Eight Predators make their first trip to the Stanley Cup PlayoffsBy Amanda Brooks
The Predators have been here before: ending the regular season and heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Four times, the Preds have given either the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks a run for their money, but have failed to advance out of the first round. With a strong set of newcomers to this playoff squad, one thing is for sure: this is a different team than Nashville has ever seen… and they are more than ready for the challenge of taking the Preds where they have never been before: into the round of eight.
|TITLES WON BY THE PREDATORS PLAYOFF ROOKIES |
|Denis Grebeshkov – Won Russian Super League titles with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in 2002 and 2003. |
Cody Franson – Won the 2007 Memorial Cup, and the 2006 Western Hockey League Championship, with the Vancouver Giants.
Pekka Rinne – Won Finnish Elite League titles with Karpat Oulu in 2004 and 2005.
Nick Spaling – Won the 2008 Ontario Hockey League Championship with the Kitchener Rangers.
Colin Wilson – Won the 2009 NCAA National Championship with Boston University.
“We tried not to assume anything,” Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne
said. “We needed to play every game down the stretch like it was our last. March was difficult for us, but in a good way. Every team plays the same amount of games at the end, but to play more than any team in March meant that we’re more prepared for what’s to come.”
Between the eight players on the current who have never experienced the NHL playoffs, the average age is 23. Fear not, however, Predators fans; age is just a number. Between Rinne, Cody Franson, Cal O’Reilly, Joel Ward, Patric Hornqvist
, Denis Grebeshkov, Nick Spaling
and Cody Wilson, there are 39 combined years of playoff experience at the collegiate, major junior or professional level, including Wilson’s Frozen Four Championship with Boston University last April.
“Competing in the Frozen Four was a great experience to prepare me for the intensity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but in terms of the level of play, the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the NHL as a whole are on an entirely different level,” Wilson noted. “Being the youngest person on the team doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to be nervous… it means I’m excited. I’m really pumped for what we can do in the postseason.”
Ward, being the oldest newcomer to the playoffs at 29, is ready to put his experience to use. He feels that his age contributes to a sense of preparedness on the ice that some of the younger players may not be feeling.
“I have a lot of hockey experience and I’ve been in the NHL for three years, so I think I feel comfortable with the intensity and level of play that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’re ready for what any team has to bring. Because I have experience in minors, college and NHL, I think I’m ready for whatever intensity and emotions the playoffs have in store.”
For O’Reilly, who has seven years of playoff experience with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) and the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL), the NHL playoffs are the next step in his career.
“I may only be 23, but I have an unusual amount of experience for a younger player, especially a rookie. Because I have so much experience, I feel really prepared and ready. I want the fans to know that we’re going to play our hardest out there and leave everything on the ice.”
Just because they are rookies to the playoffs does not mean they are naïve or uninformed about the Predators’ past tries to get through the first round. Hornqvist, the team’s only 30-goal scorer and tied for the team lead in points with veteran Steve Sullivan, feels that this could be the Predators’ year to break the streak.
“While the six or so of us weren’t with the team in previous years to experience those first round losses, I can say that there is something about this team that, according to the veterans, is different. We’re really tight-knit, enjoy being around each other, and have great chemistry. I think we have the possibility, if things go our way, of putting up a serious fight for the postseason.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, Nashville has no idea where they’re going or who they’re playing, but one thing is for sure: this group of playoff newcomers is ready for whatever comes next.
“I am so ready for the playoffs,” Franson said. “We have to finish the season strong and work hard, but we’ve been working hard our entire lives to be able to be in this league in the first place. “For so many young hockey players, competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a dream, something that could be unattainable. It’s pretty cool that we’re all about to make that a reality.”
These six players and their veteran teammates are striving to make a new reality for the Predators and their fans: one in which the Preds not only march to the playoffs, but through the playoffs.