Anthony Bitetto (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Predators lose Roman Josi in victory over Bruins

By Jim Diamond

Entering Thursday night’s game against the visiting Boston Bruins, the Predators were a banged-up team. Exiting the game, the injury picture is worse, possibly much worse depending on the status of star defenseman Roman Josi.

At the 15:31 mark of the first period, Josi was hit high, hard, and late by Boston’s Anton Blidh in the left corner of Nashville’s defensive zone. Exacerbating matters was the fact that Josi’s stick was up, hitting him in the face as Blidh finished his hit.

Josi fell to the ice immediately and stayed there for several seconds before skating off the ice to Nashville’s dressing room in great distress. Josi did not return to the game, with the team announcing he was out with an upper-body injury.

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was succinct when asked his opinion of the hit postgame, “I thought it was late and dirty,” he said.

In the oddly rough game played between two teams who don’t see each other very often, Josi’s minutes were divided among the Predators other blueliners, most notably to Mattias Ekholm, who played 29:11 and Anthony Bitetto. Bitetto’s 20:08 of ice time Thursday night is nearly double his season average.

When your name is called every other shift, getting a quick breather on the bench is key.

“It’s more a bit of getting on the ice and getting off the ice and really get the rest going as soon as you can,” Ekholm said. “You know you are either going to get out there right away or within a minute or so. It’s different, especially when you lose a guy that logs about 26-27 minutes a night. It wasn’t great for us, but we managed that and it was a great win for us.”

Bitetto has had a tough season to date, sustaining two long-term injuries and just returning to the lineup in the last week.

“This was a good test,” Bitetto said. “I think the more I get involved in games like that, the better I am going to feel. I think tonight was a good test for me, and I think I felt really well, especially down the stretch.”

Laviolette was impressed with the response he saw from Bitetto’s increased minutes.

“Even for Tony to get more minutes and get back into it,” he said. “A game like that can be good for Tony where he starts to push the minutes and he’s counted on more.”

With the Predators headed out on a five-game road trip that starts Saturday in Colorado, the health of their blue line is of significant concern. With P.K. Subban still sidelined with an upper-body injury of his own, playing a significant number of games without their top two defensemen will be a difficult test for their remaining blueliners.

Pekka Rinne on Shea Weber’s shot; ‘It just hurts’

rinne-break-2016-17-1

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Montreal Canadiens, many Nashville Predators will be facing former Predators captain Shea Weber for the first time in their NHL careers.

When asked about it following Monday’s practice at Ford Ice Center, they were all looking forward to the new challenge.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has faced countless thousands of Weber shots in practice over the years. He was asked what sets Weber’s shot apart from other players who shoot the puck hard.

“It just hurts,” he said. “He’s a big body and he’s so strong. I guess shooting the puck is also about technique. He has all of those things. It does come hard. It is one of the better shots in the NHL, especially his one-timer. He’s still pretty accurate with it. It’s just so quick, so fast.”

Weber is the two-time defending champion of the NHL’s Hardest Shot Competition at the All-Star weekend’s skills competition. He won last year’s event in Nashville with a shot of 108.1 mph, which was just four-tenths of a mile per hour slower than his 2015 winner.

With eight power-play goals this season, Weber leads all NHL defensemen and is tied for second overall, one behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

As much as a handful as Weber is in his team’s offensive zone, he is equally difficult on opponents in Montreal’s defensive zone. Weber leads the Canadiens and ranks eighth in the league, averaging 26:02 of ice time per game.

Like Rinne, many of Nashville’s forwards have battled Weber in practice for years. With the intensity that Weber brings to the practice ice, his former teammates know that they are in for a long evening Tuesday.

“It’s going to be very different,” said Colin Wilson. “In today’s game, a lot of the accolades go to the real offensive defensemen and Webby, his defensive play is unparalleled. He’s unbelievable down there. He’s so strong. Even in practice, 3-on-3s, his strength is pretty incredible.”

Filip Forsberg has been on an offensive tear lately, posting five goals in his last six games. He knows that battling against Weber will be tough, but he is looking forward to seeing how he measures up against him.

“You always want to match yourself up against the best, and he’s definitely one of them out there,” Forsberg said.

Throughout his NHL career, no one has had a better view of the work Weber does in the defensive zone than Rinne.

“A player like him, there’s no other player like him in the league,” Rinne said. “The things that he brings; his strength, his ability to move guys and stuff like that, I don’t think there’s another guy like him.”

