By Jim Diamond
As the cast of injured Predators grew in numbers prior to Tuesday night’s home game against the visiting Montreal Canadiens, with the names Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg added to the list of Nashville’s wounded, reinforcements were needed from Milwaukee.
The brass at 501 Broadway eschewed the names of some older and more experienced players down on the farm for that of 18-year-old Kevin Fiala, the Predators first round pick (11th overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft.
With Cullen not taking part in the morning skate and Stalberg leaving said skate prior to its conclusion, the Predators needed a body, and time was of the essence. Since there are no direct flights between Milwaukee and Nashville, making travel arrangements was a challenge.
But Fiala caught a ride to Chicago in order to get a direct flight to Nashville.
In addition to the airplane flying, there were some butterflies flying around as well.
“I was nervous, very nervous on the flight,” Fiala said. “I was very excited and I just wanted to go to the game.”
When he heard his fellow countryman was coming up to the big club, defenseman Roman Josi gave Fiala a call.
“I just told him to play his game,” Josi said. “He’s here for a reason, and I just told him to play his game. He’s got nothing to lose and I thought he did a great job.”
That call made an impression on Fiala, who looks up to Josi.
“Roman Josi is a very good guy here,” Fiala said. “He’s one of the best defense here. He’s a good friend. He’s a good guy and I like him. He helps me a lot.”
Unlike Admiral teammate Anthony Bitetto in one of his recent call-ups, both Fiala and his equipment made it to Bridgestone Arena in time for the pregame warmup, enabling the 18-year-old St. Gallen, Switzerland native to get a full warmup in before making his NHL debut.
Once the game started, the nerves calmed down a little, but they were still there.
“After the first period, I felt more comfortable than in the first period,” Fiala said. “It went better and better I guess.”
In the game, Fiala was given the assignment of playing on a line with Mike Fisher and Craig Smith. The triumvirate, working title the Fish Cheese Line, clicked well, creating multiple scoring chances from the start of the game.
Their best scoring chance came in the second period in what quickly turned into a 3-on-1.
Carrying the puck out of the Nashville zone, Fiala danced around Tomas Plekanec at the blue line then carried the puck into the Montreal zone on the right side. Fiala then passed to Smith in the high slot before immediately getting the puck back. Rapidly approaching the goal line, Fiala sent a pass to Fisher skating down the left side, where he was unable to connect with the puck.
Friend o’ Rinkside Report @myregularface has the play here:
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw from Fiala in his matchup against the Atlantic Division’s top team.
“Things happen when he’s on the ice,” Laviolette said. “He’s a player that when he gets the puck on his stick, you saw some of the things that he did off the rush and in the offensive zone play. The puck sticks to him a little bit and that’s a good thing when you’re an offensive player.”