After a successful road trip through Canada, which saw the Nashville Predators reel off four consecutive victories, the league came to a halt for the break known as All-Star Weekend.
A chance for the National Hockey League to showcase their shining stars, and put the spotlight on a host city, which happened to be Nashville in 2016.
I can summarize and editorialize and tell you that the festivities were a smashing success, and a big win for the league, the city of Smashville, and the entire Preds organization. I’m not sure, over the course of the four days of events, I heard a single negative from the many fans, media people and NHL execs and players I had the opportunity to interact with during that time.
With live music events held outside in Winter Park, inside the Music City Center, and of course on both the bandstage and center ice at Bridgestone Arena, the spotlight on talent extended beyond the play of the men (and boys) who laced ‘em up and entertained on the ice.
We are so blessed to have such a large arsenal of musical talent based in and around Nashville, and little to no expense was spared to showcase these tremendous musical acts for country music and hockey fans alike.
Inside the Music City Center, the event called Fan Fair was held and featured numerous displays, trophies, interactive events, player autograph signings, live radio broadcasts by SiriusXM, and a host of sponsors giving the attendees multiple looks at what goes into the making of the NHL experience.
Youngsters had the opportunity to actually put gear on worn by NHL stars, and fans lined up in droves to have their pictures taken with the infamous Stanley Cup. Kraft showcased a fountain of Velveeta cheese (I’m not kidding, it looked pretty, but smelled less so) and the NHL took a large space in the back of the room to provide the sale of merchandise, which was through the roof when you stepped back and took a moment to see the many thousands of fans wearing t-shirts and jerseys celebrating all of their home town heroes.
By Saturday, we moved into the first live hockey event, the Skills Competition, and we got an on ice look at the incredible talents these players possess.
While we were wowed by teen-aged Detroit Red Wing forward Dylan Larkin, breaking a twenty year old record for fastest speed, we also had the opportunity to cheer loudly for Preds team captain Shea Weber, who, for the second year in a row, easily manhandled the fastest shot competition. He failed by just a few tenths of a second to break the all time record set by monolith Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (not a participant in this year’s contest.)
Sunday brought a brand new format to the actual All-Star Game, as the teams were divided into the four divisions of NHL play, and a round robin tournament of “3 on 3 hockey” ensued.
Traditionally, to this point, the All-Star game had been a stale affair with a high level of goal scoring and little else. No checking, little defense, and goalies being hung out to dry as players skated in unmolested, and fired at will.
With the new format, a better structure of play ensued, and while goalies still found themselves facing high quality shots, when all was said and done, and the four teams were narrowed down to two, the final game ended with a score of 1-0 in favor of the Pacific Division. The two goaltenders, Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles, and John Gibson of Anaheim were sensational, and helped seal the victory with some incredible saves that kept their Atlantic Division opponents off the score sheet.
So much more could be written about the enormity of the weekend, and the incredible job the Predators organization did to host such a spectacular event, but we have to get back to the business at hand, and the return of games that have depth, weight and meaning to the season, and the forthcoming NHL post-season.
After all the above accolades, it’s tough to throw the word “brutal” out onto these pages, but the reality is, coming off four big road wins, the Preds and their four All-Star participants (Pekka Rinne, Weber, Roman Josi and James Neal) were back on their home ice last night against their rival St. Louis Blues. The Blues came into the game eight points ahead of Nashville, and certainly these were two points that needed to be grabbed in the tight race towards the playoffs.
Unfortunately, what was a tepid affair for both teams through the first two periods, continued to be scoreless down to the final ticks of the clock, and an eventual Preds defensive breakdown allowed St. Louis forward Troy Brouwer to net a goal with just over a minute to play and give the Blues the 1-0 win.
What was painful beyond the scoreboard was the fact that the Preds team just never seemed to get on track with more than brief flurries of offensive opportunity against St. Louis’ backup netminder Brian Elliot.
The team will get right back on the horse and play home games Thursday (Philadelphia) and Saturday (San Jose) nights, concluding the homestand with a Tuesday game against Barry Trotz’ high flying Washinton Capitals.
Obviously, greater effort, and a reversal of outcome is necessary for this push to continue the Preds quest for the post-season in April.