David Poile sent Weber to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban in a late June blockbuster trade. Poile spoke with the media following Monday’s practice. A large number of Montreal scribes were there to hear Poile’s thoughts.

“I see now where Shea is probably getting the recognition that he deserved,” Poile said. “We’re a little under the radar here in Nashville media wise, not today. Shea was, I think, in the top three for the Norris Trophy three times. I think he should have won it at least once and he didn’t. I think that in Montreal, with all due respect to Nashville, that he might have already won a Norris Trophy. And maybe this year in Montreal and getting all of the recognition that he is, maybe this will be the year that he wins the Norris Trophy.”

Roman Josi carries the puck up ice with an adorable observer over the Pedigree board advertisement. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Getting to know Josh Ray and Annie the service dog

By Jim Diamond

It started out as a tweet of a picture of an adorable Yellow Labrador Retriever sitting on the glass at Friday night’s Nashville Predators season opening game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and the legend of Annie the service dog has been growing ever since.

As Annie rested underneath a patio table at a Brentwood Starbucks lapping up a puppuchino, Josh Ray, Annie’s owner, was asked how she is handling her newfound fame.

“I can’t believe that it happened,” Ray said. “It just blew up.”

Due to many requests, Annie, who will turn 2 January 1st, now has her own Twitter account.

Of course with all of this attention, Annie did need to do some shopping in hopes of going incognito when she wanted some privacy.

(more…)

Roman Josi carries the puck up ice with an adorable observer over the Pedigree board advertisement. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Service dog takes in Predators season opener

By Jim Diamond

Storylines were abundant in Friday night’s season opener for the Nashville Predators.

The first game of the season, sure.

P.K. Subban’s first game as a Predator, no doubt.

A win over the Central Division Blackhawks in a tightly-played one-goal game? Absolutely.

The power play firing on all cylinders. Yes.

But tonight, I am writing about a photo, and a slightly out of focus one at that.

Shooting from a photo hole in the Predators defensive zone in the second period, I had a good angle of Roman Josi carrying the puck up ice, so I started firing the camera. I thought I had some good shots, but when I ran back upstairs to edit, I noticed the photos were a little out of focus.

Taking hockey pictures can be extremely frustrating. With the speed of the game, locking in tack-sharp focus can be difficult. You throw out a whole lot more than you keep.

Getting ready to dump that series of shots into the laptop’s trash, something caught my eye. There, just above the Pedigree dasherboard advertisement, focusing intently on the action on the ice.

Roman Josi carries the puck up ice with an adorable observer over the Pedigree board advertisement. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Roman Josi carries the puck up ice with an adorable observer over the Pedigree board advertisement. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

You can’t trash a photo like that, even if the hard to take a bad picture of Roman Josi is a little blurry. A photobomb like that is just too good not to share.

So, I threw it out on Twitter and my mentions, well, they were flying fast and furious for the remainder of the game.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to find out who this dog, and oh yeah his owner, is, I ran downstairs to the 100 level.

At the under 6:00 media timeout of the third period, I made my move. Media timeouts in hockey are just 90 seconds in length, so not wanting to disturb the fans in the high priced seats near the glass while the action was going on, I had to work fast. In a one-goal game between the Predators and the Blackhawks, tensions can run high.

After introducing myself as a writer and a photographer, I told the surprised gentleman that I captured an interesting shot of his quadruped and asked if I could have his permission to use the photo in a post. He was more than happy to allow it. The owner’s name is Josh Ray, and his furry friend is an adorable Yellow Labrador Retriever named Annie. In addition to being cute, Annie is Ray’s service dog.

The game was Annie’s first hockey contest, and Ray said that she handled the noise and excitement like a champ. Service dogs are trained to handle all kinds of different circumstances, and with more than 17,000 yelling fans, loud music, and goal horns Annie just took it all in stride.

And since my mom’s name is Annie, well that just makes this story even more awesome because my mom is the coolest person I know.

Oh, and conspiracy theorists, Josh and Annie were not planted there by Pedigree, it was just a crazy coincidence.

P.K. Subban waits to unload a one-timer Rinkside Report/Jim Diamond

P.K. Subban shines in first preseason action

By Jim Diamond

Playing his first competitive game since March 10th, P.K. Subban thought that he was rusty. But it did not take long to shake off that rustiness or any lasting effects of the upper-body injury that has nagged him since the start of training camp.

Subban took to the ice for the first time in a Predators uniform Saturday night in a preseason tilt against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, a game the Predators won 4-3. After notching an assist on Nashville’s late first period power-play goal, Subban tallied a power-play marker of his own at 5:56 of the middle frame.

