Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Report from Nashville: A Hockey Franchise Grows Up

By Marie Miesel

Let’s rewind 72 hours. It’s Easter Sunday in the buckle of the Bible belt. A day usually spent at church and with family. But this Easter was also a high holy hockey day. Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. After a dramatic Good Friday OT win, the Preds came home with a 3-2 series lead. A chance to win a playoff series for the first time in 6 tries. Having exorcised the ghost of last season’s Game 5 meltdown in Chicago, we were ready to watch hopefully a handshake on our home ice where we were the winning team. Such dread and such hope mixed together. The crowd was large for the pregame warm-ups. Questions loomed. Could we contain the Finnish Flash and the Perry Express one more time? As a previous year’s playoff slogan went Questions Will Be Answered. With our gold rally towels in hand and Pierre Maguire Inside the Glass, we settled in.

We got off to a rocky start with Teemu Selanne scoring his 6th goal in 6 games. I have always liked him as a player, was happy when he finally won a Cup in 07 but man did he make our team look silly. In the previous 5 games, the team that scored first won the game. Nerves were wound a little tighter. Nick Spaling a 3-4th line guy and PKer extraordinaire put a pass from Jordin Tootoo in the last minute of the first to knot the score at 1-1. In the second, the 2 old men and kid 4th line (Steve Sullivan, J P Dumont and Blake Geoffrion) put us up 2-1.

We give the Ducks a PP (very bad idea) near the end of the second period. Jason Blake makes it 2-2 going into the third. It looked like we had gone up 3-2 when Patric Hornqvist appeared to score on a deflection. It was waived off due a high stick. Nick Spaling and Jordin Tootoo team up again and the Preds go up 3-2. Hope was getting a little stronger. But then, (cue music of doom) Mike Fisher goes off for tripping at the 8 minute mark. It was one of the longest 2 minutes I’ve ever experienced. After that, it was holding on for dear life and watching the clock wind down.

Anaheim pulls their goalie. But Saku Koivu gets called for interference on Sergei Kostitsyn in the last minute. The countdown was on. David Legwand, our very first draft picks and EN expert, put home the final nail, 4-2 Preds. It was a very emotional moment. People were crying, hugging and cheering their hearts out. We have waited so long and endured so much to get to this moment. A shout out to the Day One fans who stuck with it through the horrible expansion years, the Balsille takeover attempt and the aching disappointment of 5 first round exits.

Lisa’s Canucks are now on our dance card. They will be favored, as they should be, being the best team in the league this year. But don’t count the Preds out. We are led by Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne and cast of mostly unknowns who play their hearts out every night. And a fanbase who’s passion can no longer be overlooked.

Many hockey elitists have wanted us moved, have called us uneducated rednecks, have put down our city and our state. To all you, have a nice day because the Preds are playing in May!

Pierre McGuire from TSN comments on Nashville...

 "It was a spectacular event and I have to tell you guys this right now. What blew me away more than anything else was post game. The amount of people that were crying because they were happy. The amount of people that said thank you for supporting our franchise. The amount of people that said we really appreciate your network covering our games. I was blown away by the hospitality, by the humbleness, by the polite nature of the fan base here and it’s not just me. There were so many Canadian people at this game. A lot of people obviously view Nashville as a destination type area where you come and you watch … go to museums … you go to the Grand Ole Opry … you listen to country music. It’s just a destination location. And it’s a lot of fun. I was blown away by how many people enjoy this team, by how many people care about the future of this franchise, and by the passion of their fan base. This is a winner. Nashville is a winner. Hats off to Gary Bettman. He had the vision to let this thing play itself out. It’s playing itself out right now. This is one of the better franchises in the league in terms of talent on the ice. This is a very positive thing for the league. Very positive".

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