James Neal was planning on vacationing in Banff, Alberta, this weekend. Instead, he received a call after the Nashville Predators played the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night requesting his presence in his home city for the weekend. He was more than all right with that.
“I was super excited, especially with the buzz around town, playing the game in Nashville; I was really excited to get the call,” Neal said.
Neal is joining his fellow Preds teammates, Captain Shea Weber, defenseman Roman Josi and goaltender Pekka Rinne, during NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, and all four Predators representatives fielded questions during All-Star Media Day on Friday at Bridgestone Arena, expressing their excitement to partake in the events at home in Music City.
For Josi, the opportunity to play in his first All-Star Game is exciting enough. The fact that the opportunity comes in the same venue where he plays 41 other home games puts it over the top.
“It’s my first All-Star game, so that’s obviously special, but playing in the town you’re playing in definitely makes it more special,” Josi said. “I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m excited. It’s a great chance for Nashville to show the hockey world how big of a hockey city this city is.”
Rinne, who was invited to last year’s All-Star Game but was unable to participate due to injury, is also giddy at the chance to partake in his first such contest at home in Nashville, the only city he’s known in his nine NHL seasons.
“The city and team have done an excellent job, just creating all this and having this good atmosphere here, and I’m just excited for the fans, too,” Rinne said. “It’s becoming a great hockey city and just having that chance to enjoy the All-Star Game and getting the chance to host it…it’s very special.”
A veteran of four NHL All-Star Games, Weber always hoped that he’d skate with the League’s top players in his home building one day. The weekend coming to reality is impressive for the Preds captain.
“I always thought [Nashville] deserved it,” Weber said. “It’s such a great city, and they love hockey. I think it’s perfect with everything around it, the rink being downtown; there is so much to do and see. It’s finally here.”
Neal couldn’t pinpoint one activity he’s looking forward to most over the others this weekend; instead the winger is embracing everything the event has to offer with family and friends in town to help him take it all in.
“Nashville is such a great place to live and a great place to play, and I love being a part of this team, this organization,” Neal said. “Just having all my family in town, I’m just going to enjoy it. It’s a great weekend and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
It’s players like Neal, Josi and Weber who are often successful in All-Star Games, with offensive skill being placed at the forefront. That doesn’t leave much help for the goaltenders who are tasked with defending those scoring chances, but Rinne has a plan in place before the onslaught of vulcanized rubber is unleashed.
“There’s going to be a lot of chances; I better stretch my groin before the game and hope for the best,” Rinne quipped.
Joking aside, Rinne, along with his other teammates, is ready for Nashville to be at the center of the hockey world for a weekend. Rinne already knows what it’s like to play in Music City, and he can’t wait for the League’s best to see it all come together.
“Even though this city is growing, we’re still kind of a small-market city and not a lot of people know about our great city and our great fans,” Rinne said. “It’s just a great chance for everybody to kind of get more recognition for the city and for the people of Nashville and this is just the perfect setting for the All-Star Game… I’m sure this is going to be a really good weekend.”