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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

Veni, Vidi, Vesey; Prized prospect deals Poile another disappointing blow

By Jim Diamond

David Poile July 4, 2012:

“It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time. Actually, not only disappointed, but very surprised.”

David Poile March 28, 2016:

“Very disappointing news obviously for the Nashville Predators, our fans, and our team.”

He later added: “This is a shock.”

Eerily similar, right?

The situation in 2012 was after Ryan Suter signed a deal with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent. That day, Poile felt as though he was deceived by the star defenseman who he had assumed would re-sign with the team that drafted him with their first pick in 2003.

While the Predators were on the ice playing the Colorado Avalanche Monday night, word dropped that Jimmy Vesey, Nashville’s 3rd round pick in 2012, had told the organization that he would not be signing with the Predators and exercising his right to become a free agent on August 15th.

Uncle Bob had it first:

McKenzie’s tweet was sent during the first period of Monday night’s game.

The writing appeared to be on the wall Saturday night when, just minutes before faceoff of that night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team put out the curious statement (at a curious time to boot) that they would be speaking with the Harvard senior “at some point over the next several days.”

This statement was a drastic departure from the tone team General Manager David Poile took at the trade deadline, telling the team’s website:

“We’ve kept a spot open for him, and we’ve talked about when his season ends to bring him right onto our team put him right into our lineup,” Poile said of Vesey at the time. “When you make a promise like that, you have to keep that promise. I didn’t want to trade away his spot. Acquiring a forward, a top-two line forward, for example, I think that would’ve probably not been fair to Jimmy Vesey, and I really feel with his potential, what he can do, that he was probably as good as any player I could’ve acquired at the trading deadline.

“Whenever Harvard’s season is over, we look forward to signing Jimmy and bringing him on our team, and I think that’s going to be a great boost for our team at the perfect time of the season.”

Poile had to be feeling pretty confident in making the statements about Vesey just a few short weeks ago. College players with eligibility are not allowed to have agents but can have family advisors, basically ersatz agents.

Addressing the media during the second intermission Monday night, Poile revealed that Vesey’s representatives gave the Predators an indication Wednesday night that for the first time, they were thinking about free agency despite the offer of a roster spot right away and the fact that he would play on one of the team’s top lines as well.

Then Poile spewed some hot fire in the direction of those representatives.

“This is the first time I am going to say this in my career as a general manager. I clearly believe that Jimmy has received bad advice and bad counsel.”

By signing with the Predators, Vesey would be able to tick off one year of his entry-level contract, getting a year closer to free agency. The money would be the same in Nashville as it would in any other city. Poile mentioned Monday that Suter had a financial benefit to leave Nashville, but in 2012, he said that the Predators made an identical offer to Suter.

Poile also referenced that as late as Thursday that Vesey’s dad Jim, a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had thought that signing with the Predators was the best course of action for his son.

Further, Poile said that the team was continually rebuffed in their attempt to bring all parties (Vesey, his family, and his agents) together to discuss signing Vesey.

In addition to hiring the senior Vesey as a scout, the Maple Leafs drafted Vesey’s brother Nolan in 2014. Poile said that in all conversations with Jim Vesey that he was speaking to the dad and not the employee of another NHL team.

It will be interesting to see where Vesey lands August 15th. Poile did state that he would continue to pursue signing him up until that date.

Not happening folks. He’s gone, leaving a general manager bewildered once again at a player not wanting to play for his team.

Carter Hutton named Nashville’s Masterton nominee

By Jim Diamond

Carter Hutton has been selected as the Nashville Predators 2015-16 nominee for the Masterton Trophy, as voted on by the Nashville chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

The Masterton is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The award is presented on behalf of, and voted upon by the membership of the PHWA. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards ceremony in June.

Life as a backup goaltender in the NHL isn’t always glamorous, especially when you are backing up Pekka Rinne, who gets very few nights off over the course of an 82-game regular season. Save for injury or illness, Hutton’s name doesn’t often appear on the lineup card.

But a big part of Hutton’s job description is to do all he can to make sure his teammates have a goaltender to work with whenever they need one. This means staying on the practice rink until all of the skaters are finished as well as working with the scratched and injured players after morning skates.

During games in which he doesn’t play, fans watching on TV look forward to Hutton’s in-game hits, where he provides some perspective on the game and punctuates each visit with his should-be trademarked, “Hey, thanks for having me guys,” phrase.

In the offseason, Hutton runs a hockey school for charity in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Hutton’s charity of choice is the Boys and Girls Club of Thunder Bay.

Last summer, Hutton and the NHL Players Association donated goaltender equipment to every minor hockey association in the Thunder Bay area.

A-Game Sportsplex closes

By Jim Diamond

Forgive me in advance if the lines get blurred between me being a journalist and someone who is pissed off about a misjustice that is occurring right now in Franklin, but this is a difficult one.

