Woywitka, Tyson Strachan, Mike Weaver and Roman Polak on D (and consider Erik Johnson missed the whole season with a knee injury), plus forwards T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, and even the likes of Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen make this team stocked for years to come.

There were many, many more along the way this season, but to include them all would have me here all day. Tell me who a few of your favorite young players are!



April 9
What is it about this team? Right now were in the hotel in St. Paul after yet another cardiac win over the Detroit Red Wings to keep the playoff hopes alive. I'm watching the NHL Network wrap up the nights action (and by the way the Bruins/Canadiens game was a classic!) and though the analysts may not think were going to be around come playoff time, they can't get over that were still even here.

As recently as the middle of the third period tonight it looked like the season might be finding an end. But then a giveaway in the Red Wings zone led to Jason Arnott's marker, and a late surge during a power play made it 3-3 and pushed us past regulation. Then past overtime to a shootout where Nashville finally skated out with two points and playoff hopes intact.

At this point, you could heave a sigh of relief, but only for the night. Back at it again Friday night in Minnesota against a team that is also literally playing for its playoff life, the Predators need one more intrepid game with a stop-at-nothing attitude. It might be amazing to some, downright ridiculous to others, but the Predators will not go away. They keep finding ways to make all 82 games interesting, and who knows? There could be a playoff spot yet in the mix.

Of course, it will take help from the Ducks or Blues in the form of a loss in regulation. The Predators also need to beat Minnesota, but regulation or past it doesnt matter. The two points are the key there. As I've told people, we might know Friday night if were in, but not until Sunday if were out. Confused? Welcome to the NHL playoff race. Bottom line is, with a win tomorrow and St. Louis loss, the Predators would get into the post-season because the first tie-break is total wins. Nashville now has 40 on the year and the Blues 39, so each team could end up with 41. Hence, if the Blues lose one game in regulation and the Predators win Friday night, Nashville gets the tie break and the Blues can only tie the Predators at a possible 90 points. Also, Anaheim could fall out, but for the Predators to end up with any sort of win there, the Ducks have to get overtime points or less in the next two games against Dallas and Phoenix.

Don't count the Stars and Coyotes out of the spoiler role yet, either. Dallas has played the Ducks tough all year, and Phoenix just beat San Jose tonight pretty handily behind 40 saves from Al Montoya. So well see but if nothing else, itll keep your pulse racing all weekend!

Tune in Friday night either on Fox Sports Tennessee, or through 104.5 The Zone and the Predators Radio Network.

PS Dont miss the Nashville NHL Tweetup! Go to www.nhltweetup.com for more information on the event, coming next Wednesday. I hope I'm not able to make it there because it'll mean were in the playoffs!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



April 1
Okay, I’ve been remiss in not posting blogs lately. I thought I lost my west coast swing blog, then found part of it mysteriously “hidden” on my desktop in an open window… I don’t know. Don’t ask. This is why I bought a Mac laptop last time I went computer shopping. Seriously, I love that thing. I have an unnatural attachment to technology, but we’ve already covered that.

Hokay, so…

Last night’s game in Columbus was a tough one to swallow. Antti Pihlstrom leaves the game after only three shifts because of the dreaded UPPER BODY injury. He said after the game he felt much better than he thought he would, but he did go back out and try to test it and wasn’t able to stay in the game. The Predators are fortunate J.P. Dumont was able to get back up and into the game after being boarded from behind by Jiri Novotny. That was the second time in three shifts Dumont was boarded, and neither time was a call made. Luckily J.P. caught himself the first time. You can’t tell me you’re serious about protecting your players until that crap is penalized – HEAVILY. Hits from behind are dangerous and need to be eradicated from the game. Period. I’d be completely at peace with five minute majors on forceful checks from behind (leaving the possibility that a guy could get bumped or nudged if someone tries to avoid them – that can be just a two) and a game misconduct.

At the end of the night, a thought occurred to me: the Predators again hung around in this game, and both Jackets goals came off defensive mistakes. That means… if we don’t make those mistakes, we win 1-0. Scary thought, isn’t it? How are we doing that? It amazes me that Barry Trotz gets what he gets out of these guys night after night. If you stick to the system, you have a chance. Mistakes going either way are what decide the games. Unfortunately, last night it was our turn to lose. But I can’t even begin to really put into words my amazement that this team sticks around in games when you feel like they’ll just get run over. That’s a team committed to a system.

It’s also the play of Pekka Rinne. He’s emerged as the biggest bright spot on a team that has discovered a diamond in the rough like Joel Ward, who has stepped up when given the chance on a top line. (I mean, come on. Who thought Ward would have 17 goals? What a great year for a guy supposed to be in Milwaukee!) Rinne and Steve Mason are the top two dogs in the Calder Trophy race for the NHL’s top rookie. Both are team MVPs, and are getting national attention in the NHL’s toughest division. But with Mason having 10 shutouts this year, I can only imagine that he’ll get the buzz, compounded by the fact that Columbus has never made the post-season. I think what Rinne is doing is more remarkable, given the horses out for the Predators. Would Columbus be where they are without Nash in the lineup? Or how about Vermette, or Huselius and Malhotra? The Predators have those same types of players out of the lineup right now and are still winning! To that I say Rinne deserves more credit and recognition than he currently gets.

So on we go, Preds fans. In Chicago Friday, then back home Saturday. We need you to come support us and cheer your hearts out! With five games left in the regular season, it’s anyone’s playoff spot to win or lose. There’s nothing quite like playoff hockey… so help us make sure we get there!

Oh… before I forget. Who do you want to face in the first round of a hypothetical playoff series, and why? I like that we’ve played Detroit and San Jose so well, and would be okay with either team knowing the series would be tough. Calgary is barely hanging on against a surging Vancouver, and the Canucks are the one team that scares me right now. Sundin is on track, Luongo is his usual amazing self, and the Sedin twins are getting it together. By the way, guess who’s got the most goals in the NHL since February 24th? Superpest Alex Burrows with 11.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



March 7
Sitting here in the seats in Philly, you can feel a certain vibe about this building. The skate for the Flyers was pretty laid back towards the end when we got here. For a fourth-place team, they’re pretty relaxed, but coming off a 5-1 loss to Calgary in this building you know they’ll mean business once the puck drops.

There’s a lot of history here, and Terry Crisp of course figures into the two Stanley Cup banners that hang from the rafters. He was definitely one of the more popular people to emerge from the hotel this morning, and enjoys telling stories about his time here. The old Spectrum is right across the parking lot, scheduled to be torn down after this hockey season. The Philadelphia Phantoms will have to relocate somewhere else… and a standing symbol of the hockey history here will be gone.

But in the new building, there’s a decidedly Predators-esque presence. Nameplates like Timonen and Hartnell hang in the stalls here, helping this team challenge for the Eastern Conference title. I had a chance to talk to Scott, and his ultra-large curly mop he’s currently sporting. One thing I can say after chatting with him is that you can tell he honestly misses Nashville, the fans, the city, the atmosphere, but he’s a Flyer now. Tonight, it’s no mercy and two points on the line.

As far as we know for now, everyone is ready to go once again for the Predators, so expect the lineup to remain unchanged. It will be a great game and solid test for the NHL’s hottest team – and I don’t mean the Flyers! It’s nice to be able to put that in print, but you’re only as good as your next game come playoff time. Radio only tonight, one hour pre-game show starting at 5 pm CST.

Keep your stick on the ice.


March 6
So hockey doesnt work in the south, eh?

Hockey Thrives in Huntsville

This is a great article from the New York Times that talks about Nashvilles neighbor to the south, Huntsville, Alabama. The program down there is almost 50 years old and going strong, and has even finally produced an NHL product in Philadelphia Flyers forward Jared Ross. For those who suggest that the game cant take root in places where ice is mostly found in tea, I offer this as a solid rebuttal.

I've worked in several of the so-called non-traditional markets throughout the United States. I've been in leagues where the majority of the teams are in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, or the Carolinas. Ive seen just as many teams fail up north as I have in the south, and almost every time its due to poor ownership, bad management, or a good combination of the two. If you market the game correctly and make it accessible, people will follow it.

Lets face it, Americans are crazy for sports. It doesnt matter what it is, theres a devoted following for it. That even covers niche sports like bowling, tennis, and volleyball (all three of which I love playing). Why does everyone dump on soccer? Why do they dump on hockey? Well, were competitive, and we all want to believe the sport we champion is the best. I offer to those people that I like their favorite sport, but I just find hockey to be my favorite. I ask them what they love about their favorite, and compare it favorably to hockey in any way I can. And finally I ask them if theyve ever been to a hockey game in person.

My usual response is stunned silence, or some derogatory response about wasted time.

Hey, I've given almost every sport a chance live. I can talk the talk because Ive tried everything! There is only one sport I would not want to pay to see again, and thats arena football. This started a great debate in an earlier blog, if you recall, when we were in Calgary. But so far, thats the one Ive found I dont want to repeat my experience. But you have to get those people to a game. Or even to a rink. Heck, get them on skates they may find something that pulls them in. Its an addiction, this game.

The other thing I can say about hockey working in Hunstville, or Nashville, or anywhere, is that once you get the kids to play and love the sport, it will grow. Nashville has a good hockey history, but the excitement of the NHL game is now growing roots deeper and deeper each year. I concede that if youre 40 and havent put aside the bias and come to a game yet, youre not going to. But I hope your kids check out our sport. Im not asking them to plunk down paper route money for season tickets (do kids even have those anymore?) but just come to a game, a practice, and see what these guys can do.

By the way, I always recommend sporting events to families. Its a bit more expensive than a movie, but if you want family bonding time, you cant beat it. Its interactive, it breeds questions and is three hours of fun what kid doesnt want to try to catch a t-shirt or scream at the scoreboard when it tells you to? Give it a shot, see what happens. At least then you can say you tried, and thats all Im asking.

So the paper route thing is sticking with me when I was young I saved and saved and saved for a TV. I finally got one. Then I saved for a guitar, an amp, a golf season pass, and other things. I started when I was 11 and had a route until I was probably 16 or so. Then I had to get a real job!

That brings me to today's question: What was your first job, and why did you have it? What were you saving for?

Thanks for checking out the blog, were off to Philly. Keep your stick on the ice.



February 28
A Little Perspective

Pete Weber sent out this email to some folks in our organization and some media members, and I think this is a brilliant reminder of what this franchise has accomplished with Barry Trotz over a relatively short lifespan. Read on and digest for yourself. My thanks to Pete for putting this together.

Thursday night, the Predators played the 800th regular-season game in franchise history (354-336-110 record).

Barry Trotz has been the only head coach the team has had. In these same ten seasons, only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff has been in his position longer (by one season).

League wide, there have been 131 head-coaching regimes since Barry Trotz coached his first game with the Predators.

Notable Since the Predators began play in October, 1998:
The New York Islanders have employed 9 different head coaches!
Mike Keenan has coached 4 clubs: Vancouver, Boston, Florida and Calgary in that span

Four men have coached three different clubs:
Ron Wilson has coached Washington, San Jose and Toronto
Ken Hitchcock has coached Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus
Claude Julien has coached Montreal, New Jersey and Boston
Joel Quenneville has coached St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago

Twenty men have coached two teams:
John Tortorella has coached the New York Rangers (twice now) and Tampa Bay
Michel Therrien has coached Montreal and Pittsburgh
Larry Robinson has coached Los Angeles and New Jersey
Pat Burns has coached Boston and New Jersey
Kevin Constantine has coached Pittsburgh and New Jersey
Alain Vigneault has coached Montreal and Vancouver
Dave Lewis has coached Detroit and Boston
Craig Hartsburg has coached Anaheim and Ottawa
Jacques Martin has coached Ottawa and Florida
Robbie Ftorek has coached New Jersey and Boston
Paul Maurice has coached Carolina (twice) and Toronto
Terry Murray has coached Florida and Los Angeles
Mike Babcock has coached Anaheim and Detroit
Peter LaViolette has coached the New York Islanders and Carolina
Andy Murray has coached Los Angeles and St. Louis
Marc Crawford has coached Vancouver and Los Angeles
Brian Sutter has coached Chicago and Calgary
Darryl Sutter has coached San Jose and Calgary
Bob Hartley has coached Colorado and Atlanta
Ron Low has coached the New York Rangers and Edmonton

February 25
Admittedly, you weren’t expecting a four-goal third period. Neither was I. But when I talked to Vern Fiddler between the second and third periods of last night’s win over Chicago, I saw a few different things in him.

