Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Nashville Predators 3 - January 18, 2010

The reason for this trip was to see the Leafs on another road trip. Monday was the second game of the trip for the Leafs, but the first for me to see. My friend Sharpy has joined me for the next week. After picking him up at his hotel, we made our way downtown to tour and then check out the Leafs taking on the Nashville Predators.


Affectionally known as Music City, Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and the home of country music. Located in the north-central part of the state, the metro area has a population of over 1.5 million, making it the 38th largest metro region by population in the US. Combining music, education, sports, culture, and politics, Nashville is a great place to visit and should interest anybody with its variety of attractions.

I'll write a more detailed post later about the city and some of its sights. For now, a quick description of the Predators, one of the city's two major league sports teams. The Preds first played back in 1998-99 as the lone expansion team that season. They were coached by Barry Trotz, who is still in the position 12 seasons later! The team has grown and become successful to a point, but they have yet to win a playoff series. They've had their fair share of stars such as Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya, but have yet to put together that magic formula that leads to playoff success. The team logo was chosen before the name (usually the name is first, then the logo is designed). The logo is a saber-toothed tiger that refers to a partial skeleton of this long extinct animal that was found in Nashville back in 1971. From this logo, fans chose the nickname Predators from a list of 4 (the others were Ice Tigers, Fury, and Attack). It was owner Craig Leipold who submitted the Predators name - you might expect a little behind-the-scenes arm twisting, but it was the best name of the four.

These days the Predators are led by Canadian Olympian Shea Weber and David Legwand, who has spent his entire 12-year career with the team. Nashville currently lies 4th in the West and look to be a solid playoff team, although there are questions about their goaltending.

The Predators are not Nashville's only major-league team. The NFL's Tennessee Titans play at LP Field across the Cumberland River. One interesting bit of sports trivia - Nashville and Buffalo are the only two cities with pro sports teams in just the NHL and NFL. The city also has a AAA ball team and a team in the Premier Development League.

Sommet Center

The Sommet (pronounced soh-MAY) Center is located right in downtown Nashville at the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue. The Nashville Visitor's Center and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame are located in the building, which was built in 1996 in anticipation of the arrival of an NBA or NHL team.

It was originally called the Nashville Arena before the Gaylord Entertainment Company bought the naming rights and re-named the venue Gaylord Entertainment Center. This agreement was voided in 2007 and since then, the name is sponsored by the Sommet Group, a local collection of companies involved in HR, insurance and other industries.

There seemed to be plenty of street parking around the arena. We arrived early on MLK day and found a free spot right across the street. During a regular workday, you could probably park here from 5pm without much problem.

Best parking spot ever!

The arena is not your typical symmetrical design. One end of the rink has no second-level seats which brings the 3rd deck quite close in this end. The Predators realize this and these seats are significantly more expensive than the 3rd deck seats at the other end ($35 vs $20 for season tickets). We were able to get season tickets for a reduced rate (thanks Randall!) which were great seats, just 10 rows from the ice. But if you were to go on game day, I'd say the upper level seats provide the best value.

The arena itself looks brand new. The scoreboard above center ice was added a couple of years ago and has a great HD screen that I found myself watching at times, forgetting that I was actually at the game! The concourse is more than spacious and the staff was quite friendly. I didn't eat here, having enjoyed a nice pre-game meal at a nearby restaurant, but I didn't immediately notice anything particularly tempting.

Overall, this is a great place to watch a game. The prime location, interesting seating bowl, good, knowledgeable crowd, and very talented and exciting team make this a must-see hockey destination for any fan. I hope to be back in the near future.

The Game

The Leafs got blasted by Washington 6-1 on the first game on their 5-game trip, so expectations were low. But they hadn't played for three days, and they looked well-rested, coming out to score 3 goals in the first nine minutes. It's true that they also benefited from poor play by Nashville's starting goalie Pekka Rinne, but two of the goals were the result of hard work by the Leafs. Rinne was pulled and Dan Ellis came in, and kept the Predators in the game as Toronto continued to press for the first period.

