The Nashville Predators were joined by two familiar faces for their practice at the Class of 1923 Rink at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday.
Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, defenseman Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli finally took to the ice as members of the Preds. The pair of players were delayed from joining the club due to immigration and weather issues for nearly a five-day span, but during Friday’s session, all previous troubles were put in the past.
“I’m happy to be here and to get back on the ice and be out here with the guys,” Franson said. “It’s an exciting time for me and to be able to come to this team, obviously, I’ve got some roots here, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable already. I’m really looking forward to getting things started.”
Santorelli and Franson ran through drills with the Preds at the East Philadelphia rink, taking some advice and tips along the way as they did so. Acclimating to a new team in the middle of a season is never easy, but for the former Leafs who were each originally drafted by Nashville, reuniting with some old friends has helped the acclimation process.
“It’s always an adjustment and I’ve been there,” forward Matt Cullen said. “I’ve been traded near the deadline before, there’s a lot to take in, plus getting to know the guys and getting a feel for each other. I think they’ll be a really good fit. I’ve seen [Santorelli] play, I like the way he plays with a lot of speed, so hopefully with [Calle Jarnkrok] and I [on the same line], we’ll create some offense and make him feel comfortable as soon as possible.”
“As soon as we found out [about the trade], we were both very excited and looking forward to getting here,” Santorelli said of he and Franson. “We’re so glad we’re here and we’re excited.”
Still, there’s little time for the new players to learn everything about the squad they’ve reunited with - the Predators face the Philadelphia Flyers in less than 24 hours at the Wells Fargo Center. Preds Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy said it’ll be important for Franson and Santorelli to rely on their past experiences and let emotion take over on Saturday in order to bring an immediate benefit to Nashville.
“I think the biggest thing is that adrenaline will take over,” McCarthy said. “They want to come in and make an impression. They’re both veteran players, so it’s not like they haven’t ever been in a situation like this before.
“It’s good for them to come in and get a practice under their belts before they play and get to know the guys and how we want to play. It gives them a little preparation time, and they look great and ready to go.”
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Franson and Santorelli have already played the Flyers twice this season while skating with Toronto.
“[I’ve] played Philly a couple times this year [with Toronto], so I’ve seen them a bit, but Philly is playing really good right now,” Franson said. “They’re going to make it tough on us, and we’re going to have to play a solid game to take two points.”
“It’s nice when you know the team, but I don’t think it’s a huge difference,” Ekholm said of Franson being familiar with the Flyers. “But if he knows strengths and weaknesses [of the Flyers], that could help him.”
The temperature inside the rink housing the Predators practice almost stole the show on Friday. With the outside temperature in the single degrees (Fahrenheit), the climate inside was not too far off and it was difficult to dwell on anything else.
Cullen and Ekholm both said they were taken back to their childhood years of skating outside thanks to the cold environment.
“[That was] probably [the coldest rink I’ve skated in] since I was in youth hockey in Minnesota,” Cullen said. “It was cold, but it brought back some good memories.”
“[That was one of the coldest rinks] in a while, but in Sweden when I was younger, we have a couple colder ones outdoors,” Ekholm said. “But that was one of the colder ones for sure.”
The Predators coaching staff was even able to see their breath freezing as they barked out orders to their skaters. There was little else to think about than continuing to skate and keeping the blood pumping as the players pushed through a “brisk” practice.
“Yeah that was cold; it reminded me of skating outside in Winnipeg when I was a kid,” McCarthy said, chuckling. “It was definitely a cold one out there today.”
It’s pretty well known that Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s most recent employer, was Saturday’s opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. Both Laviolette and McCarthy spent parts of five seasons behind the bench in the City of Brotherly Love, leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.
That in itself might be enough for most fan bases to cheer their franchise’s former coach, but this is the city that once booed Santa Claus.
“You never know what to expect when you come back,” Laviolette said of returning to Philadelphia. “Certainly for me, the fans here were always really supportive of me and the teams we always had here. The building was great. But you never know what the reaction is going to be.”
McCarthy said he hasn’t allowed himself to think about the emotions he may experience when he stands behind the visitors bench at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, but that instead he’s focused on the important matchup. Nashville defeated the Flyers 4-1 on Dec. 27 at Bridgestone Arena in the team’s only other meeting this regular season.
“I’m not overly worried about what the response will be like, but just like a player that’s been traded, you want to come back and have success,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s the same way for a coach. You want to come in and win against your former team. You have that in the back of your head while you’re getting the team ready to play.”
Less than 18 months removed from managing the Flyers, does a familiarity with some of Philadelphia’s players help Laviolette or McCarthy prepare for the contest? Maybe, the long-time coaching duo say:
“[It helps] a little bit,” Laviolette said. “I know the players better but systems change from year to year. But certainly from a personnel standpoint, you know them a lot better than other teams you might not play as much.”
“It gives you a little insight into the players,” McCarthy said. “You were around them for over four years, and you know things about them that you wouldn’t know about another opponent. But at the end of the day, it’s still all about execution. I think it does help to know the individuals (on the Flyers), but at the same time it’s a team game, so we have to do our job on the ice.”
Notes & Lines:
Friday’s session provided a likely indication of where Santorelli and Franson will slot into Nashville’s lineup versus the Flyers. Defenseman Ryan Ellis (injured reserved, lower-body) participated in the practice, skating on the extra D-pairing alongside Anthony Bitetto.
Anton Volchenkov took a few laps on the ice after the session while the Predators scratches and goaltender Carter Hutton got in some extra work on the other end of the rink.
Today’s lines looked like this:
Wilson – Ribeiro – Neal
Smith – Fisher – Forsberg
Cullen – Jarnkrok – Santorelli
Nystrom – Gaustad – Bourque
Josi – Weber
Ekholm – Franson
Bartley – Jones
Extra: Bitetto – Ellis
The Predators will not hold a morning skate on Saturday morning prior to their early afternoon matchup with the Flyers. Nashville is 5-0-0 this season in matinee games and has not lost two-straight regulation games this campaign (the Preds fell 5-2 to the Islanders on Thursday at the beginning of their three-game road trip).
Shot of the Day: