Training camp has been completed, preseason games played, rosters solidified; Opening Night is finally here. Well, almost.
One more night separates the Nashville Predators and their first game of the 2015-16 season, a campaign they’ll open against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m. CT, FOX Sports Tennessee, 102.5 The Game), and while it’s just one game out of 82 set to take place over the next seven months, those Opening Night jitters make it special.
“It’s really exciting for everybody,” forward Cody Hodgson said. “We know we have a good team with high expectations, and with that comes excitement. We know what could be done, but we can’t look past the first game, so this is what we’re all gearing up for.”
“When you get into the season a little bit, the games keep rolling one into the next with the travel and everything and this marks the start of a new group and new season,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “The guys want to play the games. They want to play hockey, they love to play hockey and Opening Night is the start of that and that brings a certain level of excitement.”
The Preds bench boss, entering his second season at the helm in Nashville, says his team, just like every other club in the NHL, has expectations. Tomorrow night presents the first opportunity to turn those expectations into reality.
“Every team has to go out and make their way,” Laviolette said. "Sure, we have expectations inside of our room, but now we’ve got to go play the games and that goes the same with 29 other teams. Teams that play with energy and execute well on the ice and play with a purpose, they’re the teams that are going to find success. Our expectations are to be successful…there was an expectation inside the room last year to be successful, but we’ve got to go out and prove that.”
Bitetto's Summer Regiment:
The three-hour, roundtrip drive that Anthony Bitetto made throughout the summer from his home on Long Island up to Connecticut admittedly took a toll, but considering his current position, it was well worth it.
Bitetto finds himself in Tennessee, on the Opening Night, 23-man roster for the Nashville Predators, a dream come true for the 25-year-old defenseman, and he credits his offseason regiment for allowing him to reach that goal.
The Island Park, N.Y., native trained with Ben Prentiss and Prentiss Hockey Performance for the first time during the summer months, and according to Bitetto, he couldn’t have made a better decision.
“He’s got a lot of NHL guys and I think he’s really put me in the position to succeed,” Bitetto said of Prentiss. “Everything he’s done for me, I’m beyond grateful.”
Bitetto also had some motivation on his mind from last season, when he skated in his first seven NHL games with the Preds. That first taste only made him want to get back and find his nameplate in the Nashville locker room once more.
“Last year was tremendous; you get into games and you learn so much,” Bitetto said. “You get around the team and you become part of it and that was the coolest thing. Then coming to training camp, you don’t want to not be a part of this and that was my goal this summer.”
Not only did Bitetto gain a wealth of knowledge during his NHL appearances last season, but the names of the fellow clients of Prentiss who Bitetto trained alongside this summer speak for themselves. Names like Montreal Canadiens Captain Max Pacioretty, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick were among those with whom Bitetto was able to observe on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s cool to be around those guys who are All-Stars and see what they do in the summer,” Bitetto said. “To be a part of that was amazing.”
Bitetto is thrilled to have made the Preds Opening Night roster, but he also knows there are seven other defensemen who have done the same. For now, the mindset is to do whatever he can to be ready when the opportunity arises.
“My practices are my games right now,” Bitetto said. “You’ve got to play it one day at a time. Every time I have the opportunity to be out there, I’ve got to be confident and strong with the puck and be strong with the guys. That’s my goal right now, to stay here.”