“Just a lot of rust and there’s a couple moments where the game was a little faster for me,” Subban said. “It’s been almost six months since I’ve been in a game. It’s a long time. I set myself back a little bit in training camp missing the first couple of days.”

The only defenseman on the ice for the man advantage, Subban slid to the left point. Subban’s fellow former Canadien Mike Ribeiro sent a cross-ice pass from above the right circle to the right-handed shooting blueliner. Following his windup, Subban connected with the puck, which was perfectly positioned between his skates. As he followed through, Subban fell to one knee and the puck sailed by Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop.

“Coming into this game, I just didn’t want to hurt my team,” Subban said. “Just happy for the big win. Obviously it’s the first game in our building this year, and even though it’s just an exhibition game, it means a lot for us to get this win just for confidence for our guys.”

Subban’s upper-body injury kept him out of training camp’s on-ice activities until Friday’s practice.

Possibly saving his best goal-scoring celebrations for the regular season, Subban simply lifted his right leg and waived his right arm above his head in a circular motion twice before skating toward Ribeiro to acknowledge his pass before the remaining Predators on the ice at the time of the goal joined the hug fest in the high slot.

The Predators used four forwards and one defenseman almost exclusively on the power play Saturday night. Playing without Ryan Ellis, who is out with an upper-body injury of his own, and Roman Josi, who is just getting back into town following the World Cup, the team was without two players who log big minutes with the man advantage.

With so many talented offensive players both at forward and on the blue line available to him, making decisions on who gets power play time this season will be a tough decision for head coach Peter Laviolette.

“I can tell you right now, we’re going to have tough decisions when that comes around,” Laviolette said after the game. “Ellis is going to be back at some point. Roman, I heard is in the building, I haven’t seen him yet tonight. Obviously those guys are good power play players, so that’s going to leave tough decisions in how we utilize it and how we do it. Based on the lineup tonight, that’s the way we went.”

P.K. Subban works those edges. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

A trade to Nashville will let P.K. be P.K.

By Jim Diamond

Several different cities can be included in the conversation of where hockey’s biggest stage is, but if that conversation were to be had, Montreal would have to be in running for that fictional award. Nashville will probably never be in that discussion, but it is certainly no stranger to glitz, glam, and the entertainment spotlight.

In Montreal, Canadiens players are under the microscope 24/7, in two different languages to boot. Stanley Cups are expected, and when they don’t come, the natives get restless.

Now P.K. Subban will be calling 501 Broadway home for 41 games per regular season and what Predators management and fans hope to be many more in the postseason. In a town full of them, a new star has metaphorically been born in Nashville.

This isn’t a knock on Shea Weber, but about all he has in common with Subban is that they are both right-handed defensemen. While a star and the face of the Predators, he was happy to fly under the radar, just coming to the rink and doing his job then going home.

On the ice, there is no question that Subban is one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League. That will not change, and with the supporting cast in Nashville on the whole being better than what he had around him in Montreal, the argument can be made that Subban may shine even brighter in Predators gold.

But he isn’t just a hockey player; he is a showman as well. During his introductory conference call with the Nashville media Wednesday afternoon, Subban wasn’t afraid to let that personality shine. When asked about the existing talent on the Nashville blue line, Subban gave an indication of what a delightful human being Predators general manager David Poile acquired.

“Aside from them being outstanding defensemen and great defensemen, I’d have to say now with an acquisition of myself, and before they were pretty good looking with Shea Weber, but I think they got a whole lot better looking now, so we might have the best looking d-pairing corps in the league,” Subban said. “What do you think of that?”

Subban, who essentially lost an organizational faceoff with Habs head coach Michel Therrien, will be allowed to be himself in Nashville. Therrien once banned Subban from his post victory triple-low-5 celebration with goaltender Carey Price. Seriously, this coach thought that such a celebration was an affront to the game of hockey.

When the fun police run amok, everyone loses. There’s a difference between having fun celebrating with your teammates and showing up your opponents.

During his Wednesday afternoon press conference, Poile sounded as if he will be wearing a Subban jersey to games instead of his standard-issue business suit.

“I’m excited,” the normally stoic Poile said. “I really am excited. I think it is fantastic. Every game I’ve ever watched, P.K. Subban, I mean the guys will probably kid you in hockey operations, they will say, P.K. Subban is my favorite player. I’m sitting there going, ‘Did you see that, did you see that?’ I’m a general manager, but someday, I would like to be a fan. And this is a guy that I would pay money to see. He’s exciting to watch. He does something every game. He competes every game. He shows up every game. I think it is going to be dynamic.”