First, there was the obvious disappointment over the current score and effort from the team. There was accountability for the team not giving its best effort. And there was a small glimpse of exasperation, a bit of “could we please get a bounce or a break to fire this thing back up?” tucked in there.

Predators assistant coach Peter Horachek was not at all happy with his troops in the middle of the second period. He said they needed to play like a playoff team and get things going. They needed desperation. And unsaid was what was likely on everyone’s mind: we can’t give away games and expect to make the playoffs. Peter was angry, and wanted to find a way to motivate his troops to play they way they can.

Well, in between periods, the coaching staff found a way. The players found a resolve. They even got a bounce when David Legwand out-hustled the Hawks and scored on a bouncer off the end boards.

From that came a four-goal third period that hadn’t been seen since Dec. 1 of 2007. And a come-from-behind win on a team that had only lost once this season when leading after two periods (compiling 28 wins along the way). How’s that for a confidence booster? I’ll take it, and so will they.

So Pred fans, here’s what it all means to us: there’s reason for the hope. There’s reason for the optimism. This is a talented team that is capable of beating the league’s best any given night. The real question remains to be seen in terms of consistency. Can they play to a high level every night? You won’t always be able to win games with 20 good minutes. But at this point, it’s a start. Given everything around the conference, I can see the Predators being one of the teams on the cusp one way or the other at the stretch. It’s just a matter of holding on and keeping all of your hair until then.

Keep your stick on the ice.

February 24
Does anyone know what today is? I mean besides Tuesday. It’s February 24th, the anniversary of the U.S.A. clinching the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics with a victory over Finland. Just two days previous, the team of young upstarts had defeated the mighty Soviet Union’s best icers in what is now called the “Miracle on Ice” game.

I think back on that period of time and what was going on in our country, and how things weren’t the brightest. Suddenly a team of 20-somethings goes up against the great bear and beats her, and it was as if the entire country was with them on the ice. We love our underdogs, and that team truly was. To be able to take down the world’s dominant hockey power suddenly united the nation for a few days, and national pride was restored for a time.

Ryan Suter is familiar with the names on that list, as his father Bob played on the U.S. Olympic team that year. With the 2010 Olympics coming up soon, Ryan is sure to be on the list of players considered for the roster as the new wave of young players takes hold in the NHL.

So for those of you who were around then, do you remember what you were doing and what the U.S.A. beating Russia and going on to win the gold meant to you?

We’ll try to get some more reaction in a short while, but for now, it’s your topic. Run with it!


February 19
So we’re not really going to kid ourselves, are we? Detroit is an amazing team. So to watch their power play score five times against the Predators last night, while disheartening, is an amazing display of skill and precision. Credit that organization for putting together a solid team and maximizing its budget to do so. Not everyone can spend to the max, and not every free agent signee or trade deal brings in more than you give up. But it’s hard not to watch that team play from my perspective and not appreciate the talent on the roster. Watching greats play the game like Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green in Washington, and Datyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom in Detroit is pure pleasure for a fan of the game.

Meanwhile, back at PredCentral:

Barry Trotz said this morning that Ville Koistinen’s trade inquiry will not affect his playing time one way or the other. Trotz simply said that if you are here and a part of the team, you have to be invested in the team and want to be here. John Glennon will likely follow with more in his articles in the Tennessean tomorrow.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is in town, and addressed the Predators staff this morning before going on SiriusXM Radio for his show later today. I did not get a chance to go to the meeting as I was interviewing the coaches for tonight’s game, but if I get a synopsis I’ll try to pass it along. I imagine it wasn’t earth-shattering, but it’s nice to see the commissioner out supporting the market and the franchise.

Speaking of which, I want to give props to our merchandise folks. I think they’re doing a whale of a job ordering cool looking duds, and staying on top of trends. Heck, they even discover a few new ones here and there. The job they do isn’t easy, and requires longer hours than you might think. So kudos to them for what they provide our fans: a way to show your passion for the team in style!

Tonight, the Blues and Preds both come in off losses and look to bounce back in the first half of a home-and-home series. St. Louis has had to depend on its younger players but they’ve carried the team through injuries and kept the Blues in shape to compete for a playoff spot. Former Predators netminder Chris Mason has been tabbed the number one goaltender for the club, with Manny Legace sent down to Peoria through waivers. And with players looking to get healthy towards the playoffs, this club could seriously challenge for a spot in the top eight.

To that end, the Preds have to get out to a good start tonight. There’s no more room for error, it’s go time. Every member of the team has to step up and play to the best of their ability starting now. There’s no looking around the room, no waiting for someone else to do it. It has to start with the individual contributing for the good of the team. I hope tonight’s game sees that exact thing happening, because when you’re winning things are always much smoother!

Trade deadline is 13 days away… could get interesting! We’re working on doing some neat stuff for deadline day, including updates on the web from our own personal draft central right here in the team’s offices. We’ll keep you posted as we move closer to a finalized plan, but know that we’ll have as much info for you as we can.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


February 13
Friday the 13th! Who cares? I’ve owned black cats, opened umbrellas indoors, broken more stuff than you can shake a stick at, and not shaved my playoff beard right away after the season ended. That said, I do throw salt over my shoulder because I feel like I should when I spill it. But last night, it was hard work, not luck, that got the Predators back in that game. Did they turn the puck over at the start? Yes. Would they like to rewind that and go do it again? Absolutely. But they worked very hard in the third, with Kevin Klein’s goal igniting the team and Jason Arnott pushing the club into OT and the eventual shootout. And yes, Steve Sullivan has the monkey at least somewhat off his back after cashing in on his shootout attempt against Chris Mason. The Blues looked like someone had kicked them in the solar plexus and knocked the wind right out of them. I can only hope that the Predators can do that to the playoff hopes of many teams along the way. One thing is for sure, the goaltending will be key down the stretch, and I hope both Pekka and Dan play well for the rest of the season.

Finally, I will leave you with this thought on Friday the 13th : Do you have any superstitions? I actually do still have a few when I play hockey (in goal, anyway), such as dress the left side first (pretty standard among players, I would think) and my Theory of Balanced Pads (TBP). TBP requires that if I hit my left pad at the knee with my stick, I must hit the right pad in the same spot. This becomes difficult when you accidentally knick yourself with the stick on the outside of one pad, and have to reach across your body to knick yourself with the stick on the outside of the other pad. I make patterns, hitting in groups of four. Usually it’s left knee, right knee, right shin, left shin. I make a square. But if I pause to take a drink, I make a square with the blocker after I put it back on, considering the arm I tucked it under the first point of contact. Then it hits the opposite side and both thigh pads. If you miss a spot, you have to go back and hit the correct place, then hit the new miss on the opposite side. Confused? It’s okay, if you don’t catch up, TBP resets at every whistle. Shots don’t count, nor does other contact. It’s just where I strike my pads with my stick or gloves. If the pads get unbalanced, it might lead to a goal – right? I don’t know where this came from, but I’ve had it in my head for at least 20 years now. And you know what? I’ve never explained it this in-depth to anyone until now. So there you go, there’s a first.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice. Or hit the left knee, right knee…


February 9
So our last road trip took us through Minnesota and Dallas, two completely different hockey markets. The varying history of the two will forever be intertwined by the move of the then-North Stars to Dallas where they dropped the direction and simply became the Stars. People trashed owner Norm Green (calling him Norm Greed among the printables) and decrying hockey fleeing south. But eventually the state would get pro hockey back when the Wild came to town, and people there support it with a vengeance. It does my heart good to see people as excited as they are about the game in a true hotbed of the sport – perhaps this time the ticket sales and sponsorship money will enable them to keep the team. After all, the bottom line on a franchise is whether or not it can be profitable. It literally takes a village to raise a sports team.

So how big is hockey in Minnesota, and why would you care there was no team there for a while? Well, up there high school hockey draws thousands of fans to games, with folks jamming into tiny rinks to see state rivals battle for a win, let alone a state title. It’s much along the lines of high school football in Texas – it’s just huge. Every school has a team (or two or three) and one only need walk through the XCel Energy Center to be reminded of just how many teams compete… up on the wall there is a jersey for every state high school team, and there are hundreds! Yes, they hook fans young up here, much like the Predators are just starting to do. We’re starting to make inroads, and it is the youth of today who play hockey and are fans now that will sustain this team into the future.

Beyond the high schools, you also have the college game that at times grips the entire state. Many of those young high school players dream of playing for the University of Minnesota or one of the local U-Minn or various other colleges. While we were there, a wonderful article appeared in the Pioneer Press recalling the 30th anniversary of the Golden Gophers team that won the men’s NCAA hockey championship. Coached by Herb Brooks just a year before he would lead Team USA to Olympic gold, the team featured players like Rob McClanahan, Mike Ramsey, Eric Strobel, Don Micheletti, Phil Verchota, Bill Baker, and Steve Janaszak. Those guys sound familiar? Some of them should if you remember Team USA, because they were on it. A few went on to pretty good NHL careers. And there was an 18-year-old freshman on the team that season by the name of Neal Broten, who would go on to become one of the greatest U.S.-born NHL players, appearing in 1,099 games with 289 goals and 923 points.

Speaking of the XCel Energy Center, I can’t think of too many places in the league where the directions to the rink include “go through the park with the Peanuts® characters, and cross the street. Then go in the door by the Herb Brooks statue.” Yes, there is a statue of the late Gophers coach in front of the entrance to the tunnel leading to the arena. You can really feel a tangible sense of his presence here with him guarding the entrance to professional hockey in Minnesota. There might not be a better gatekeeper.

Don’t forget, Charles Schultz hails from Minneapolis. He would forever work Snoopy and Woodstock into hundreds of hockey-themed strips to delight readers across the world, and the statues of his beloved creations dot the park we crossed to head into the arena out the door of the St. Paul Hotel. I still have friends who cut out the occasional hockey cartoon and send it to me. How many thousands of people learned what a Zamboni was from Snoopy?

***

The weather had broken while we were there, and it was nice to be able to walk around a bit. The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees or so, and made it possible to leave the tunnels that link the city to enjoy a breath of fresh air. I would like to go back to see the Twin Cities during the summer, and of course when I have more time. I really think it would be an amazing place to lose yourself for a few days, even if you don’t go to the giant mall there. I’m not sure I’d really want to go for the shopping, but perhaps to see the spectacle, maybe.

The Wild play in what might be the best arena in the NHL, with great sightlines and fantastic ambiance. I had fun wandering around the vast arena, checking things out and seeing the little touches inside that made it unique. The lodge-like downstairs bar for the lower seat holders and sponsors was amazing… just like a log cabin in the middle of a hockey arena. Seating was ample and the sightlines were just steep enough to provide a good angle for the fans. The arena was well-lit, and the press box was set up well, too. I think if I were going as a fan, I would enjoy seeing a game there very much.

