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Preds Players Motivated To Improve

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
From top to bottom, the Predators organization takes motivational slogan to heart for 2010-11 and beyond

In everyday life we’re used to seeing motivational slogans – phrases and pictures intended to drive us to be more efficient or more effective or “better” at some aspect of life. Companies frequently use them in an attempt to improve work performance.

Sports teams use them as well.

During the offseason, the Nashville Predators coaching staff discussed ways to motivate the team for 2010-11.

“We talked about a lot of things this summer. We felt we were a pretty good team last year and sometimes when you get comfortable being good you forget to push yourself harder to be great,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said.

To that end they continued to zero in on a theme coined by celebrated business consultant/author James Collins: “Good is the Enemy of Great”

“You look at companies, there are a lot of good companies, but the ones that aren’t comfortable being just good – the ones that want to be a better company – those are the ones that usually succeed,” Trotz said. “In the summer we talked about where we wanted to take this team. We want to be a great team. We’ve developed to a point where we’re now good every year, but we can’t just be happy with that. Every season there are things you can control and things you can’t control, but each of us in that locker room can control the mindset and we want to make sure our mind is set on being great.”

So when the 2010-11 season opened, the Predators made sure to prominently place the phrase throughout the locker room and player common areas. Playoff appearances in five of the last six seasons is good. An impressive 100-point campaign last year was impressively good. But there was a sense of unfinished business.

“We got in the playoffs and you can be satisfied with that, but if you’re an athlete you want to be a winner, so you’re not too happy about much right now,” defenseman Ryan Suter said a couple days after last season ended. “You have to win a playoff series to be happy with anything. You can get 120 points, but if you don’t win the last game it doesn’t really matter.”

Suter’s defensive partner, Shea Weber, was even more direct.

“If you get satisfied with losing, I don’t know, something’s wrong with you,” he said after last season. “I think any athlete is competitive and wants to win. You can’t be satisfied unless you win the whole thing.”

In the transition from good team to great team, the Predators had several difficult player personnel decisions to make this summer; they went out to compile a group of talent with a desire to be great. That started with naming Weber the team’s captain and Suter as one of the alternate captains. The two young defensemen – fresh off medal-winning performances at the 2010 Olympics – made sure this year’s team focused on higher expectations than any other team in the organization’s history.

The team opened the season strong, going 5-0-3 through the first eight games of the season, making them the last team in the League to suffer a regulation loss. Then injuries hit – and hit at the top of the depth chart: centers David Legwand and Matthew Lombardi, goaltender Pekka Rinne and Suter. Instead of packing it in and using the missing stars as an excuse, younger players used took the motivational slogan to heart and used the injuries as an opportunity to show they could take on larger roles on the team.

Cal O’Reilly flourished as the team’s top playmaking center. Rookie Anders Lindback turned heads in net. Cody Franson stepped up with a larger workload; Alexander Sulzer showed he belonged at the NHL level.

Later in the season more injuries – O’Reilly, Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan – and more players stepped to the forefront. Sergei Kostitsyn settled in as a creative offensive player with the puck on his stick. Nick Spaling developed as a defensive forward and elite penalty kill specialist.

The drive to be great, the desire to not to be satisfied with just being in the NHL, has created a special aura around this year’s team – there’s a sense that this group can accomplish special things.

“I think factually we have the best team in terms of players and depth that we’ve had, certainly within the last three years,” Team Chairman Tom Cigarran said. “The team itself now believes it is good enough to beat anybody; it’s good enough to win the Stanley Cup. The players believe that – maybe for the first time in Nashville – and what happened in Chicago last year, the painful experience they had there, contributes to that. They know on the ice they were as good as the Blackhawks, and the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup. They know it, not just think it.”

The sentiment is not just limited to the locker room; it’s a belief Cigarran has imparted on the team’s front office, challenging every aspect of the organization to be more than good.

“My vision is for Bridgestone Arena to become the No. 1 sports and entertainment venue in the United States, with the centerpiece being a Stanley Cup championship hockey team. To be ‘No. 1’ we have to be superb, not just good. Being good is not just good enough. We have to be excellent in everything that we do – from how we book the acts, to how people are treated when they come in to see an act, to the concession stands and the food, to how quickly we move the concession lines, to the pricing, to the merchandise we sell -- everything has to be superb or else it doesn’t work. We’ve been good for a long time, but now we’re going to move up.”

Good is the Enemy of Great … Choose to be Great

It’s why the organization isn’t just satisfied to win awards from IEBA and ACM and earn Pollstar Venue of the Year nominations or sell out six of their first 18 home games or host nine sold out Garth Brooks shows in a week or host the CMT Music Awards Show each June and CMA Music Awards Show each November. What’s been accomplished has been good, but what lies ahead for the organization – on and off the ice – has makings of something even more special.
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