Dan Ellis manning the cage

Ellis' strong play finally got the Preds going though, and late in the second period, the tide turned and Marcel Goc scored to make it 3-1 after 40 minutes. Naturally, the Leafs promptly collapsed to start the 3rd and after Cody Franson blasted one by Jonas Gustavsson (picture below), I sensed disaster in the making. Sure enough, Ryan Jones deflected a point shot home a couple of minutes later and the game was tied at 3 with 14 minutes left. I sighed; being a Leaf fan is not easy.

Gustavsson was tested as the third period continued, but he kept the puck out of the net. Then with just over 5 minutes to go, Nikolai Kulemin crossed the Nashville blue line and dropped the puck to Phil Kessel. Kessel, who hadn't scored in eons, fired a quick wrister between Ellis' pads and the Leafs were back in the lead. And amazingly, they held on for the victory, helped by a late penalty call against Nashville.

After the 0-3 road trip in California in 2008, I was finally able to witness a Leaf victory on the road. It was a pretty good game (no doubt my opinion is affected by the result), and I like the Nashville team. They were really hurt by Rinne's poor start but showed good character in fighting back. Ellis was the hard luck loser - when Nashville came back to tie, Rinne was off the hook, so when Ellis gave up the singleton, he was saddled with the loss.

Leafs win!

With the victory, the Leafs become the last team to win in Nashville, having gone 0-2 in their previous visits. Let's see if the Leafs can put a 2-game streak together tonight in Atlanta.


There were a couple of fun promotions here. It was Military Monday, which allowed active military to buy discount tickets. For one promotion, they selected two contestants: one was a marine wearing a Preds' jersey, while the other was a poor Leaf fan. The contest: which one could do more sit-ups in a minute. Both contestants took their position, but once the timer started, the marine got to sit on a chair, be served a lemonade, and be attended to by a couple of ladies from the dance team. Meanwhile, the Leaf fan, who has likely suffered enough in his life, was trying to do as many sit-ups as he could in a minute.

During the first period intermission, there was a band playing at one end of the arena. This is something that happens every game, but today was different as Lee Greenwood made an appearance and did a couple of songs, including his famous "God Bless The U.S.A.". It was a surprise to see and gives credence to Nashville as Music City.

Lee Greenwood belts one out

Other items

Before the game, Sharpy and I, wearing our Leaf jerseys, were enjoying a couple of soda pops in nearby Rippy's. Next to us were four older gentleman wearing Predator jerseys. Turns out it was father's week and they were all father's of some of the players. We were sitting next to Ryan Jones' dad, who turned to us and started talking about this and that. His three partners considered him a traitor for talking to us Leaf fans, but he was very interesting, telling us about some of the behind-the-scenes activities. The fathers get to go to Phoenix and Colorado with the team this week, which is a nice winter vacation in my opinion. We told Mr. Jones that we would cheer for his son once the Leafs had a 4-0 lead. No joke. Of course, the Leafs could only manage a 3-0 lead, and Ryan Jones tied the game at 3. But the Leafs won! Did I mention that yet? LEAFS WON! Seriously, thanks to Mr. Jones for an interesting pre-game conversation.

In an unrelated note, we were able to go down to the dressing room level after the game. We saw the Leafs management and players making their way to the bus. Brian Burke saw us and thanked us for coming. Ron Wilson walked by and I said "Good game Ron". He grunted something unintelligible. Must be fun coaching the Leafs I guess. What surprised me was that many of the players are not that big. They look huge on skates and all padded up, but in suits, they look like normal guys. It was a cool way to end a great day overall.

Jason Blake rushes to the bus

Next Up

I really doubt this trip can get any better. Five games, five games decided by 1 goal or point. And the Leafs won! I'm now back in Atlanta to watch the Leafs and Thrashers do battle tonight. Tomorrow's plan has changed as Sharpy would like to watch the Sacramento Kings take on the Atlanta Hawks. So we'll have a longer drive on Thursday to watch the Leafs and Lightning. Keep checking back for updates.



1 comment:

  1. Hey, nice recap! Lots of good information. Very well done. I enjoyed it!