With an endorsement like that, Subban can triple-low-5 Pekka Rinne, Gnash, Craig “Partner” Baugh, and the beer vendor in Section 101 if he so wishes.

The most famous stage in downtown Nashville is located inside the historic Ryman Auditorium. But when the Predators take to the ice this fall, there’s no question that Subban will bring more eyes and attention to the big building just a couple of blocks to the Ryman’s south.

Heck, he may even come all the way upstairs to triple-low-5 the overly enthusiastic spotlight operator over the pressbox. Without a crabby coach holding him back, there is no telling what Subban may do in Nashville, on, off, or even above the ice.

P.K. Subban works those edges. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Subban and Josi not for sure the Predators top pairing, but look out if they are

By Jim Diamond

Granted, it was just a couple of hours after the team he coaches swung a blockbuster trade with the Canadiens that was anything but “typical, Montreal typical,” Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was noncommittal when asked if newly acquired blueliner P.K. Subban would be paired with Roman Josi on the team’s top defensive pairing.

Shea Weber, sent to the Habs in exchange for Subban, has been a mainstay on the Predators’ first pairing. When former partner Ryan Suter left for Minnesota via free agency in 2012, Roman Josi stepped into the role on Weber’s right side. Now that Josi is the incumbent top pairing player, who will join him there is up in the air.

“The thing about our defense, especially the top three not including P.K., is that they are moveable parts,” Laviolette said. “They all can skate. They all can move the puck. I think he’ll fit right in with them and we will have a very mobile top four defense.”

Along with Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis round out that top three. With Predators management and coaches pretty staunchly on board with keeping a right and a left-handed defenseman on at least the top two pairings, it would seem logical to assume that Subban, a righty, would go with either Josi or Ekholm, leaving Ellis with Ekholm or Josi. Ekholm and Ellis have played significant minutes together and have made up a solid second pairing for the Predators.

But Subban and Josi are both outstanding puck carriers, so having them on the same pairing may be somewhat redundant. If they were to be split, good luck to opponents hoping to match up their top checking line or D pairing when Laviolette and Predators defensive coach Phil Housley have the ability to roll out Subban and Josi on separate shifts.

“I think from there we will figure it out as we go,” Laviolette continued. “That could be a possibility. It could be a possibility to split them up and play him with Ekholm. Either way, the top four remain very strong.”

Last season, Josi and Weber logged the most ice time among Predators blueliners at 25:29 and 25:22 per game. Ellis and Ekholm followed at 20:53 and 20:14 respectively.

Another benefit to having Subban and Josi split is the ability for the Predators to spread out their ice time, possibly reducing some wear and tear as minutes add up over the course of the season.

Nashville general manager David Poile, the man who swung the rare Predators trade with Montreal that does not involve a Kostitsyn, was bordering on giddy at the acquisition of Subban. He thinks that Subban gives Laviolette more options with regard to pairings and ice time.

“I think the coaches will have a lot of flexibility in how they use our defense,” Poile said. “I know again since we’ve had Peter and we’ve changed our style a fair bit, that it is players like P.K. Subban that are going to make the difference going from defense to offense, rushing the puck, carrying the mail as I like to say. I think he’s a fantastic player.”

They can also reduce some usage on their top four defensemen by relying more on their third pairing to kill penalties. The Predators do not take a lot of penalties, but if Barret Jackman and Tony Bitetto, likely the third pair, can absorb a fair share of the shorthanded minutes, the other four will be that much better off.

It’s not a given that Subban and Josi will play together on the Predators top defensive pairing, but if they do, the team’s forwards may just be turned into spectators as these two supremely talented puck carriers work their magic on the ice.

Canadiens ‘very happy’ to land defenseman Mikhail Sergachev

By Heather Engel

BUFFALO – The Canadiens’ draft stance has long been to take the best player available. But who that would ultimately be when their turn rolled around on Friday night was anybody’s guess.

In the end, it was defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.

Considered one of the top three defensive prospects in numerous draft rankings, most expected him to be gone by the time the Canadiens were on the clock. There was chatter Sergachev and Olli Juolevi had moved ahead of Jakob Chychrun in many eyes and with some teams potentially eyeing defense, it wasn’t expected he would still be on the board.

That he was left the Habs with an easy decision.

