by Jas Faulkner, Nashville Correspondent since 2009 and counting…
Did you hear the one about the NHL team in Nashville, Tennessee?
Maybe that’s because the NHL team in Nashville is no joke. It’s the real thing. At the end of the 2009-2010 season, then-captain Jason Arnott made the observation that, “in order for us to reach top-tier status, we’ll have to start believing and acting like we’re a top-tier team”.
During training camp for this season, I couldn’t help but wonder if this year would be more of the same. I asked Jerred Smithson and Jordin Tootoo for their view on what was coming up. Smithson responded that, “nothing less than one hundred percent and then some was what it would take to get on the team and stay on the team. We have to put our minds and bodies totally into what we’re doing.”
Would the cup be raised by a Predator in Nashville in 2011?
To that, Smithson responded , “I hope so. We’re gonna do our best.” Tootoo smiled and said, “we have to be realistic, but yeah, I want to see it happen.”
That was then, this is now.
The Predators have had the best season ever, the “one and done” meme and the pallid, horrible shade of “Game Five” from the previous season has been relegated to history, the arena has been selling out consistently. To many, this would be reason for the organisation to celebrate. As Barry Trotz was to observe a number of times,
“Last Fall, if someone had asked me about making it to second round, I would have said, ‘I’ll take it’ and have been happy with that. Now I know we can do so much more. We will do so much more.”
All of you saw what happened. Nashville took on the number one team in the league and made them fight to keep their place. In the end, the final buzzer sounded in game six, Vancouver moved on to the next round, and that was that.
Not so fast.
For the Nashville sports press community, the last game is not the end of the hockey year. There is the post-season press.
The atmosphere was a combination of the giddiness of the last day of fifth grade and the attendant melancholy that comes with the seasonal dismantling of a circus. The more ephemeral trappings of the season were being stripped away while the organisation’s leaders, the coaching staff and the team tied up loose ends before heading their separate ways.
In the press conference that kicked off the event, Barry Trotz, the head coach, general manager, David Poile, and Jeff Cogen, the Predators’ CEO gathered in the media lounge to give their year-end statements. All expressed their happiness with the team, their gratitude to the fans and their hopes for the coming season.
In the middle of the official organisational statements came the announcement that seemed to strike at the heart of the club. David Poile, with the help of Barry Trotz when the emotional import of what he was saying got too much, announced that Brent Peterson would be stepping down as associate coach. This announcement, on the heels of Peterson’s announcement that his Parkinson’s had rendered him unable to skate . As the high emotions played out on the dias, Peterson remained stoic. At one point he looked to his colleague, Barry Trotz to bring things back into focus. Following the announcements and and statements, the team on the dias, moved about the room, where press scrums gathered as reporters asked questions and photographers snapped pictures.
So We Gotta Say Goodbye For The Summer
Following would be the player interview scrums. The members of the press waited out in the event level hallway as the locker room was presumably prepared. Down the hall, construction noise rattled as the set for Taylor Swift’s concert was being raised. Life goes on.
Foamboard standups, bigger than life, of Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Jordin Tootoo and Mike Fisher stood sentry in the hallway. On the table were items to be autographed by various players , presumably for charitable events over the summer.
At some point, maybe it was a faulty signal from the inner sanctum, everyone trooped down the hallway towards the locker room only to be shooed back. No one was ready.
More waiting and then we trooped back in. The locker room was empty except for the large equipment bags, stuffed full and scattered around the room. Joel Ward entered and was immediately swarmed by reporters asking questions.
A few minutes later he was joined by Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Everyone seemed to want to know two things: Would they be back and what was it like to make it to round two. As Francis Bouillon, Ryan Suter and Shane O’Brien joined the media fray, I noticed that a few players were milling around in the adjoining room, waiting for us to leave. A few braved
the crowd, breezing through, Pat the Bear, Jordin Tootoo and Cal O’Reilly grabbed their equipment and made their way through and out as soon as they could. JP Dumont and David Legwand lingered in the hallway, answering questions but not actively seeking out reporters or the glare of the photographers’ flashes or videographers’ fill lights.
One Last “Crispy’s Breakdown” Before Summer Break…
I caught up with Terry Crisp to get his opinion of the Predators past, present and future.
THW: Has your view of the team changed since their historic playoff run this year?