***

After shutting out the Wild with a great defensive performance, we head to Dallas and follow the trail of that city’s former franchise. Mike Modano is the only remaining player still with the franchise since its move, and is destined to go down as another great U.S.-born player with Hall of Fame credentials. Finding myself drawn to the Sixth Floor Museum once again, I re-investigated the exhibits, but unfortunately the 7th floor, where the home movies were last time, was closed to the public. I was sad because that exhibit was where I wanted to spend more time this time around. Oh well… I decided to go back through the tour and take my time, reading everything I could and absorbing as much information as possible.

This also being the fathers trip, many dads and their Predator sons took in the experience at the museum as well. I wonder what standing on the grassy knoll means to someone like Ville Koistinen’s father, who appeared to be checking over the scene pretty closely. It also makes you realize the global scope of news, and how word travels even faster these days with cell phones, the internet, and the immediacy of our time.

***

Unfortunately Dan Ellis did not fare as well against his former team this time around, and the Predators end up on the short end of the stick to snap a nice little win streak. But the team has looked good since the All-Star break, and seems to be inching closer to making a playoff run. At this point, as the players and coaching staff keep pointing out, they need to win two out of every three. You’re going to have some losses tucked in there, but overall, getting over .500 on a regular basis is incredibly important to this club. Playing consistent hockey down the stretch will be exactly what the doctor ordered, a full 60 minute effort.


January 28
Well, morning skate went pretty well, and the team looked crisper than I've seen them in a while. Jason Arnott was picking corners this morning and I'm hoping that will translate into the game tonight. It's time to get the scoring rolling and the big names will have to put up some big numbers down the stretch. It will start tonight with the return of the Dumont-Arnott-Sullivan line, which the team hasn't seen in a few years. If they are able to catch fire, or at least provide a spark, it could be a good evening!

Pekka Rinne will get to start in net tonight, fresh off an appearance at the Youngstars game in Montreal over All-Star Weekend. The young Finn has been playing well for the Predators, and trust me, I saw him dismantle teams in the American League last year he can be devastating to an opposing team's confidence. Tonight's opponent, the Canucks, are suffering that type of loss of confidence, much like the Preds. They are struggling for wins (0-4-2 in the last six, 0-7 at home dating back to December) and both teams are on the outside looking in on the playoff chase. I'd like to see Rinne ride whatever streak he has and be the hot hand if that's how it works out. He's got plenty of Calder Cup playoff experience, and I know that will serve him well. This team has done a fantastic job of mining goaltending talent: Vokoun, Mason, Ellis, and now Rinne. Whoever picks up the ball and runs with it, I hope they do well.

***

Between morning skate and the game, usually I have a little down time. Not today. I'm resurrecting a format that I previously used a few seasons ago for a feature that gives you bits from around the opposing team's locker room instead of trying to just go with dry presentation all the time. Let me know your thoughts on this segment, as I'm curious to hear what you think as opposed to normal, one-on-one interviews. It takes a bigger chunk of time to produce, but when you talk to three or four players and don't have time to get it all in, I think this is the best way to summarize.

Also, I'm curious to know what you think of the interactive drops when we return from commercial, like goal highlights and quotes from players and coaches. It's a new approach I've heard in a few other places and decided to try instituting. And if you have any ideas, throw them out there. I can't promise we can pull them all off (since we're limited to the technology on hand and back in the studio) but we'll see what makes the broadcast better for everyone. COMMENT HERE.

***

Well! How about that for a response! I thought that the Canucks were going to step on our throats in the second when they scored those three goals, but apparently they only had 5:34 of energy total. Otherwise, the Predators out-played them in the game. They did score three goals on four shots, but kudos to Barry Trotz for a key time out after the third goal. I've long been a proponent of a time out call when momentum shifts, and this is why. Barry didn't even say much to the players when they gathered at the bench, he merely settled them down and got their heads on straight. The team responded with three power play goals for the first time since December of 2007 and won a great game 5-3. Yes this team can score and the big names can do it.

Congratulations to Jason Arnott for his 800th pro point, and to Martin Erat for moving into second place all-time in the Predators' goal scoring pantheon.

Pekka Rinne was spectacular in the third period, including an acrobatic cartwheel save with the paddle of his stick that almost made me jump out of the booth! What a performance from him tonight, especially when the chips were down.

Also, kudos to Jerred Smithson for his numerous blocks during shorthanded situations. He sacrificed in a big way along with the rest of our PK, and that is why the team's kill has risen so swiftly in the last month or so. If we can keep the power play firing on all cylinders, or at least six of them, then why not believe that the wins are going to come?

Calgary derailed the Sabres tonight 5-2 after Buffalo pounded Edmonton 10-2 the previous night. Calgary is tough, and Mike Cammallieri is on fire. Eleven goals in his last seven games hot. He might become the first player besides Jarome Iginla to lead the Flames in goals since Valeri Bure did it in 99-00.

Well Preds fans, I'm done for the day. Catch you tomorrow from Calgary.


January 27
It's actually been quite pleasant here in Vancouver, light snow and not very cold. After heading out for sushi last night and then a beverage or two, today's plan is to rent a car and head to Whistler, BC where the skiing and sled sports will be held for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Along with David Raynak from our TV crew, we got a Chrysler Sebring (which was quite nice) and drove the nearly two hours north. The drive up was along the Pacific coast, and as we ascended into the mountains the views grew more and more spectacular. The snow also grew more plentiful.

As we reached Whistler, it almost looked like someone had taken an entire Hallmark winter village and plopped it down in the mountains. Everything there looks brand new or completely renovated. The work they've done for the Olympics is amazing so many things look just perfect right now, and I'm sure they will keep it that way for next year. We ate a nice lunch at the foot of Whistler Blackcomb, watching lots of folks come down the hill and some even tromp right into the restaurant with their boots still on and shaking off the cold.

It was a beautiful day up there, walking around in the lightly falling snow was great. Unfortunately time demanded that we head back into Vancouver, where it appeared not much had happened in the way of snow.

***

That night we headed to dinner at a famous restaurant called The Cannery. The Cannery has been around since the dawn of time from what I'm told, and serves excellent seafood. You now have to get through a security checkpoint to go eat there, since it's situated in the middle of one of Vancouver's ports. Pete Weber assured me the security had grown up around the restaurant over time which makes me wonder exactly how close they guard their recipes?

Dinner was very good, I had a salmon dish at the recommendation of Bob Kohl which I enjoyed, and what the waitress referred to as the best crme brulee in all of Vancouver. It was a good evening with plenty of stories courtesy of Terry Crisp and Pete Weber. Always a good time.


January 26

So this morning as I was wondering what the weather was like in Vancouver for our arrival today, it was suggested to me to check the internet. I had already sussed that we were flying into cold and rain. That's what it does in the winter in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle isn't much different, maybe a smidge warmer. So I figured that's what I was in for. And one internet check later, I'm right.

Darn.

I had hoped to catch a break, not get cold rain for a time. But rain/snow mix it is! Then we're off to Calgary and Edmonton where it'll just get colder and more likely to snow (which I'd actually prefer. Easier to keep warm in snow than cold rain).

So much for that. But it's ok. I was prepared! Long johns check. Long coat check. Heavy everything else check. So it will all be fine. Just a bit cold.

I've been mending the same finger on my rabbit fur leather gloves for ages. I love those gloves, they're warm and worth the money I spent on them. However, the pinky on the left glove keeps unraveling. So I continue to sew it back up. It's not easy to have to keep putting them back together, but in much the same way as I've resurrected hockey gear or old jackets or anything I cherish, I've developed more of a bond with those gloves because of it. Ever notice that? The more you work on something you own, the more a part of you it becomes. That could include your house, your car, anything. There's just something to be said for putting that type of effort into keeping something going.

Here's something humorous I've discovered. If you hide Terry Crisp's reading glasses while he's in the bathroom on the plane, he'll never find them. I took them off his seat and put them FACING OUT on the seatback pocket in front of him. Well, I guess he couldn't see them there. His hand even brushed them two or three times before my plane-mate Linda Davis leaned over and told him where they were. Spoil-sport! He would have kept on looking for those things for ages and eventually I would have gotten punched in the arm. But it would have been worth it. Heck, that quick minute or two was worth it, too!

I actually set the over-under on Terry finding the glasses first or punching me first. That might have been a close one

For those of you who think I'm just mean, know that Terry got me with the old mousetrap seatbelt trick earlier in the day, catching my hand in the clasp. It's just payback we have to keep each other honest. Ask him about the western Canadian donut shop he thought about investing in. That's an interesting story.

Okay, enough for now. We'll be in Vancouver in a few hours.

Oh and for anyone interested, here's a podcast recap from the 2009 All-Star Game.


January 19
And the snows came!

Why am I so excited? Besides being a Buffalo native, I think it sets a perfect tone for a hockey game tonight. It seems to me that a little reminder of days gone by, when hockey was played on ponds and in parking lots, does wonders for your inner child. I hope that in some way for our guys coming to the rink today, they get that special vibe of "it's a great day for hockey." New Jersey sees this stuff all the time but Nashville? It's a sign.

After the game on Saturday the team once again did a closed-door meeting, this time players-only, for 15 minutes or so. I'm not sure what was said or what will come out of it all. But I do know the team recognizes that Saturday has got to be the rock-bottom to this year. Finger pointing won't help, and neither will blame. From here, it's acceptance of the responsibility of the team, and moving on.

So with that said, New Jersey comes to town tonight. They've been playing well without Martin Brodeur, who is not due to come back until later next month at the earliest after he tore a muscle in his arm near the start of the season. Career backup Scott Clemmensen has taken the starting role and for the most part done very well in that spot. Most expected journeyman Kevin Weekes to get the majority of the starts, but after he struggled and Clemmenesen opened with a nice little streak of wins, the tides reversed. So expect Clemmensen to get the start since he's posted two wins in a row now.

There's also the matter of this Brendan Shanahan fellow. Yes, that Brendan Shanahan. He's been targeting Monday as his first game for a while, and did not play against the Islanders. So I would expect him to be in the lineup tonight, although I'm sure I'll find out more at this morning's skate.

Shanahan signed a one-year deal with the Devils after weighing his options during the off-season and into the first part of this year. He brings his career full-circle by returning to the team that drafted him second overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. I'm sure he'll have to get his game timing and hands back, so don't look for him to be a factor right away. But this Devils team will value what he brings both on and off the ice as they wade through the thick of the schedule.

Have you ever returned to a place where you've worked before, either in a professional capacity or just visiting, and noticed that it's changed tremendously since you left? I've gone back to visit team offices where I've worked previously and am literally amazed at the transformations that take place. It's odd, isn't it? Looking at the desk where you used to sit now with someone else's crap on it sometimes it can be a surreal experience.

So that's my thoughts for this morning. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


January 16
We’'ve now returned home to what feels like balmy temperatures after games in Toronto and Montreal. Though the team did drop the Montreal game 3-2, it seemed like some things were coming around. J.P. Dumont scored, and Jones with Santorelli on that line continued to generate chances. Alex Sulzer got over some initial nerves to play a respectable amount of minutes and make some nice plays. I thought Ville Koistinen did pretty well in his first real crack at big-responsibility ice time. And Ryan Suter was amazing while logging over 25 minutes, playing well in the absence of Weber and de Vries.

Calling games in Montreal and Toronto was an amazing feeling for me. It really brought home the history of the game and the franchises we were playing. I had the chance to meet and shake hands with Red Fisher, one of the most legendary hockey writers anywhere, and only wish I had the opportunity to talk with him longer than a brief minute. He'’s forgotten more about hockey than I'’ll ever know, and has seen the greatest Montreal Canadiens of the past 50 years. Look him up some time, you'’ll be amazed by how much he’s seen and done.