“We felt there was a gap after the first four or five picks. He could have gone anywhere – six, seven, eight, nine, we weren’t sure. When our turn came, it was unanimous that he was our pick,” said Bergevin, who noted the Canadiens were “very happy” to see him available at ninth overall.

Sergachev admitted he was nervous when he heard amateur scouting director Trevor Timmins say Windsor when announcing the Montreal’s pick, thinking it might be teammate Logan Brown, a center who had been linked to the team in various mock drafts. But the smile on his face as he posed for the on-stage photo op with Canadiens’ brass, said it all.

“This is pretty special. This is the best feeling because Montreal is a hockey town and nothing can be better than being selected by the Canadiens,” he said.

Sergachev, who turns 18 on Saturday, had a rough start in his first season in North America. He struggled with long offensive droughts through the first half of the season while recording 12 points in 26 games. He finished his rookie campaign with 57 points in 67 games. His 17 goals led all OHL defensemen while his 40 assists ranked third among the league’s blue-liners.

“It was kind of a good season, a lot of ups and downs but coaches and my (defensive) partners helped me a lot – the whole organization,” he noted. “During the middle of the season, I got kind of homesick and stuff but a lot of people helped me. Windsor is a great place.”

A self-described two-way defenseman with a good shot, Elite Prospects describes the Nizhenamsk, Russia, native as a player “whose tenacity and competitiveness characterize his style of play” and a player “who excels at finding ways to be a difference-maker in games.” Canadiens scouts liked what they saw in his hockey smarts, his shot, and the fact that he can play on either the right or left side.

“He’s a confident kid, he’s confident in his game and the reason he came over to Windsor was to play in the NHL. He wants to be there one day,” Brown said at the Combine earlier this month. “He really took a lot of steps in his game. He got better and better as the year went on and adapted to the North American game.”

Timmins said prior to the draft that the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Sergachev is physically ready for the NHL. Bergevin said he projects his newest blue-liner who can eventually replace Andrei Markov. There is still some time before his game is ready for the majors; Sergachev knows he has areas to improve on but that won’t stop him from eyeing a roster spot in the fall.

“I want to play (in the NHL) as soon as possible. If they give me that chance next year, I will use that chance.”

Muller fills Canadiens’ needs in ‘coming home’ to Montreal

By Heather Engel

BUFFALO – As an NHL player, Kirk Muller never got a taste of life as a free agent. The Canadiens made sure his first foray into the market, now as a coach, didn’t last long.

One day after it was reported he informed the St. Louis Blues he wouldn’t be returning as an assistant coach on Ken Hitchcock’s staff, Montreal announced Muller’s hiring as an associate coach under Michel Therrien.

“I had several teams call pretty quickly,” Muller revealed via conference call, while in St. Louis. “One thing that happened right away is I got a call from Michel. He had heard the news and wanted to call me and see if I had any interest in coming to Montreal and working with him. We had a really good, long chat and he really excited me about what was going on in Montreal.”

He joins a staff that remains unchanged from last season, save for the departure of consultant Craig Ramsay. There will be changes in the distribution of responsibilities, something Therrien says he’ll take care of next week. One thing the Canadiens’ bench boss did confirm, however, is that Muller will be in charge of the power play, a woefully inefficient element of Montreal’s game over the last several years.

Muller ran the power play in his first stint behind the Canadiens’ bench, a five-year span that saw the team rank first or second in four of those seasons (and 15th the other time). The Blues’ finished fourth and sixth in his two years in St. Louis.

“When the opportunity to bring in a guy like Kirk Muller presented itself, I spoke with (general manager) Marc (Bergevin), who called (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong for permission, and I spoke to Kirk yesterday morning.” Therrien said. “After I spoke with him, I called Marc right away and told him to make sure to close the deal because he’s exactly what we need.”

He also fills a valuable and key role as a communicator, a go-to guy between player(s) and coach and vice versa. Former assistant coach Gerard Gallant served in that role in his two seasons on Therrien’s staff. Since his departure, however, from the outside it’s an area that appears to be lacking.

He’ll be working under his fourth head coach after standing alongside Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin from 2006 to 2011. He had minimal experience behind a bench during his first go, having served as head coach of the Queen University Golden Gaels in 2005-06, just two years out of retirement.

But in his years as an assistant in Montreal, the praise rolled in. First, there was Martin recognizing what he brought to the table and retaining him when Martin was hired in 2009. The following season, Muller was a hot head coaching commodity, leaving the Canadiens to guide the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate before the Carolina Hurricanes tabbed him as Paul Maurice’s replacement in November 2011.