Terry Crisp: My feelings haven’t changed towards the team. I have respected and enjoyed them and loved this team from day one. I like their attitude and work ethic. What Trotzy brings out in them is amazing. If anything my admiration and respect has ramped up this season. Trotz said the expectations were higher than any other year.
Coming into this season” one and done” was no longer good enough for the organisation. It wasn’t good enough for the coaches or the fans or the press or anybody else. Just making the playoffs wasn’t enough. You’ve got a lot of pressure for a team like this. The guys just dug in this year. It was a tough season to make playoffs. Heck, for the last month, month and a half you saw three points separating eight teams These kids did it getting in, but that still wasn’t good enough. In the first round playing and a playing Anaheim, which is a very good team. Just being competitive wasn’t good enough. Then they take on the best team and playing Vancouver and give them a run for their money. This year my sense of respect having been a coach and player rose considerably for what they accomplished.
THW: Do you feel the role Nashville is playing the in NHL stage has changed this year?
Terry Crisp: This was huge! Remember that this was the first time we got into the Canadian stage. We’ve always played San Jose or Detroit or Chicago. So finally this year we meet Vancouver, the last Canadian team standing, so to speak. We could be the ones to push them out. We can from nowhere as far as they saw and now Nashville is front row center all across Canada. Most people have never paid attention to what we were doing down here. Anytime we were mentioned it was always the rumour that we were on the trading bloc: “Nashville’s moving. Nashville’s going here. Nashville was going there. Why not get rid of Nashville?” Suddenly the people in Canada and other places as well were saying, ”Hey whoa, this organization is pretty good. They’ve got a pretty good coaching staff, a pretty good team and look at their fans and look at their city!”
Weve been preaching now for seven or eight years, Pete Weber and I, that we have the best fans in the league and the loudest. The only places that can compete even partially with us are San Jose who has a loud building and Chicago. We’ve been saying all along that we have the loudest and the best fans, now these people got a chance to see it and our city. All of these reporters coming in reporting back to Canada what a fun place this is, what a super spot Nashville can be. We already knew that. Now everyone else knows.
THW: With Nashville out of the running, who do you want to see lift the Stanley Cup this year?
Terry Crisp: I like what Tampa Bay is doing I like the way they’ve built their team. Their goal tending is holding up. I have a soft spot in my heart for them because I coached there for seven years. A lot of my friends work with Tampa Bay and so I’m going to lean towards the Lightning.
Coming Full Circle -or- Will the Last Predator Out of Event Level Please Hit the Lights?
I wanted to get Jordin’s and Jerred’s thoughts at this end of the season, but Tootoo skimmed through the dressing room and was not to be found after that. I had not seen Jerred Smithson at all during the press scrum and pretty much gave up on that angle. However, as I was leaving the main event level hallway, I happened to see Smithson and Martin Erat at the far end of the player concourse. Jerred very kindly agreed to talk to me about the end of the season and what will happen next.
I reminded him of what he said back in September and asked if his feelings had changed since becoming an important part of the team’s history. Here’s what he had to say:
“ I knew we had a good team. No one gave us a lot of credit at the start of the year. As the season went on, we made a lot of nonbelievers into believers. You know, we did a lot of good things this year, but the other day we didn’t reach our goal. I can’t really be too happy about things but we’re making the right strides and going in the right directions.”
“What about this summer?” I asked.
“This summer? Take a few weeks off, rest the body and mind and get refocused. Then its back into the gym and try to be better than I was last year. See to the details, the little things. It’s the little things that count.”
This from the man whose first playoff goal caused the NHL to pay enough attention and create the first “History Will Be Made” spot in the team’s thirteen year existence. This from the man who, along with his teammates, worked so hard and came so far.
Just as we can’t see into the minds and hearts of the guys in the laundry, there are things they don’t quite see from their vantage point on the other side of the glass. The fans, weeks after the last game, are still talking, tweeting and writing about how proud they are of their team. The city is feeling a renewed sense of pride in this group of young men who managed to get through a season with their integrity intact and no drama beyond what happens on the ice. Nothing new; but as Terry Crisp has said, the rest of the hockey community is beginning to catch up to what Nashville has known for over a decade.
This is Jas Faulkner who has not forgotten that Jerred’s Dad came up to let me know his birthday occurred during parent’s week. That creative challenge has not been forgotten, kind sir. Predsnation, I’ll be here writing all summer and will see you at the Stone and the Plex and online at Facebook and Twitter!