So the Canadiens have decided that they will now disclose fully all injuries that keep players out for any period of time. This comes on the heels of what can only be described as the Montreal media circus getting out of control. Injuries to players have recently been said to be anything up to and including a rumor of substance abuse treatment. ENOUGH! cried the Canadiens. And in this case, I think rightfully so. Enough of this guessing garbage. Stop the rumors, stop the speculation, here'’s what’s going on. But in a market where as J.P. Dumont said the pressure is not to have one story per day but “four or five”, eventually the facts will get in the way of a good story. And you can'’t have that now, can you?

Case in point: one of the reporters walks up to Barry Trotz while we were in Montreal and said to him “so Dumont is on the fourth line now?” (since he is paired with two rookies, maybe?). Trotz'’s response was typical Barry: “"No, we have two scoring and two checking lines. J.P. is not on the fourth line. Maybe you guys should try watching the games.”"

Dumont did seem to be happy to be back home, and as the lone Francophile on the team he got plenty of media attention. His scrum actually lasted longer than Coach Trotz'’s, and was conducted pretty much entirely in French. I’m glad J.P. scored in front of his family and friends, and I hope it gets him going back in the right direction.

I’'m still having a hard time putting it all in perspective for myself as to what it meant to me to be up there among the rafters with all those Stanley Cup banners and retired numbers. It’'s amazing. But I think my friend Andy summed it up for me with his email that said this: “"Hearing O' Canada in French/English from Bell Centre and then hearing your voice as the next thing will definitely rank as one of the coolest things I have ever heard in my life. That was just freakin awesome.”"

Thanks Andy. I couldn’'t have said it better myself.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


January 13
Quite a bit going on in PredsLand these days… Steve Sullivan is back on the ice, we split a home-and-home with Chicago, I got a chance to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and the infamous NHL “War Room”, and Rich Peverly is gone to Atlanta on waivers.

Peverly was waived for the purpose of moving Sullivan back into the lineup. Something had to give on the team numbers-wise, and Peverly was it. He made it up from the ECHL on hard work and I think if he gets a good shot in Atlanta he can fit in very well there. I’'m sorry to see him go personally, but that’'s the nature of the beast. Good luck, Pevs.

Sullivan’'s return to the ice was great to see. In doing so, he became only the third player since WWII to play 150 games with a team, miss over 600 days(!), and return to the ice with the same team. The other two? The answer at the end of this article.

I can only imagine how pumped Sully will be to play in front of the Toronto fans again tonight. It may be almost as emotional for him as it was to return in Nashville. He will have family here as will other guys like Joel Ward, who grew up in a Toronto suburb. I even asked Jason Arnott about coming to play in a Toronto or Montreal. He said that even if you’'re not from here, the way the game is treated, the media attention, the history, it all gets guys cranked up and ready to go. But if you'’re from the area -- multiply that by about 50. It seems coming home, even when you’'ve been in the league as long as Arnott or J.P. Dumont, is still coming home.

Perhaps that, in an odd way, is the bonus of not being in the East where we would play Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, etc. much more often.

I did venture over to the Hockey Hall of Fame after eating at the Irish Embassy (I love that place!) and got to reacquaint myself with several exhibits. Plus the new feature this season is the centennial for the Montreal Canadiens. I can'’t wait to make it up there for Thursday’s game, the atmosphere will be amazing. But I also fully expect a great crowd on hand here tonight.

For me, seeing the HHOF again, but for the first time being a part of that NHL brotherhood, is a different experience. No, I didn’'t score on the active display goaltender (hit a post and couldn’'t keep the puck down) but I did see articles in there from Jason Arnott, Pekka Rinne, Jordin Tootoo, and other Predator players past and present. Walking into the main hall where the Stanley Cup and NHL trophies reside was incredible. All enshrined members are honored there with an inscribed frosted glass plate with a brief bio, including members of the media. For those who didn’t know, current Predators PR man Tim Darling’s late father, Ted, is enshrined in the HHOF. He was for many years the voice of Buffalo Sabres hockey, and the guy I grew up listening to most. It was nice to see him recognized for the impact he made on hockey in the Western New York area.

I mention the broadcasters in the HHOF because tonight I'’ll be broadcasting from the Foster Hewitt Memorial Broadcast Gondola. Foster Hewitt was the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and some would say hockey in Canada, for 50 years. Just to be able to call a game from there will be an amazing feat. I’'ll be listening for whispers of the past…

As far as my visit to the War Room, that will be covered through a special podcast I’'ll be putting together over the next week or so. It was a very interesting experience, to say the least!

Finally, a thought on being at practice today: my word does the Toronto media know how to swarm a locker room! Steve Sullivan and Wade Belak received special attention as former Leafs. Sullivan'’s comeback is big news here as it was in Chicago, and Belak ranks as one of the most popular recent Leaf players. I’'ll have reaction from both of those players during the game tonight.

Should be interesting tonight with the Leafs struggling (1-4-0 last five, 2-7 last nine) and the Predators looking to put things back together. 6:30 CST start.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.

Trivia Answer: Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh) and Jim Peplinski (Calgary)



January 9
One of those games…

(And I haven’t forgotten about the Christmas toy blog… it is coming. I just have to finish it…)

A lot was said after yesterday’s game about how the team could have folded the tent. They could have skated away with their heads down after two hard-luck bad bounces ended up in the back of the net. But with line combinations that even I couldn’t keep up with buzzing all night, things looked good.

Some things to point out for last night:

David Legwand played wing for the first time in his career (that I know of) and looked pretty good doing it. Jay Levin and I were talking about it during the first intermission. With Legwand’s speed and ability, taking him off the center spot and moving him to wing helps simplify the game (wings don’t have to deal with faceoffs and certain defensive responsibilities). Sometimes when you’re struggling, that’s a major plus. Teamed with Arnott and Erat, the line looked pretty good together and generated points.

Speaking of Erat, he looked more composed than I’ve seen recently. I know he’s been frustrated by not only the team’s performance but his own lack of scoring. Last night I think patience and perseverance were the keywords for him and everyone else against the Penguins.

Koistinen and Klein paired together didn’t actually look that unfamiliar, though it was the first time this season they had both dressed for a game at the same time. That’s going to be a learning experience with a couple of young blueliners (with tremendous upside) finding their way and making mistakes at times. With the recent signing of Alexander Sulzer to a two-year one-way deal (starting in 09-10), you can see the depth falling into place for quite some time to come.

Ryan Suter bounced back. While Shea Weber is getting a well-deserved national pat on the back for his All-Star selection, Suter has been playing pretty well. Against Pittsburgh Suter had those bounces go against him early, with two bad breaks resulting in Pens goals just 21 seconds apart early in the middle frame. To that end, Suter gathered himself and eventually came up with the game-winning power play goal. That’s a microcosm of the tenacity required to overcome these situations.

Dumont, Jones and Santorelli looked like that one line in pee wee hockey that was everywhere – all at once – and scored a ton of goals to lead your team. I think if they stay together, this could become a surprise success. I really liked how they complimented each other on the ice.

So now a chance to wrap up the home stand with Chicago, a tough game on Saturday night that looks like it might sell out. Yes, there are still seats available, but I wouldn’t dawdle. The ‘Hawks are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, and you won’t want to miss this one!

Finally, don’t forget that Steve Sullivan is scheduled to be back on the ice tomorrow night for the first time in roughly two years. If you’re looking for even more of an emotional boost, this is definitely it!

Until next time… keep your stick on the ice.



December 17
It’s still several days before Christmas as I write this. In fact, the jolly old elf himself will not be squeezing his way down chimneys for another eight days yet. But I’m compelled this morning to write about Christmas, and what it means to me at this point in my life.

I’ve been noodling around with Pandora and have created a few Christmas-themed stations. Among those is one that plays classic carols by singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc. and has a healthy dose of big band influence in it as well. Somehow Christmas in the time of my grandparents seems to have more luster, more rose-tinted glow to it than what we have now. I can imagine a giant Packard parked in the driveway, or perhaps a wood-paneled station wagon loaded down with gifts and sugared-up kids. A fireplace. And of course, a tree, stockings, and the bustle of a gathering.

I suppose that as technology changes, life modernizes and we grow older, we grow nostalgic for our earlier days. When the tree and lights and ornaments brought not trepidation and worry about finances, but excitement about what might be wrapped up under the tree, and despite being an eight-year-old who can’t get up for school in the morning you can be up like a shot at 3 am to open presents.

But even more than that, what I’m nostalgic for is the time I spent (and the times I still do spend) with my family. I miss my grandfather in his red holiday cardigan, and love my grandmother’s holiday snowman sweaters (which she still has and will likely wear again this year). Having tea, and then coffee once I learned to drink it, with my parents in the morning at their house. Listening those old vinyl Christmas albums my folks have every December 25th and etching, line by line and note by note, the joy and happiness of those times into my brain. And of course my brother and sister getting more excited about their gift to me than what I got them, which in hindsight seems only right. I was the same way.

Really, what it all reflects back to is family and friends. Those people who are and were in your life and made a daily impact. You can’t always pick the family tree, but it’s so important to appreciate the good things you may have this holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or any other religious/personal holiday, I hope it gives you time to reflect on the joy not only in your own life, but that which you bring to others. I know I am always thankful for the opportunities that are put before me to impact the lives of others in a positive way, and try to do my best for all of them. I hope that you all have that same opportunity and are able to seize upon it.

Occasionally, though, isn’t it fun to be a big kid again? I always enjoy doing things like going skating outside (if only there were an outdoor rink in Nashville this week!), or going through a toy store now and again, just to see how things compare to what was popular back in the day. From time to time, I’m surprised to see a toy that is either a strong reminder of what I used to play with, or might even be the same thing! It’s nice to see Lincoln logs making a comeback. And I take time to have at least one hot chocolate, something I don’t normally drink.

So here’s my list of things that I like to do around the holiday season. It might not be tied in to Christmas specifically, but they’re things I like to do:
  1. go ice skating
  2. drink cocoa
  3. go to a toy store
  4. wear my red stocking hat
  5. put up strands of lights
  6. listen to nostalgic old Christmas music
  7. watch every single animated holiday special I have on DVD or VHS
  8. hand out candy canes to people
  9. sing along to those old songs
  10. make cookies
What is on your list of things you like to do or that signify the holidays to you? My family never had any crazy traditions looking back on it, but we did always get to open one gift on Christmas Eve after dinner. That was always fun – but you had to pick carefully! And if it was a two-part gift, you only got one part of it.

Next blog I’m going to tackle toys of Christmas past… and wedge some hockey in between now and then.

Keep your stick on the ice.



December 12
This is becoming the year of the backup goaltender. A litany of netminders have gone down with injuries (Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, Cam Ward, Kari Lehtonen, Evgeni Nabokov and Manny Legace spring to mind quickly) and a few others (Cristobal Huet, Martin Gerber, Tomas Vokoun, Jason Labarbara, Jose Theodore) have been played right out of their jobs.

Yes, ‘tis the season to become familiar with Craig Anderson, Scott Clemmensen, Brent Johnson, Pekka Rinne, Erik Ersberg, Steve Mason, Curtis Sanford, Brian Boucher (again), Ondrej Pavelec, and Nikolai Khabibulin (again).

WHEW!

I’ll be impressed if you place all of those names with the proper teams. Or maybe I won’t. Because everywhere you look this year at any NHL news source, you see these names. And they’re all good stories.

Anderson supplants Vokoun in Florida, and no one saw this coming. Yet Anderson is 8-2-3 with three shutouts, a 1.94 GAA and .946 save percentage. He’s taken a team riddled with injuries and hauled them to a 6-1-2 mark in the last nine games. And his story is not unique.

