Matt Cullen

Favorite Thanksgiving foods of some U.S.-born Predators

By Jim Diamond

On the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, many will gather around the dinner table Thursday to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. With a Thursday evening game against the Edmonton Oilers on the schedule, it is a workday for the Nashville Predators, so a gigantic feast and an L-tryptophan induced sleep is not in the cards for the players.

When asked about their traditional Thanksgiving routines, many of the American-born Predators said that when they were growing up, they were often away from home playing in hockey tournaments this time of year, so it was difficult to develop many family traditions revolving around Thanksgiving. For Seth Jones and Eric Nystrom, their fathers being professional athletes made getting together for turkey on the assigned day that much more of a challenge.

“It was pretty tough, but we tried to sit down as a family,” Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, said. “It’s not like an overwhelming meal, but we tried to sit down and have a nice family dinner together.”

“There’s not too many Thanksgivings that I can say that I have spent with the family,” Nystrom said. “The whole family goes to Florida for the holidays, so there is no way I was going to get them to come to some of the places I have played around the holidays. They FaceTime me, so that is nice.”

Despite the fact that their Thanksgiving routines may differ from the general populace, several of the American Predators weighed in on their favorite Thanksgiving food items.

Jones: “I would probably say the sweet potatoes. You put some marshmallows and brown sugar on top, makes it a little better.”

Nystrom: “I go for the dark meat turkey, straight for it. Protein all day. My mom makes a great apple crisp that’s amazing that I always dive face-first into. Maybe she will send me the recipe and I will make it this year. Just small portions though. I like to push away before I get to the point where I feel like I am going to explode.”

Matt Cullen: “I was a huge fan of the stuffing. When I was a kid, I used to eat it until I was sick. I do love it. I used to love Thanksgiving, I still do. We used to have huge meals. We play on Thanksgiving Day, so we always have to adjust our schedules a little bit. It’s a little bit of a challenge with the travel and everything, but we make time to do it.”

Paul Gaustad:  “My wife makes the whole Thanksgiving dinner. She’s fantastic at it. Her turkey is the best. Thanksgiving is my favorite.”

Matt Cullen gets a young linemate in Friday’s first practice

By Jim Diamond

Matt Cullen played his first NHL game October 28, 1997.

Kevin Fiala was all of 15 months old at the time.

Friday marked the first on-ice sessions of training camp for the Nashville Predators. With the large number of players here for the start of camp, the team has been split into three different groupings for the first couple of days of practices.

For some, it was their first experience in an NHL camp while others have been at it for close to 20 years.

The first group to hit the ice was the blue group. Among the forwards skating in that collective were Cullen and Fiala, and the coaching staff had them skating on a line together for nearly the entirety of that first practice session.

After they came off of the ice, Cullen was asked how it felt skating on a line with someone who was born in 1996.

“I was waiting for that question,” he said with a laugh. “It’s funny because this is my 17th training camp, and I remember my first one like it was yesterday. I can relate to where these guys are at.”

One should not look too deeply into line combinations and defensive pairings on the first day of practice, but it’s likely that new Predators head coach Peter Laviolette went with someone he knew and felt comfortable with to mentor Fiala, the team’s first round draft pick from June’s Entry Draft, as he was put through the paces of his first training camp practice. Laviolette coached Cullen with the Carolina Hurricanes, where the pair won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Cullen’s first camp in Anaheim was an eye-opener for him, especially when he was on the ice with a future Hall of Famer.

Kevin Fiala (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Kevin Fiala (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“Seeing guys like Teemu Selanne skating on the ice with me and for these guys to get out with Shea Weber, it’s your realization of a dream that you are finally there,” Cullen said. “You’ve been dreaming about playing in the NHL your whole life and to get on the ice the first time, it doesn’t matter if it’s just practice the first day of training camp, it’s hard to believe. You can see it in these kids, you can see the big eyes and the excitement. It’s pretty cool.”

But do those big eyes ever shrink back down to normal size when you are playing alongside a player of Selanne’s caliber?

“Eventually you kind of settle in, but still you find yourself at times thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’m playing on a line with Teemu Selanne right now. This is pretty cool,’” Cullen said.

It’s rare for a player to make an NHL roster in his first training camp, but once the awe factor dies down, the rookies are trying to do exactly the same thing as the veterans.

“You are a little intimidated at first, but at the same time, you know that you are going to have to be better than one of them if you want to get a roster spot,” Viktor Stalberg said. “Maybe the first day you are impressed, but then you just go out there and play your hardest. You’ve got to get the coaches to know you. You can’t be too friendly with guys just because they have been in the league for very long.”

NHL teams can carry a maximum of 23 players on their active rosters. Over the course of the couple of weeks, it will be interesting to watch which young guys make their case for those jobs.