Renaissance Road Warriors: Preds Photo Blog
Follow Along as the Preds Embark on a Four-Game Trip Through Western Canada, Presented By Renaissance Nashville Hotelby Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator
Ah, the Western Canada swing.
We usually get at least one of these per season, in some form, and this iteration of the four-game, nine-day trip has arrived for the Predators.
Our travel in this instance makes geographic sense as we head from east to west over the next week with stops in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, before heading back home next Tuesday. On the ice, this is a monumental trip for the Preds - a journey that could ultimately go a long way in determining what General Manager David Poile chooses to do leading up to and at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24.
Off the ice, there's plenty to see across these four Canadian cities, and over the next week, I'll do my best to give you a glimpse at life away from home in our annual installment of the Renaissance Road Warriors Blog, presented by Renaissance Hotels.
First up: the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg.
After a day off on Super Bowl Sunday, it was back to work for the Predators on Monday morning with a practice at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. After about an hour on the ice, the players, coaches, equipment staff and trainers - as well as folks like me (communications/PR staff and broadcasters) - made the 15ish minute drive to the Nashville International Airport.
The flight from BNA to YWG in Winnipeg takes about two-and-a-half hours, plenty of time to get some work done like the Smashville Scope and the Game Day Preview for this very website.
However, it wasn't a carefree couple of hours in the air for me.
You know that moment of panic that sets in from time to time when you're sure you've forgotten something? It usually happens when I think about taking my passport for our trips to Canada, and even though I've already checked for it five times, one more look always seems to be needed. But this time, it was something different.
It was 70 degrees in Nashville when I parked my car and removed my luggage, so why would I need to put on my heavy overcoat? (Because you're going to Canada for nine days and it's cold up there, sir.)
Needless to say, about 20 minutes into the flight, I realized my error. After quickly rationalizing with myself that no, I wasn't about to try to make it nine days in Canada without some sort of outer layer, I began to formulate alternatives.
One of the neat parts about this job is getting to know counterparts from all over the League who work for different teams. Luckily, I have a friend who manages social media for the Jets (you're a lifesaver, John), and after explaining to him my predicament, he graciously offered to drive me to a mall to select some new winter attire. The license plates don't say "Friendly Manitoba" for nothing.
After getting a great deal on a new coat - 75 percent off, because apparently by the time February rolls around, everyone here has already selected their outerwear for the season - it was back to the hotel to finish up some work, have some dinner and get a good night's sleep (at least eight hours if possible) before the first of four game days arrived.
Tuesday morning brought about a few updates to the website - as every game day does - and after getting in a workout and some breakfast, it was off to Bell MTS Place for the morning skate, as the Preds prepared to face the Jets in Winnipeg.
The session brought about a welcome surprise as Predators Associate Captain Ryan Ellis took to the ice, the first time he's done so with his teammates since suffering an upper-body injury on New Year's Day. Ellis isn't expected to play on the four-game trip, according to Preds Head Coach John Hynes, but his appearance certainly added an extra boost to the morale with No. 4 on the ice.
It's during this time when I send out a few tweets, take a look at the line rushes and take a few photos for the Preds social channels while the guys are on the ice. Then, it's off to the locker room to conduct an interview or two for PredsTV before taking part in a media scrum with Coach Hynes.
From there, it's back to the hotel, grab a quick bite - luckily, there are plenty of options right across from the hotel here in Winnipeg - and settle in to do some work (such as this blog) before heading back to the rink again in a few hours.
A stellar performance from Juuse Saros and an overtime winner from Mikael Granlund led to a happy locker room in Winnipeg.
The Preds started their four-game trip with a 2-1 OT victory against the Jets on Tuesday night, and once Mattias Ekholm fed Granlund for a one-timer early in the extra session, the pace really picks up for yours truly.
Video: Granlund's OT winner helps Predators top Jets
Once the game ends, I immediately throw my laptop into my trusty backpack and make my way from the press box all the way down to the bottom of the arena - in this case, Bell MTS Place - and prepare to go into the room to interview a few Preds players. I'll usually request two or three players to talk to, depending on the situation, and on this night, the choices were easy.
After speaking with Granlund, Saros and Nick Bonino, who scored Nashville's goal in the first period, it was time to pose a few questions to Coach Hynes before heading for the bus. In this case, we were simply flying from one Canadian city to another, so it was straight to the plane instead of entering the airport to clear customs (which we would have done if we were returning to the United States).
The postgame recap was finished just as we arrived to the aircraft, and thanks to some help from back home in Nashville, everything was uploaded and posted before we even took off. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some podcast listening and a nap (although is it really a nap at that time of night?) helped to pass the time of the two-hour flight to Calgary.
Once we landed in Alberta, it was straight from the plane to the bus to our next hotel downtown just a short drive from the Scotiabank Saddledome, the site of Thursday's meeting with the Flames.