Being Martin Brodeur’s back up used to be like being the Maytag Repairman. You were rarely needed and often forgotten. But this season, career AHL-netminder Scott Clemmensen has seized the opportunity to become the Devils’ starter, taking over when Kevin Weekes didn’t put up great results in Brodeur’s absence. Yes, playing in New Jersey’s defensive minded system might be easier than Anderson’s job in Florida, but impressive nonetheless, as Clemmensen has gone 7-3-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .926 save percentage.

Pekka Rinne has looked good for our very own Predators when Dan Ellis wasn’t able to go, especially recently. Brian Boucher is a very good reason why the Sharks kept on winning when Nabokov was down. Steve Mason started the year in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, needing more “seasoning”. Suddenly he’s helping the Blue Jackets make a push to get into the playoffs for the first time in team history, while hard-luck backstop Pascal Leclaire still can’t stay out of the trainer’s room, or find wins.

And there’s budding controversies everywhere. Brent Johnson hasn’t led a team in starts since he was with St. Louis earlier this decade, yet he’s outplaying Jose Theodore. Erik Ersberg has outperformed Jason Labarbara in LA for much of the year. We already talked about Anderson knocking out Vokoun, and Khabibuhlin, who many expected gone from Chicago, has by and large given the ‘Hawks more hope than Huet. And in St. Louis, former Predator Chris Mason will once again get another chance to shine with Manny Legace out with his second injury of the season… this after he put tremendous pressure on the Blues’ starter with sparking performances in the last few weeks.

So keep your eyes peeled for new netminders. Last year, the big hero was Pittsburgh’s Ty Conklin, who kept the Penguins from capsizing when Marc-Andre Fleury went down. This year, it’s Dannny Sabourin who will have to make things work for the Pens while Fleury is out again.

When we look back at this season, when this year’s edition of the Penguins makes that big run to the Stanley Cup, who will be the goaltender who helped make it happen? It just might not be the big name you expect.


December 4
Last night the Predators shut down the Colorado Avalanche and produced a 3-2 win to put the team at 4-1-1 in its last six games. It’s encouraging that although the team gave up six against Minnesota last week (Saturday night’s opponent) every other game has seen the Preds give up three goals only once, and shut out the opposition twice – don’t forget that 1-0 loss in a shootout against St. Louis.

Right now this team, which at the beginning of the year was supposed to be a solid defensive club with a need for goal scoring and started out the exact opposite, has swung back to the expectations of allowing few goals against. Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have both looked comfortable in the net, dispelling any doubts thus far about the league’s least-experienced goaltending tandem. Defensively the whole team has pitched in, with notable backchecking efforts of late by the forwards helping to relieve the pressure on the blueliners. It’s not always easy to get that type of effort from your forwards, but it is expected under Barry Trotz.

We’ve been producing enough to win in the last two games. Chipping away at the net, getting opportunities here and there. Colorado played a similar game yesterday, producing several chances in the third period. That definitely made Stu Grimson and me nervous but in the end the Predators held. The line of Hejduk, Smyth, and Stastny was really good for the Avs last night, in fact I thought they should have been rewarded a bit more than they were for the effort. But again, it speaks to the Predators being able to take care of business lately when the chips are down.

Now Minnesota comes back for a rematch on Saturday night, and you better believe the guys have this one circled. After giving up five power play goals and lighting the Wild’s power play on fire (10 PPG in the last three games!) the Predators are going to have to stay out of the box and grind it out against Minnesota. That above all will be key, along with a solid performance in net from whoever gets the nod (my money is on Dan Ellis).

So at this point, things are looking good. There have been some boring, cut-and-dry periods of hockey in there, but they’re effective. The Predators have shown they can play up-tempo, offensive hockey from time to time. But the real success of this team is hard work, winning battles in the corners, and getting the puck to the front of the net and jamming it home past the goaltender. Either that, or let Shea Weber fire away. How about the season he’s having?

And speaking of Weber… have you filled out your All-Star Ballot yet? Who do you think should be on there that isn’t? I’m looking for your top write-in choices!

That’s it for today, sports fans. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


December 2
It was nice to get back home to Buffalo for a day or two, and it was great to come out with two points. I’m a Lackawanna native, and it was something special for me to have my family at the game even if they couldn’t hear me… since they’ve been rooting for me for the past ten years, I know they’ve always supported what I’ve done. And actually getting to see it in reality must have been pretty cool for them, too. I know it was for me!

Both teams looked flat to begin the game with occasional flashes of scoring opportunities. Buffalo has struggled a lot lately and couldn’t put the offense together. Thomas Vanek, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, was a non-factor held to just one shot and didn’t get a chance to set anything up, either. For the Sabres, it felt very much like when the Predators struggle to score goals: chances from the third and fourth lines, but the top two were not very effective.

On the contrary, the Predators got the scoring from the top unit with Arnott and Dumont pitching in roughly midway through the third period. Chances did exist for all four units, but more than anything the shutdown game played by the Predators in front of Pekka Rinne was good. Rinne was sharp (as was Ryan Miller for Buffalo) and even at the end of the game when Buffalo was throwing everything at him, he was making saves he should, and even one he shouldn’t on a deflection in the slot. Pekka deserved the shutout and earned it especially in the third.

I also liked Vern Fiddler on the forecheck, and for that matter, Barry Trotz’s implementation of a two-man swing that disrupted the Sabres’ breakouts. They were unable to move the puck ahead as the Predators played the system very well. They left Buffalo trying to stretch the ice with long passes, tip-it-in-and-go-get-it style plays that often result in turnovers. And as a result the Sabres never really got things going until they had six guys on the ice at the end of the game with Miller on the Sabres bench.

So a good win and it gets us rolling in time for Colorado on Thursday. Game time is 7 pm. TV and radio feeds, but head on down to the game and join us!

By the way, today should be interesting. It’s time to pick out a Christmas tree in the next few days, and today begins the selection process. As someone who grew up in a family with an artificial tree, I’ve only had a live one once since I’ve been on my own, and I remember it as a messy, needle-filled affair that was a pain in the butt to throw out. But the house smelled nice.

So it brings the question: real or artificial? My fiancée is pushing for the real tree. I see the benefits as twofold: House smells nice and We don’t have to store it all year! Artificial benefits include: No needles all over the place and zero maintenance, plus you don’t have to deal with the problem and subsequent cleanup of dragging it out of your house to throw out. So I’m torn, but I think we’re going to try the real tree this year.

I’ll throw it out to you: real or artificial, and why? And does anyone have any great Christmas tree stories like the Griswold Family Christmas? I’d love to hear them, and you can feel free to borrow a friend’s story if they’re not posting on here.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


November 26
So I thought about today being Wednesday, I should probably catch everyone up on the trip to Tampa Bay and Carolina. But I’ve decided to sum it up quickly for you and go another route.

Tampa: Sunny, warm, Tocchet’s first win as a head coach.
Carolina: Not as warm, one of Nashville’s best games so far, big win.

Why so short on the summary there? I read this article today, and on the eve of our Thanksgiving holiday, I sensed that my true topic was here. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.

Robert Muller is a professional athlete. A goaltender by trade, and a darn good one at that. He’s probably the best netminder in all of Germany. And he has incurable brain cancer.

A father of two who is just 28, Muller is not letting the disease beat him, and instead battles on through it and returns to the ice to play. I think the word courage is overused in athletics today, and often misapplied. But I think that in Muller’s case, it does apply, as it would to anyone who battles cancer on a daily basis. The only difference is he has a bit more of a spotlight on him because of his profession.

What I took from this article is that Muller has an amazing positive attitude, and is not letting anything beat him. He’s prepared for whatever comes his way, and is realistic about treatments and recovery. He keeps his family close, and the game of hockey helps sustain him mentally. And he is not letting anything beat him – as if stopping pucks is a physical representation of the fight he faces. They’re tough to stop, but not impossible. So he continues to battle every single day of his life.

And with that, I want to say that I’m thankful for my family and friends. They sustain me through tough times and I love them all dearly. When I sit down to dinner on Thursday, I’ll think often and fondly of them, and hope that I will able to share smiles and laughter with them once more while cherishing past memories. And I’ll say a quiet prayer for Muller and his family, and all those affected by cancer and other diseases the world over. They are the ones who fight a courageous battle – every single day.

What are you thankful for?

Keep your stick on the ice.


November 19
Okay, let’s wrap up the week in California as best we can, there’s a lot to catch up on...

We arrived in San Francisco and took a bus to San Jose late that night, getting in while just in time to hit the pillow and call it a night.

The next day I awoke to discover we were on something called Savannah Row, which is quite the high-tone shopping area in SJ. There were nice restaurants and shops of the expensive variety, plus a mall located just across the street a few blocks up. We had a chance to relax there for a day or so, and made plans to rent a car and head north and/or south in it.

I realize that requires some explaining.

Since we got to SJ on a Sunday, a few of the crew went to go watch football at a local watering hole near the arena. As I joined Bob Kohl and our athletic trainer Dan Redmond (who were deep in thrall with the Packers game, while I cheered on the Bills) and we ate brunch, the barkeep told us about some lovely places up by San Francisco to go check out tomorrow. We took notes and decided we would do that. Then I got to thinking…

We could make it south to Pebble Beach and Monterrey, I reasoned, and hit San Francisco for sunset over the water. That was my plan, and as long as we left early enough we could pull it off.

Well, we headed south first, with a full car of TV crew folks (Bob, Karen, Linda, and Dave) and me. We rented a Nissan Altima, which was pretty nice and had room for five adults, if you’re curious. It took us a bit of doing to get there, but we ended up strolling Cannery Row in Monterrey and not moving quite as quickly through lunch and shopping. So we decided instead of hitting San Francisco at 4 or 5 pm in traffic to push further south towards Pebble Beach and 17 Mile Drive. We paused as often as possible on the way around to take pictures, catching the sunset over the Pacific in all its wonder. I snapped a few very nice pictures of it after adjusting some camera filters on the digital.

Among the highlights of the day were our lunch at a restaurant overlooking Monterrey Bay, and Bob and David almost succumbing to chocolate overload with Godiva milkshakes. I seriously thought we were going to have to lash them to the trunk and take them with us, as they could have quite possibly gone into a sugar-induced coma at any point.

We were blessed with perfect weather on the day, bright, sunny, and not a lot of wind. It shows in a few of the pictures.

And for those of you who are John Steinbeck fans, they do a pretty good job presenting the places made famous in the books, including preserving the home/office of Ed Ricketts, the person who inspired the “Doc” character in the book Cannery Row.

After returning to SJ that evening, the next day it was time to take on the Sharks.

What a game! Truly, when you talk about any team being able to beat any other team at any time… the Sharks were all over the Predators, and Dan Ellis was in the middle of his best performance of the year. Somehow, the Predators found ways to scratch out goals while Ellis kept things close. Then with the game in overtime a breakaway save by Ellis almost gave you the feeling that if the Predators were still around after that, two points were coming. Shortly thereafter, they were indeed as Ville Koistinen scored with a shot from the point to give Nashville the win and make everyone on both benches shake their heads in disbelief. It was an amazing turn of events but somehow the Predators beat the NHL’s best team and took two points.

That win started a little win streak, as the team would go on to beat Anaheim (also in OT thanks to Dan Hamhuis) and LA to wrap up the road trip. It was also an unfortunate time in the LA area as wildfires began to rage just outside of Los Angeles, with the Anaheim Hills area catching fire the day we moved up to LA. In the morning just outside of our downtown LA hotel room, you could see the smoke on the horizon maybe 25 miles away. That afternoon, as we boarded the bus for the game, you could smell the fires. And the next day when we boarded the plane, a light blanket of ash covered much of the airport area, with occasional flakes floating down like some strange type of grey snow. That’s something I won’t soon forget, either.

