The Nashville Jr. Predators organization recently sent four teams to US National Tournaments, showcasing the huge strides Nashville-area hockey development has made over the past decade.
The Bantam Major team advanced to the 14U National Championship Game. The Nashville team, made up of 1996 birth year players in the Middle TN area playing out of the A-Game Sportsplex in Cool Springs and the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, turned heads at the National Tournament in Amherst, NY.
Competing in the 1A bracket of the 14U Tier II Tournament, the Jr. Predators swept pool play games by defeating the Northern KY Norsemen 4-3, Oklahoma Oil Kings 12-2, Team South Dakota 7-3 and Southern Youth Travel Hockey League rival Atlanta Fire 5-1. The 4-0 record advanced the Jr. Predators into the semi-finals as the No. 1 seed in the USA pool and then defeated the Kansas City Outlaws by a score of 5-0 to advance to the finals.
A strong nucleus of the Nashville squad was together last season and lost in the quarter-final game of the 2010 National Tournament. Following a season of individual and team improvement, the Jr. Preds peaked at the end of the season with a 2-0 win over the East Coast Eagles (National 2A semi-finalists) to win Nashville’s Country & Western Showdown Tournament back in March, a solid tune-up for the national tournament.
Preds radio analyst – and former NHLer – Stu Grimson helped coach the 14U team along with Scotty Phillips, Jim Curtis. Grimson was impressed with how the team learned throughout the season. He saw the tournament success as a fitting end to a great year. “The season itself has been a real revolution for these guys struggling to kind of find a system and structure to their game and then gradually improving in terms of that structure over the course of the year. To really see that pay off for them in terms of the national tournament it was such a fun, fun thing to watch.”
Grimson’s son Kristjan was on the team, allowing father and son to spend quality time together at the rink. “Its an interesting balance for me because I can’t relate with my own son the way another coach would,” Grimson admitted. “But it’s fun to be that close to the action when you are seeing your son learn, grow, develop. Its an experience I wouldn’t change for anything, I really have enjoyed it.”
In addition to the 14U team, the Nashville Jr. Predators organization was represented at the 12U National Tournament in San Jose, CA by the 1998 birth year team coached by Kyle Jennings and Matt Eddinger. The team won their first game in a shoot-out and competed in close games throughout the tournament finishing with a 1-3 record.
The 18U team, coached by Ryan Lessnau and Benny Fehr advanced to their National Tournament quarter-final game, dropping to Lewiston, ME. The Midget Major team finished with a 1-2-1 record at the 18U National Championship Tournament in Cleveland, OH.
The Southern Flyers Girls U19 team from Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville advanced to the National Tournament in Anaheim, CA and finished with a 1-2 record.
The successful runs from this year’s youth teams will help the young players continue to improve. “To be able to see yourself succeed, it’s a real shot in the arm for you – both as a team and an individual player, “Grimson said. “To have success gives you confidence as a player and, at the same, to play teams from other regions and see there’s another level out there, it kind of helps drive you as a player to continue to improve; a little bit of a measuring stick to see how you stack up.”
The progress of the Nashville Jr. Predators organization will continue to play a leading role in growing the sport locally and helping to develop the next wave of Blake Geoffrions – young players rising from the Nashville-area through the ranks and into the NHL.
Youth hockey players wanting to learn from the pros should checkout the Nashville Predators Hockey Schools coming this summer. Week-long camps are geared towards the beginner, intermediate and advanced players and goaltenders featuring two sessions for ages 4-7 and 8-14. Spots fill up early. For more information or to register, visit nashvillepredators.com/hockeyschool