The owners of A-Game Sportsplex closed and locked the doors to their facility this morning. The police are in the parking lot blocking the entrance.

The sale and eventual closing of A-Game has been well publicized the last few months. But now the owners have decided to do the worst thing possible and that is use children as a pawn in their business dealings. The thousands, that’s right thousands, of children who play volleyball and hockey at A-Game now have nowhere to go. There is a month or so left in the seasons. The volleyball and hockey clubs who operate out of A-Game have valid leases that extend beyond this season. The owners are attempting to force them out of those leases by locking the doors.

Oh, and there is a school that operates in A-Game. Sorry again kids.

A statement today submitted by the ownership group said that they will work with the lease holders to reopen the facility for the remainder of the season, but only if the volleyball and hockey groups agree to terminate their leases early, thereby enabling the owners to sell the building.

I just put two kids on the school bus this morning. One of them is expecting to return from school and have a practice at A-Game tonight. The other, whose team I serve as head coach, is supposed to practice tomorrow night.

How do you explain this one to them? They don’t cover this one in parenting school.

Including A-Game, there are only six sheets of ice in Nashville that can be used for youth and adult hockey. There isn’t a lot of available ice time at any of these six as it is. Closing A-Game and taking two sheets of ice away in Nashville will be devastating to a market that was on such a high after this past weekend’s All-Star game festivities.

Just building a new rink is not something that can’t occur quickly.

Business is difficult, but when you involve children and use them like the owners of A-Game are attempting to use them, it crosses a line. The volleyball and hockey players of this community do not deserve this. It is in no way their fault yet they are be the ones who will suffer the most.

The local economy will suffer as well. A-Game hosts volleyball, basketball, and hockey tournaments every weekend.

That means hundreds of hotel nights and restaurant meals that could disappear.

A significant number of Nashville Predators season ticket holders live in Williamson County. Fewer people playing hockey there, children and adults alike, will not be good for the Predators either.

Stay tuned for further developments in this ugly situation.

Hilary Knight helps sustain growth of women’s hockey in the U.S.

By Jim Diamond

One of the players in Nashville this past weekend as part of the All-Star Game festivities possesses an impressive amateur and international hockey resume that includes two Olympic silver medals, five IIHF World Championship gold and two silver medals, a decorated collegiate career including one NCAA Championship and another national runner-up as a University of Wisconsin Badger. As a four-year professional, that player has already won a league most valuable player award.

But the player did not take to the Bridgestone Arena ice as part of the All-Star weekend however. Instead, Hilary Knight was in Nashville as a guest of Discover, meeting and greeting fans at the Music City Center.

After three years in the CWHL, Knight now plies her trade with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. Women’s hockey received tremendous exposure at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The gold medal game drew nearly five million television viewers in the United States, a huge number for a sport that has traditionally struggled to attract American viewers regardless of gender or level or competition.

There was just something about that American team that drew the fans to them.

“We went to Russia as hockey players and we came back as America’s sweethearts,” Knight said. “And now everybody wants a piece of us, which is great because we just launched a new league and there’s another league that’s continuing to sustain itself. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in women’s hockey.”

In that gold medal game, the Americans lost to their archrival Team Canada in overtime. Despite the loss, the foundation for major expansion of women’s hockey, especially in the United States, was set.

“We’ve really sustained that attention because of the storylines and the way the fans attached to that game,” Knight said. “It was obviously a heartbreaker for us, but I still get people approaching me randomly when I’m in the grocery store and they are like, ‘Oh my God, you were in that game. I’m so sorry, but man, can I tell you about that game?’ Taking a step away from the actual losing part, you just realize that you touched on something with the fans, and it resonated with them and they feel attached to it, and also attached with our successes and also our failures. Now they want to focus on us.”

Many of those fans lined up in Nashville Saturday at her appearance on the autograph stage at Fan Fair. A sign at the entry to the corral for autographs stated, “Please no photographs,” but Knight was happy to ignore that suggestion and obliged all who asked for a photo, even jumping down from the stage for some, flashing her signature smile for each and every picture.

“Coming to Fan Fair and just interacting with people and seeing how many fans are here supporting and also the player’s perspective, it’s a fun city to be in,” she said.

It’s all part of growing the game. Another part of that growth is having major companies align with players. Those companies investing in women’s hockey is vital to keeping expand the game.

“I get to participate and interact with fans, which is the best job ever, so it is kind of a dream job,” Knight said. “It’s awesome to be able to work with bigger companies because I’m here on behalf of them and interacting with fans, but at the same time, fans then get to interact with us and showcase the women’s hockey platform.”

Knight’s busy weekend didn’t end with her time at Fan Fair. After Saturday’s appearance, Knight had to get back to her day job. She caught an early Sunday morning flight from Nashville to Connecticut for the Pride’s game against the Whale that night. Knight collected a goal in Boston’s 5-2 victory.