And so the longest road trip of the season came to a close. Six games, 14 days, and three much-needed wins by the end. Pictures are coming here shortly for your enjoyment, and I’ll caption what I can for you all. Now we can catch back up on the business of hockey!

Keep your stick on the ice.


November 18
Tom’s Note: Because of varying issues from a laptop battery that decided it was time to croak on the road trip to me devoting time to game prep and the “excitement” of travel, I’m catching up on my blog retroactively.

After the Canadian leg of the tour we headed to Denver, Colorado to face the Avalanche. With a day before the game free, some of the TV folks and I grabbed a car and decided to head outside of town and check out the sites. My original plan to get a car on my own and head to visit a friend in Colorado Springs had fallen through, so I jumped on with the crew as they headed out of town.

Our TV crew people are Karen, Linda, Dave, and of course Bob Kohl. This will be your crew for this trip, along with Terry Crisp. Karen had a friend in the area who was going to take us to a famous watering hole in the mountains called the Little Bear. I’d never heard of the place, and I’m not sure anyone else had, either, but we decided to go.

Halfway to the little town of Evergreen, we stopped along the way at a small bar/restaurant on a golf course up in the mountains. It was a public golf course, and there were elk roaming on the fairways and grazing as golfers tried as best as they could to finish up around them. I wonder how you record a score on that one? And do you get a drop from elk poop?

We stayed for a few minutes, taking in the scenery, before completing our drive to Evergreen and The Little Bear. Apparently this is quite a famous place in the annals of Colorado lore. A former church and drug store, The Little Bear looks like and old west saloon and claims enjoy the reputation of Colorado’s rowdiest mountain bar.

Getting there, the place is tiny. There’s a stage on the left, the bar splits the middle, and some seating scattered around the remaining space. There’s also a tiny upstairs with an overlook of the stage, and then a back pool room. We sat in front of the stage just as a cover band took over for the next four hours! They were good, but sitting immediately under the speakers was not good for one’s hearing. We also ordered food while there which wasn’t bad, but if you’re going to Evergreen, your options are limited to begin with.

In a way, I’m sad to report there were no bar fights or crazy activity other than a lot of folks dancing to solid 70s and 80s covers. But I suppose it’s for the best in the long run that we got to experience a relaxed version of The Little Bear, and headed back to town in time to get a good night’s rest.

***
The next night the Predators took on the Avalanche, and played very well despite a 1-0 loss. Dan Ellis is showing why the team took a chance on him as #1 this season, showing up night after night with great saves and keeping his team right in the thick of things. Each team had chances on the power play but couldn’t convert, with Colorado 0-9 and Nashville 0-7. Darcy Tucker scored the only goal of the game, his 200th career marker, in unremarkable fashion. The puck just happened in front of the net, wandering past a few players as it wouldn’t sit flat, and he pushed it home. There’s your game winner, proving that once again, hockey is a funny game.

Well, after the game it was a flight to San Francisco, where the team would take in a game against the Oakland Raiders while the staff headed for San Jose. And that’s where we’ll pick up our next installment.

Keep your stick on the ice!


November 17
Tom’s Note: Because of varying issues from a laptop battery that decided it was time to croak on the road trip to me devoting time to game prep and the “excitement” of travel, I’m catching up on my blog retroactively. So we’ll start with the Canadian leg of the tour here, and I’ll keep updating.

***
We started the trip in Vancouver, checking into our hotel near the waterfront on a somewhat chilly day. There was always a threat of rain although we really did not get any precipitation throughout the time we were up there.

After checking in there was some wandering to be done. I headed out with Bob Kohl and Dave Raynak (Bob works for the team and is the television overlord, Dave is one of the folks who makes the magic happen in the truck) to look for the close-by area of shops and restaurants on Robson Street. Apparently in Vancouver, they have crepe stands everywhere. So Dave and Bob took advantage of the creperie, while I was good and stuck to my low-carb guns. I love crepes… but I just can’t have them right now.

Speaking of which, Bob had never heard of Nutella. For those of you who haven’t heard, Nutella is a delicious chocolate hazelnut spread that is absolutely addicting and great on everything including crepes. I’m sad to report that my glowing recommendation did not sway him into trying it then and there, but I will furnish a jar for his enjoyment at a later date. And then he’ll be hooked!

So after much meandering and a stop at HMV music store to check up on all the Canadian bands I miss, we headed back to meet up with our crew for dinner. It’s always better to have that one “team meal” at the beginning of the trip, when you haven’t seen each other in a few days. By the end of a 14-day trip you could probably strike out on your own without too many hang-ups.

***
After a night or two, I managed to pull down a bit of a throat issue… with that in mind, I wrote the following:

So while I attempt to save my voice, Predators Weekly is on the shelf. Apparently it was time for me to get one of my two annual throat problems before yesterday’s game, so I’m dialing back the chatter and hoping a steady diet of chicken soup gets me back to level by tomorrow.

Barry Trotz’s 750th game with the Predators did not exactly go as planned. Vancouver looked even with the Preds through two, then took off in the third period. Nashville had more from the perimeter, while the Canucks had scoring chances right in front and took advantage. Roberto Luongo is too good to beat with minimal traffic or from an off angle, even with him not having the start he’d like. I’m hoping the guys are able to shake off the jet lag and put it in gear against Calgary tomorrow night.

Shutting down Jarome Iginla goes without saying against the Flames. His hat trick last time in Nashville sunk the Preds, and he didn’t even get it in gear until the second period. When Jarome is on, he’s quite possibly the most dangerous force in the game. And I’m not just talking offensively, but motivationally and leadership-wise as well.

As we flew in through the snow that greeted us last night, and the low cloud cover, I thought to myself what it must have been like in the early days of air travel when they navigated by landmarks and dead reckoning. Radar wasn’t around yet, and if you weren’t paying attention, or maybe Mother Nature got cranky, you could miss your course easily. Now we take for granted that the plane knows where it’s going. But suddenly I have a lot more respect for pilots who can still guide planes in cases of failure, and especially those who pioneered what has become and institution in the past 100 years.

Well, I’m off in search of soup. Catch you tomorrow night!

Keep your stick on the ice.


November 10
It's not really a blog entry, but here's a the Predators Weekly podcast.
 Tom Callahan's Weekly Podcast: Nov. 11, 2008 


November 5
So while I attempt to save my voice, Predators Weekly podcast is on the shelf. Apparently it was time for me to get one of my two annual throat problems before yesterday's game, so I'm dialing back the chatter and hoping a steady diet of chicken soup gets me back to level by tomorrow.

Barry Trotz's 750th game with the Predators did not exactly go as planned. Vancouver looked even with the Preds through two, then took off in the third period. Nashville had more from the perimeter, while the Canucks had scoring chances right in front and took advantage. Roberto Luongo is too good to beat with minimal traffic or from an off angle, even with him not having the start he'd like. I'm hoping the guys are able to shake off the jet lag and put it in gear against Calgary tomorrow night.

Shutting down Jarome Iginla goes without saying against the Flames. His hat trick last time in Nashville sunk the Preds, and he didn't even get it in gear until the second period. When Jarome is on, he's quite possibly the most dangerous force in the game. And I'm not just talking offensively, but motivationally and leadership-wise as well.

Scott Nichol's game off last night was a planned game off for him. So don't worry, he's just fine.

As we flew in through the snow that greeted us last night, and the low cloud cover, I thought to myself what it must have been like in the early days of air travel when they navigated by landmarks and dead reckoning. Radar wasn't around yet, and if you weren't paying attention, or maybe Mother Nature got cranky, you could miss your course easily. Now we take for granted that the plane knows where its going. But suddenly I have a lot more respect for pilots who can still guide planes in cases of failure, and especially those who pioneered what has become and institution in the past 100 years.

Tell me your favorite airplane travel stories.

Well, I'm off in search of soup. Catch you tomorrow night!

Keep your stick on the ice.


October 31
It’s Halloween, and aside from having the grade school song stuck in my head, it’s also my Grandma’s Birthday. She’s 90 years young today, and still kickin’! Happy Birthday Gram.

As I was getting my hair cut today I was reminded of Halloween as a kid in Buffalo. I joked with the guy cutting my hair about costumes today versus when we were young… when those plastic masks were what made your costume come together, or maybe you just painted your face. The problem was in Buffalo at Halloween it was usually pretty cold, meaning if you didn’t have a mask on no one knew what you were dressed up as, because you had a winter coat over it all. Countless times, the familiar “and what are you supposed to be?” from well-meaning neighbors was greeted with impatient responses of whatever I happened to be that year. Even when I had the Star Wars stormtrooper mask firmly in place (with my green plastic M-16, because what else did you carry?) the uninformed had no idea. Unless you went as a Bills player wearing a helmet. That one was pretty simple (and universally understood). Hey – people know what the Bills look like in the snow.

Last time I was home for Halloween, I got a few kids to come by… and several adults holding bags they claimed were for “my little baby girl at home” or similar. Come on, adults… seriously. I know people who bring their kids as young as two out to trick-or-treat. You get either black licorice or fruit-flavored tootsie roll things, because no one actually likes those.

My best costume as a kid was when my mom dressed me up as a friar, complete with robe and sandals. And I won seriously every competition I was in that year, from my bowling league to elementary school. It might be the one and only time I’ve had a good costume on Halloween. Sometimes my mom did okay with things like that… but when you’re seven you have very little say in it anyway.

***
So the Preds got two points last night from Edmonton, and the Oilers didn’t look great to me. Pekka Rinne played really well, as did Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. But I want to talk about Dan Hamhuis, who I thought had his best game of the year. His stick was active, blocking passes all game long. He took the body, especially at the start of the third period when he laid out Steve Staios and then the next shift ran someone else into the glass. Yes, Hamhuis made a statement to his teammates in the game: let’s get after these two points, and get after it hard. The Preds responded with their best period in a while, keeping the Oilers away from the net most of the period and locking up the club’s ninth straight win over Edmonton. Scott Nichol and Ryan Jones also had great efforts in the game as well, with Jones doing yeomen’s work to set up Erat’s marker in the third.

***
Well, lay it on me. Your best/worst/most unusual Halloween stories. I had the crap scared out of me by a guy hiding on a porch one year when I was little. I must have cried for five minutes after that and I’m sure my parents were miserable after that one. I think I’m heading home to pop in my DVD of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and then go to the NIN concert.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


October 30
So it falls to me, the guy who also has a degree in history (and is darn proud of that), to blog about the trip to DC.

I absolutely love Washington, D.C., and have since I was a little kid. My parents took us on family vacations to historical spots and places, and looking back I think we’re better off for it. I learned about the American Revolution in Boston as a little boy, or at Fort Ticonderoga, or on trips to our nation’s capitol. The Civil War came to life in Gettysburg and other battlefields. We saw quite a bit of the northeast and a few other states from the window of a car, and I think that’s where my history bug bite occurred.

I’ve been to DC several times in my life, more often than not recently to visit dear friends. But I am always overcome with the weight of a nation that rests on 10 square miles between Maryland and Virginia. With a lack of available ice for a morning skate, we took an hour-long bus tour down towards the monuments by the mall. Stopping to get out at the Lincoln Memorial and seeing the Korean and Vietnam Memorials along with it was special for me, as I have not been to Washington since the completion of that or the World War II Memorial (which we drove by). It was nice to venture around a bit and re-read Lincoln’s words, inscribed in the stone of the memorial from his second inaugural address.