“I am such a better coach right now than when I left Montreal,” Muller said. “There’s things now that I really believe in still in what I was doing (in Carolina) and there’s other things that I know where I made my mistakes. But I know where my mistakes where and what I learned and all that by coming to St. Louis.

“The knowledge of operating on a day-to-day basis and how a staff can operate on today’s hockey was what I really learned and had a great appreciation of how hard Hitch works,” he added. “That area is what I think has made me a better coach over the two years that I was here in St. Louis.”

There has been plenty of turnover in the five years since Muller left, both on the ice and in the front office. But there will also be plenty of familiarity in his return, with most of the team’s core and leadership group – including Carey Price, captain Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov – among those he has helped guide.

While the Canadiens moved quickly on Muller, they weren’t the only ones to jump at the opportunity to land his services. The 50-year-old admitted he was surprised to hear from “a few teams” so soon after the news broke.

With his past experience and self-acknowledged growth, Muller’s hiring raised the question of his future behind an NHL bench as a head coach, potentially even in Montreal. The Kingston, Ont., native, who opened his conference call with “Bonjour mes amis. Je suis très content de revenir avec les Canadiens.” made it clear that he’s not thinking of anything beyond his current role.

“That’s not really my goal right now. My goal really is to be a part of an organization like Montreal, work with Michel,” he said. “I’ve had the experience of being an assistant coach, coming here with this organization from St. Louis, and I’m very comfortable right now with not being a head coach. There’s a lot of responsibility as well. You do see today that a lot of successful staff, it’s not about one guy anymore, it’s so demanding.”

Much beloved during his time in a Canadiens sweater, the adoration from fans remains strong more than 20 years after he was traded. It’s a feeling that remains mutual.

“Everyone knows I love Montreal,” he noted with a laugh. “I’ve had great experiences with the organization. It is topnotch, first-class from Geoff Molson down. I’m just really excited that I have an opportunity that they want me back for a third time.

“I love the city. It’s like coming home.”

Barret Jackman fights Chicago's Andrew Shaw (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Predators players open their hearts and homes to shelter and rescue dogs

By Jim Diamond

On the ice, Barret Jackman is known as a tough stay at home defenseman who plays with an edge. Similarly, forward Austin Watson usually plays on Nashville’s fourth line, which is thrown out there when the team may be in need of some energy through physical play or to kill off a penalty.

Away from the rink, Jackman and Watson have a softer side in their shared passion for shelter and rescue dogs. Between the two, they share their homes with five former shelter dogs.

Dogs end up in shelters or with rescues for many different reasons, and quite often those reasons are not pleasant ones, and not usually the fault of the dogs either. But many who have gone through the process of adopting a pet from a shelter can attest to the fact that those animals just need to be given a chance. When given that chance, they can be an amazing addition to a family.

“Everybody loves pets and animals, and I think when you go to the Humane Society or the rescue facilities, it’s really disheartening and you almost feel badly if you leave there empty-handed,” Watson said.

While playing in the American Hockey League for the Milwaukee Admirals, Watson and his wife Karly became involved with the Humane Society of Milwaukee. And they didn’t often leave empty-handed when they visited.

“My first year in Milwaukee, I had my wife with me at the time,” Watson said. “She wasn’t working, she’s Canadian, so we got a dog. And we ended up having two more by year end.”

Shelter dogs have been known to be of mixed breed varieties, and the Watsons’ brood is no different. Bubba is a basset hound mix, Bongo is a black lab and chow or maybe a little pit bull, and they also have a Husky named Brianna.

Playing his first season with the Predators, Jackman spent his first 12 NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues. In the Gateway City, along with his wife Jenny, Jackman and several of his teammates with the Blues became involved with Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

“When my wife and I got married, we were combining two houses, so we didn’t need anything for wedding gifts, so we tried to find a cause that was close to both of us and we ended up working with Stray Rescue trying to build awareness for stray dogs in St. Louis,” Jackman said.

For the Jackmans, their love of animals is something that they have passed down to their children.

“We have two (dogs) right now,” Jackman said. “We fostered probably about a dozen different dogs until they were adopted. We had one that passed away about a year ago. We’ve always had them in our home. Our kids know the feeling of going down to the shelter and helping out a little and picking out their new best friend.”

Finding a new friend and giving that friend a chance at a forever home can be as easy as a trip down to the local shelter.

“They are a real blessing to us,” Watson said. “They are part of the family. We have a great time with them.”