After a cut ribbon dropped and magnificent fireworks filled the sky, the new Ford Ice Center and the Nashville Predators needed one more thing to wrap up an ideal grand opening: a win.
And on Saturday, that’s just what they got.
The Nashville prospects bested the Tampa Bay Lightning rookies 2-1 in overtime in both teams’ initial contest of the Rookie Tournament hosted in Antioch, Tennessee.
Predators forward Kevin Fiala connected first for Nashville on a power play in the second period, another marker of a success that’s followed Nashville’s first-round pick since the NHL Entry Draft in June.
“Scoring a goal is great of course, but the most important thing is that we won,” Fiala said. “At first I was a little nervous because there were a lot of hits I’m not used to, but after that I [settled] in.”
While the last few months may seem like a bit of a whirlwind to the 18-year-old Swiss forward, Fiala can feel more comfortable knowing he’s skating on the first line with two of the more veteran forwards on the team.
Slated with Colton Sissons and Filip Forsberg, Fiala joined an experienced pair that Nashville will look to for leadership and scoring.
“[Sissons and Forsberg] will be our leadership for sure,” Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “They’re born leaders. They’ve always been captains at whatever level they’ve played, so it’s just natural to them. It’s a good quality to have and those two young men have it for sure.”
“I welcome more responsibility with open arms,” Sissons said. “I feel like I play better with more pressure on my shoulders, so this is great. Having the ‘C’ back on my jersey feels good too, I had that back in juniors as well.”
Tied 1-1 through regulation, the Predators looked to the trio one more time, and they were not disappointed. Skating three-on-three in overtime, Forsberg snapped a wrister past Lightning goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis to win the contest.
“It was a great end for me with the winner, but for our team too,” Forsberg said. “They expect a lot of hard work and focus from [our line] just like anyone else. But as one of the older guys being here last year too, hopefully I can put some leadership and scoring out there and help the younger guys coming in.”
Leadership with a scoring touch. Plus a win. Just what the Predators were hoping for, and exactly what they got.
(Sept. 13, 1:00 pm): Florida 2, Boston 0.
The Florida Panthers prospects claimed the very first win of the Rookie Tournament at Ford Ice Center with a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
The first game of the tournament began slowly for the Panthers with Florida notching just three shots in the first period. The Bruins failed to convert on several defensive zone turnovers in the first frame as Florida netminder Sam Brittain held the game scoreless.
The horn to start the second period signaled a quick end of Florida’s offensive frustrations, however, with Steven Hodges tallying two points in the middle frame; the first goal coming less than a minute into the second.
“I thought we did pretty well,” Hodges said. “We got better as the game went on. The first half of the game, we didn’t get as many shots as we wanted to. Once we started to get the puck toward [the net], we got more success and that’s something we can build on next game.”
Hodges broke the 0-0 tie just 50 seconds into the second period on rising wrister that beat Bruins goaltender Malcom Subban high glove. The strong period for the Panthers was bookended by another point from Hodges when he assisted on Cody Payne’s goal at the 19:02 mark.
Goaltenders Brittain and Jacob DeSerres combined for the shutout, stopping 12 and 18 shots respectively.
“I just wanted to take it one shot, one minute at a time. I didn’t want to look ahead,” Brittain said. “I just wanted to do what I could do, show everyone where I belong and help the team win. I think that’s the biggest thing in these things. You want to do well individually, but you also want to do well as a team.”
Next up for Boston is Tampa Bay on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Florida plays Nashville at 7:00 p.m.