In it, Lincoln makes no pretense about what may lie ahead. The tide had turned towards the Union, but the conflict was still not over. Lincoln made no predictions as to an end, refused to speculate on the conflict’s resolution, but made it clear that he felt the progress made by the Army of the Potomac was significant and meaningful. He had just defeated one of that Army’s former commanders, George B. McClellan, who ran on a ticket of conciliation and negotiation with the Confederacy. McClellan would have ceased military operations immediately to negotiate peace if it could be done with the southern states, but Lincoln was only interested in preserving the Union. Widespread belief at the time was that once military action had stopped, it would never resume… possibly dissolving the Union forever.

It is a simple, stark, and brief address. Much like Lincoln at Gettysburg, where he rose and spoke for barely three minuets after Edward Everett blustered on for three hours, his speech here set a simple but important course that called for the end of the conflict and restoration of the United States of America. It is worth reading if you have the time here.

He ends the address:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

***
A chilly, windy day greeted us with grey skies and occasional precipitation as we toured, and our bus driver Joe served as tour guide and traffic navigator. The problem is that driving the bus, telling historical stories and points of interest, and his habit for yelling at traffic combined for something like the following:

“If you look to your right, you’ll see a statue of Alexander Hamilton. He, uh… Thomas Jefferson… Hamilton decided the first tie in an election, casting the deciding vote between Jefferson… and… he… Hamilton… GET OUT OF THE WAY YOU HACKER! MOVE THAT THING! Over on your left you’ll see…”

Now, his favorite word is “hacker”, of which Terry Crisp learned the definition as “a person of average ability”. I’m not going to speculate why Joe picked on Terry to learn the definition of a hacker. You’ll have to ask Mr. Crisp. There were hackers everywhere in Washington as we drove, which amused the guys no end to hear Joe yelling at them. Then he’d try to drop in another story. And we passed the Kennedy Performing Arts Center at least 10 times.

Also, there was the matter of almost punting a Toyota RAV4 into traffic with our bus. Seems that Joe’s mind might wander here and there (no kidding) and so when people stop short as they often do there, we’d stop short with them. One time, we were all convinced that we were going to eat this RAV4 in front of us, and quite possibly were inches from owning it. After a hard, grinding stop and Joe letting traffic have it, he gets on the microphone and says “I was able to stop because I’m no HACKER!”

Other nuggets of wisdom:
  • “You know who never gets tickets? Cops!” – directed at the cops double parked on the street.
  • “Get off your phone and drive lady… you HACKER!” – Joe says don’t talk on the phone and drive your car.
  • “Only winners get off this bus, boys. All others stay on and I’ll arrange for your dog sled after your transfer to Medicine Hat.”
  • “A one-bedroom apartment in the Watergate building goes for over a million. You know how I know that? I call them and say I’m interested in buying a place to find out the going rates. I do that with all the big buildings.”
  • “There’s the octagon building… can you guess how many sides it has?”
  • “Don’t ever try to figure out the streets of Washington, it’ll take you years. It’s divided up into four quadrants…” Terry (sarcastically) “Four?”
  • At the Iwo Jima Memorial “Those soldiers were not the original soldiers to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. They finally admitted that two years ago. That flag went up at 3:30 in the afternoon. The U.S. originally planted the colors at 9 am that morning. There’s a small plaque in front of the statue that tells you this now.”
***
After the game, as we’re leaving town we drive once again by the Washington Monument, which is now lit up by floodlights against a pitch-black sky. All 50 flags that encircle the base are snapping straight out in the wind and illuminated by the floodlights. It’s a stark reminder of our country’s history, its place in the world, and the many struggles we’ve encountered in our young history. America has always found a way to overcome those hurdles, and quietly passing this symbol of our nation in the dark you almost know it’s all going to work out for the best.

***
Waaaaay back up top I started off with the thought of family vacations. What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? Were you young enough to have to make the entire trip in a 75 Dodge wagon, like we did? Or maybe it was even before that. I don’t know that I can pick one favorite of all the places I’ve gone, but I loved and cherish the experiences of seeing, doing, and learning. What made the biggest impression on you as a kid?

Two at home this weekend… come out and support us! Keep your stick on the ice.


October 23
This weekend, and all month long, the NHL and Nashville Predators are promoting its Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month.

I’m sure you’re all aware of the pink ribbon that signifies the fight against breast cancer. This month our boys are wearing lavender ribbons on the backs of their helmets. Lavender represents awareness for all cancers. You’ll also see our coaches and staff wearing the ties during the month and specifically on the Predators’ night, which is coming up on Saturday when we play Los Angeles.

Commemorative merchandise such as ladies’ scarves and caps, men’s caps, and Reflections 2008 – The NHL Hockey Year In Photographs can be purchased on shop.nhl.com and a portion of the proceeds go to benefit Hockey Fights Cancer. Certain copies of Reflections have been autographed by NHL team captains and are up for bid in auctions on nhl.com and nhlpa.com this month.

Hockey Fights Cancer is a join charitable initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League and NHL Players’ Association. It is supported by NHL member clubs, NHL alumni, the NHL Officials’ Association, professional hockey athletic trainers and equipment managers, corporate marketing partners, broadcast partners, and fans throughout North America. Hockey Fights Cancer’s goal is to raise money and awareness for national and local organizations involved in cancer care and research. To date, HFC has raised more than $10 million.

We encourage everyone to get as involved as possible to help in the fight against all cancers. Thanks to everyone who helps and supports our efforts. With your support we can find ways to win.

Keep your stick on the ice.


October 22

Today, as promised, we go back to talking hockey. And today’s topic is one that is sure to generate much discussion: THE SHOOTOUT.

There was a spirited one at practice today, won by Nick Tarnasky. I kid you not, he made three incredible moves to score goals. I wonder if he bumped himself up in the order at all with today’s performance?

So with that in mind, I went into the room after practice and talked with as many people as I could. Almost surprisingly, 98% of the people I talked to said they were in favor of it, and either liked it or had grown to like it. That includes players former and current, fans, Preds staffers, and the like.

First off, I’ll start with my lone contrarian: Terry Crisp. This should come as no surprise to those of you who have listened to Terry for the past 10 years or so. He believes there should be a winner and a loser, yes… but playing the game as a team. Four-on-four is fine, go to three-on-three if you want, but play as a team. And play until there’s a winner, no matter how long it takes. Can you picture three-on-three OT? That would be interesting!

So Terry is not in favor, but he also wants a winner every night. And no points for losing, two for winning. None of this one-point-for-not-winning, as he puts it. Interesting…

So I continued to ask around, starting with Jason Arnott. Jason, like many of the players I talked to, likes the shootout. He enjoys watching it, and thinks it’s exciting not only for fans but for the players as well. He said he thinks it’s great to have a winner for fans to go home with and that you can feel the excitement when people know the shootout is coming.

Vern Fiddler echoed that, saying “it’s nice that hard-working people who paid $80 to see a game get a result. They deserve to see a winner in the contest, and fans really enjoy it.”

I figured the goaltender’s point of view might be different. Nope – I was wrong. Dan Ellis loves having a shootout as it turns out.

“I think they’re great,” he told me. “I don’t mind that it comes down to one-on-one to decide the game, and I know the fans go wild. (me: There are those “fan” people again!) When I was in the AHL, it was five shooters instead of three. Maybe we could go to five someday.”

So much for that theory. Dan really does enjoy the competition and excitement of the shootout, even though the spotlight can be on the goaltender in those situations.

Ryan Suter chimed right in as well, saying he thought it was a good thing, and he liked having the game decided without a tie. Scott Nichol nodded in approval from the next stall over. It really seems like the idea that the game can provide two points and give fans a solution was key. Plus, the excitement generated is undeniable in this situation.

Pete Weber made a great point to me about shootouts when he said the game is for the fans.

“When it was used for the first time at the 2003 NHL All-Star Game in Florida, everyone was standing. The roar was unbelievable – Terry and I were there. That probably did more to convince the league leadership that it would work more than anything else.”

Even Predators front office folks agree on it. Bob Kohl, the team’s director of broadcasting, said he didn’t like it at first, but it quickly grew on him. Then there’s Ed Lang, the Predators’ president of business operations. Ed said that he’s been told by his son that once the game heads to overtime, he always hopes to see a shootout every time.

“That’s proof enough for me that it belongs in the game,” he said.

And yes, even I get excited for shootouts. You know you’re going to see some serious creativity and either spectacular goals or great saves. I love calling the excitement the fans generate for me over the air. I didn’t think I’d like four-on-four overtime, either, but then I saw it in motion and love it.

Bob, Ed, and I met with Stu Grimson at lunch today. Stu is going to be doing color on some upcoming home games, starting tomorrow with Calgary. He’ll be in the Suite Level Club after the games as well when he’s on the air with me, co-hosting the post-game show alongside the venerable Willy Donic. You heard it here first!

For the record, Stu also enjoys the shootouts and the buzz they create. We talked about the officiating, the game itself, and all sorts of other things at lunch. But you’ll have to listen in starting Thursday to hear more on those topics. That’s what’s known as a tease, folks.

Make sure you post over in the message boards about your take on the shootout, four-on-four overtime, or your own ideas on how to settle games.

Finally, we go back to Tarnasky, who won today’s shootout. I asked him if this was always in the repertoire, and he replied with a grin “of course, I just don’t always pull it out. Since I usually shoot 10th in the order, there’s not much call for it.”

After watching him today, you never know if #74 might get a chance in the very near future.

Keep your stick on the ice.

PS – Predators in the shootout all-time: 16-13.


October 21

Okay, I’m a tech junkie. I’ll come right out and admit that. I crave the iPhone because it’s a computer in your hand and has so many uses in everyday life that I think if and when I get one, I’ll never be able to function without it. I love laptops, am really interested in a device called the Kindle, and love to travel with my PSP.

At home, I’m smitten with wireless networking of gaming systems and hard drives and printers. I love how technology is now also enabling me to save money and become more of a green person through innovations like better light bulbs, solar panels, etc. I’m always reading up on how to be a little better for the environment, how to save money along the way, and if possible do it with a remote control that plays music from my server and has a built-in flashlight/TV/GPS/EIEIO.

Is it getting out of control? Part of me, the evil twin, hopes so. I love advancements that make cars and houses safer or more energy efficient. The aforementioned iPhone is just the start of what will become much more than mobile communication devices: you are looking at the future of computing in many ways. And there’s a ton of competitors coming up fast. I don’t want to work less (which is almost a contrarian ethos these days) but I do want to be able to do more with my time – work smarter.

That carries over into my broadcast life, and thanks to having Pete Weber on board with me, I now have an enabler. Back ten years ago when I started in this silly business, I was “cutting edge” in my use of mini disc. For those of you unfamiliar, mini disc is a purely digital format recording medium that can be described simply (if somewhat inaccurately) as a really small CD in a permanent plastic case. The magic of MD back in the day, and even today, is that you can edit on the fly. Name your track, no problem. Make a track mark to start in the middle of the last track, no problem. It made doing my own highlights between periods a breeze. No tapes to rewind, just cue up those highlights and hit them. And for those of you who don’t know, only NHL teams edit highlights back in the studio. For everyone else it’s up to you to figure out how to do this crap on your own!

Now we’ve moved beyond that to flash drive recorders. Basically it’s recording the digital feed onto a computer chip of some storage denomination. It depends on what you need size-wise as to how much storage you would want. Pete got me started on this little trip now (are my mini discs – so long obsolete in the real world – now becoming so in broadcasting too?) and I can say it has its advantages, such as a file instantly as an .mp3. So when I talk to Barry Trotz, I can take the file immediately to my computer and edit the thing. Pretty cool, right?

BUT

If you want to do on-the-fly anything with it, it’s not quite set up that way. This is more the long-form recorder, not the highlight machine of the MD. So technology is evolving, but not necessarily making life easier in this case. I’d love to see something as simple as a track button that will start a new recording file when you hit the button, real time.

Also changing on the technological landscape is the way the actual broadcast comes to you. Back in the day, everything used to come in on a phone line, which in radio jargon is called P.O.T.S. (plain old telephone service). Then ISDN came into vogue. Simply, ISDN is two phone lines tied together, and when you put a digital box at both ends of the line, sounds crystal clear. You would think I was in the room next to you and I’m across the country.

ISDN is great, but a bit expensive, and there’s talk it’ll be phased out entirely in the next few years. So what now?

There’s a couple possibilities, but it really looks like the internet will be the future of things. Remember those old bag cellular phones? The ones that looked like a leather-bound cinder block? Way back in the day (which was a Wednesday) the cool radio stations had a converter to use those for remote broadcasts. Everyone else had to bring a truck with a MARTI (line-of-sight microwave transmission) and hope there wasn’t a big building or hill in the way. Or you could use POTS.

Now, it’s all changing. Several companies have started to issue boxes that can either plug into your usual Ethernet jack, or even take one of those wireless USB cards from the cell phone companies, and get you back to the station using those technologies. The boxes get smaller and more technical, and of course more expensive. The plus here is that the boxes are piggybacking off existing technology, not requiring any sort of new service.

I’ve also been part of an experiment to use internet telephony software (like Skype or something similar) to broadcast games. Unfortunately I don’t quite think the open-market software will work for a broadcast application – there’s just simply too much noise to clean up and it can be very hard on the ears. In the end, if you as a fan can’t hear the game clearly, odds are you won’t listen very long.

It’s quite possible my next cell phone could get me to the rink from the hotel, record an interview with our coach, edit it, email it back to the station, guide me to lunch, allow me to pay for it, let me catch up on NHL highlights, and take pictures and video of interesting places along the way with great clarity of sound and vision. It could even be used to broadcast the game back to the studio!

And then I can make a phone call. Remember those?

That brings me to my questions: Will we some day stop using the landline telephone all together? Or will it be like TV and Radio, still there but ever-evolving in capabilities? Does your home phone some day get your weather and satellite radio feeds? Email? Does the landline phone one day hook only to high-speed internet and become an at-home version of your cell phone with only your internet fee to pay? Can it get me a cup of coffee?

Well, I can hope…

Put on your creative visionary hats. Give us your best Jules Verne or Ray Bradbury impersonation. What would you like to see in the future? You can relate it to sports if you’d like, how technology could improve hockey or any sport for anyone. You may just have the next great idea tucked away somewhere.

Next time we’ll get back to hockey, I promise. Keep your stick on the ice.


October 15

So we’re in Dallas now, after beating Chicago 3-2 in a shootout to spoil the home opener for the Hawks and put them down 0-2-1 to start the season. It was a back and forth game in which the Preds showed flashes of great play and got solid goaltending from Dan Ellis. I have a feeling “solid goaltending from Dan Ellis” is going to come off these keys quite a bit during the season. I might consider getting the phrase macroed.

Yesterday was an off-day here, and I took the time to head downtown and look at the JFK museum that is in the former school book depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald “allegedly” shot and killed President Kennedy. (I feel like Jim Rome putting that in there). The reason I do put that in there is that obviously the assassination will remain one of those great unsolved mysteries for many reasons, and the museum does a fantastic job of laying everything out there for you, circumstantial or not. Simply put, it’s not a parrot of the Warren Commission findings, which is nice. They do a great job filling in the events surrounding the day there, and in the middle of it all you’re on the sixth floor, looking through the set of windows next to where Oswald was, looking down on Elm Street. Two plain white x’s mark the spot where the bullets struck President Kennedy. As I stood at those windows looking down, I wrote this in my notebook:

“As I stand on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, I look out at two simple, white x’s on the pavement below. And I am just sick.”

Keep in mind, you’re dealing with a history major here. When I have people approaching me on the street trying to sell me a $5 newspaper with photographs and little else on the assassination, I cringe. People taking photographs of themselves smiling in front of the grassy knoll… that makes me cringe, too. I don’t think that profiting off someone else’s misfortune and tragedy is uniquely American or anything new. I do know that we’re good at it – otherwise you wouldn’t have half the magazines you see in print at the supermarket checkout. I suppose I feel that we’d all be better off if we viewed such things less as tourists and more as students of history. Our understanding not only of others but ourselves would be much greater.

Okay, off the soap box…

Well, since I’m back in Texas I had to go eat some barbeque. I headed over to Sonny’s on Market Street, which has been there in one form or another since 1910. I ordered the 1/2-pound plate with coleslaw and beans, plus a 1/2 order of onion rings. I chose beef brisket and ribs for my two meats. The ribs were outstanding, I wish I had ordered an entire rack of those. The brisket was average, didn’t have a strong flavor either way, and was greatly aided by the warm barbeque sauce they served with it. The onion rings were huge (glad I only got the half order) and tasty, great with the sauce. The beans were spicy but good, the coleslaw was average. I did enjoy my meal and would like to try out different meats, but I’d likely head to a different place along the way next time, probably one of the many steakhouses right there.

I also discovered that the Blues Brothers were playing House of Blues down the street, and went over to investigate. Sad to say, the show was sold out and there were not even any scalp tickets to be had! I wish I would have seen that coming a bit further in advance, but perhaps I’ll plan better in the future. That would have completely capped off a great night!

So with that, it was back to the hotel room and some sleep before today’s game against the Stars. Dallas is finishing up morning skate and I’m heading down to talk with some of their guys here shortly. Tune it in tonight and we’ll bring you all the action.

Until next time – keep your stick on the ice!


October 9

It's not really a blog entry, but here's a podcast I put together after talking to some of the guys after practice.  Preds Season Opener Preview 


October 7
I’ve just returned from the 10th Annual Comcast Spotlight Predators Faceoff Luncheon at the Wildhorse Saloon, and it was a lot of fun. Those who were in attendance got to meet and greet the Predators players and staff on the eve of dropping the puck to kick off the 2008-09 Season.

Pete Weber broke the ice early on with a few laughs, and we introduced the team from the stage after a video… or two, as it turned out. For whatever reason, there was some stirring footage of cable TV sports highlights that played for half a minute before being cut, causing Pete to remark “well, now that you’re all pumped up, let’s get to it! No more coffee for me!

So that got the ball rolling with some laughs, and from there the Predators intro video was played and the team introduced.

While folks ate lunch and talked to players at their tables, we talked about charity endeavors for the upcoming season and other programs the team is involved with in the community. That was followed by a Q&A session with head coach Barry Trotz, and audience questions with players like Jason Arnott, Dan Ellis, Patrick Hornqvist, and J-P Dumont.

And the food, by the way, was great. It’s been a while since I’ve lived in a place where barbeque is this important. I’ve now covered all of the territory from Texas to South Carolina and can include Tennessee over the next few months to really flesh out my complete feeling for regional differences. I love my grill and truly enjoy working on preparing meals, especially those that center around beef and pork. Feel free to share any favorite local BBQ places with me, I’m totally into exploring those. And if you have a good recipie that would benefit all of Predator-kind, share it with us in the message boards.

Okay, time to roll out for now, but there’s plenty coming up from the road in the next week or two. See you on opening night!

Until next time – keep your stick on the ice.


October 5
And so the first week is in the bag.

I can’t really believe that I just got here last weekend. It seems much longer and farther away than that. Of course, I moved here in a tizzy and still have boxes littering my garage… and they probably contain a myriad of things I won’t know that I need until I don’t have them. Makes sense, right?

Let’s see, first week on the job. Monday and Tuesday were spent acquainting myself with the arena enough to not get lost, find the coffee pot and the bathroom, and remember where I parked my car. After that, it was on to learning the team as much as possible, getting to practice, and preparing for the weekend’s games.

Although I did get to call three periods of action, I did not get to call a goal for the Predators as they failed to score the 60 minutes I was on the mic. There’s two ways to look at this: 1) I get to save my goal call for the regular season, and it’s a surprise to everyone. 2) Pete and Terry will be on the air at the same time I am in St. Louis, so I don’t feel my own personal scoreless drought will extend very long.

I have to say this is one of the most relaxed and friendly offices I’ve ever worked in, if not tops in that department. We’ve all had nightmare bosses, horrible co-workers, and crazy workspace scenarios in our lives. That’s why we all laugh repeatedly at Office Space (which if you haven’t seen, run out and rent/buy/whatever). That movie became even funnier to me once I worked in my first true “cube farm” between broadcast jobs one summer. I know you can relate somehow to your work environment, unless you work at home entirely. Then, I almost feel bad that you’ll never truly appreciate the insanity that is the North American cubicle environment.

Another thing I love about being here is the travel. I’ve seen enough of this country from the window of a bus in the last ten years. Flying to places now is amazing, and we only bus to and from the airport. Seriously, this alone will take me a month to get over. It’s amazing to be able to sleep in your own bed the night of a game, and not crashed on the couch of a sleeper bus or across the aisle on a coach bus. I have, however, cultivated the ability to sleep almost anywhere in any position, regardless of personal comfort. Usually this comes in handy on commercial airline flights.

So at this point I’m finding my way around okay, enjoying what downtown has to offer, and looking forward to getting lost on my way to search the suburbs. I’ll keep my GPS handy, but I don’t want to know the straight route to everywhere yet. I’d rather find things by accident and see what’s along the way… which is what I enjoyed about busing around the country for ten years. But now, I hit HOME on the GPS, and I’m back within 20 minutes. Now that’s something I can get behind!

For those of you who are making a habit of reading this thing, thanks. We have a comment interface going on the message boards, and I encourage you to post there if you like. Today’s question is fairly straightforward: what was your worst first week on the job story? Or if you have something exceptional that happened your first week, feel free to share that with us, too.

Until next time – keep your stick on the ice.


October 3
Good morning Preds fans!

Yeah, I like my coffee in the morning, and in fact I can’t quite function effectively on less than two cups. It doesn’t matter if it’s straight black, cream and sugar, or some sort of fancy latte-type deal, I enjoy my coffee. So as I get into my first cuppa Joe this morning, I thought I’d post a few thoughts on last night’s contest against Carolina.

After a bit of a slow start things started to get going and you could definitely see some rust being shaken off. Coach Trotz said at practice the other day that he wants his players to get as much time in the pre-season as possible to get ready, and obviously chemistry doesn’t just happen without some work. So lines will grow together in the next few games, and defensive pairings will learn to work together more and more. The goalies will continue to hone and sharpen with a look towards opening night.

I thought Jordin Tootoo looked like he brought energy last night, and it’s good to see Jason Arnott and Ville Koistinen on the ice and preparing for the regular season with game action. Unfortunately for the Preds, Carolina only took two minors in last night’s game so the power play did not get as much of a chance to work itself in. Hopefully Atlanta will be foul-happy tonight and the specials teams units can get the game action.

So keep in mind, it’s only the pre-season. There’s bound to be experimenting, evaluating, and education for players and coaches alike at this point. Once we drop the puck in St. Louis, then it’s on!

Finally, I’m excited to make my play-by-play debut tonight with Pete and Terry! Not sure where I’ll be in there, but at some point they’re actually going to open up my mic and let me go. Tune in, it should be interesting!

Time for cup number two… so tell me, what’s your morning addiction? My sister can’t live without her Mountain Dew, but there’s no way I can do that in the morning. She, on the other hand, can’t stand coffee. So what do you need to get it in gear?

Until next time – keep your stick on the ice!
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