Finally, at around 1 a.m. MT, a little over seven hours after the puck dropped in Winnipeg, heads began to hit their respective pillows. '
Wednesday in Calgary was a scheduled day off for the players, so no practice, meetings or anything of that nature. I'll usually stay in my hotel room and get some work done in this instance, depending on what the day brings.
However, if we have a "day off" in a city, I also like to try and take advantage, if only for a bit. I decided to dedicate the afternoon to hunkering down and getting a couple of articles uploaded, updating this blog and writing a preview for tomorrow, among other items, but I ran a couple of errands to start.
One of the cool parts of this job is simply getting to make stops in every NHL city at some point. We usually stay in the same one or two hotels every time we head to a respective city, and because of that, it's easy to get to know the area once you've been there a few times.
In Calgary, perhaps my favorite sandwich on the NHL circuit is just down the street. It's a spot called Meat & Bread (my counterpart in Carolina is also a huge fan), and although there are a few different locations in other Canadian NHL cities as well, it's always the top lunch option for me in Calgary.
One meatball sandwich later, I went back down the same block I came from to make a visit to the Calgary Tower. Built in the late 1960s, the tower is the best way to get a full 360-degree view of the city. I had visited once before a few seasons ago, but the opportunity presented itself once more, and I wasn't about to pass up the chance to go stand on the glass floor again.
Calgary isn't a place for the faint of heart when it comes to heights, as you'll also see tomorrow when we head upstairs at the Saddledome. The glass floor in the tower doesn't bother me too much, however, and it makes for a great photo too - just don't look down for too long!
Game day in Calgary brought about the usual routine on the road - take the bus to the rink at 10 a.m. local time for an 11:30 a.m. morning skate. This time, it was a quick jaunt over to the Scotiabank Saddledome situated at Stampede Park where the famous Calgary Stampede is held every year.
The Saddledome is the oldest building in the League, and while it may not have the modern amenities many of the newer rinks around the continent have, there's still something about the older arenas - that nostalgic, old-school feel, if you will.
One of those features comes in the form of the press box, more of a catwalk situated high about the ice in the rafters of the building. And remember the glass floor from Wednesday at the Calgary Tower? As far as I'm concerned, this is even more of a leg-wobbler.
Writers and reporters typically sit on one side of the press box in Calgary, while the television and radio broadcast booths are on the other. It's not a necessity, but the quickest and most efficient way to get from one side to the other is straight across the ice, right over the scoreboard.
Of course, it's perfectly safe to do so, but the view is really something. I almost feel like it's a rite of passage when covering a game in Calgary - you have to make the trek.
Once I took the latest test with my fear of heights, joined the first segment of the Predators pregame show on 102.5 The Game and the Preds Radio Network and had a couple of hot dogs courtesy of the Voice of the Preds, Pete Weber, the puck dropped in Game Two of the trip.
A couple of hours and three Nashville goals later, the Predators had another win, this time a 3-2 victory over the Flames. Seemingly just as quickly as we arrived, bags were packed in a jovial locker room, and we headed north in the province of Alberta, this time to Edmonton…
When it comes to the NHL circuit, you won't find a city further north than Edmonton - and it showed the last time we were there. The Preds made a stop back in the middle of January, and the temperatures hovered around -35 degrees fahrenheit for most of the trip. Even that was unseasonably cold for that part of the world, but the approximately 50- to 60-degree improvement this time around was more than welcome.
However, the cold isn't necessarily a huge issue in Edmonton, thanks to the new setup downtown in the Ice District. That's where the new home of the Oilers, Rogers Place, is located, and it also happens to connect via skybridge to a new hotel where we stay, so you don't ever have to go outside if you don't want to. There are plenty of dining options as well, so it really is possible to leave your winter coat behind for a couple of days if you so choose.
Friday was a practice day, and the Predators took to the ice at the smaller rink located inside Rogers Place, an ideal option when the larger ice sheet is in use. After I put the finishing touches on a story featuring Preds defenseman Jarred Tinordi and his father, former NHL blueliner Mark, it was down to the locker room for a conversation with Colin Blackwell.
I chatted with the forward for the latest edition of the Preds Official Podcast and discussed his first NHL goal, his time at Harvard and what shows he's been binge-watching, among other topics, all ahead of game No. 3 of the trip on Saturday.
Because of Saturday's 5 p.m. local start in Edmonton, the Predators elected not to hold a morning skate, instead opting for a team meeting in the morning. With all the media availability taken care of on Friday, this allowed me some extra time for a longer workout before settling in to enjoy Hockey Day in Canada coverage for a couple of hours.
An annual tradition in a country where hockey is king, Hockey Day in Canada is shown on CBC and Rogers Sportsnet and features all seven Candian NHL teams in action over the course of the day. This year's coverage was based in Yellowknife, the capital city of Canada's Northwest Territories, way further north than Edmonton.
Now, I'm not Canadian, and maybe it's the hockey nerd in me, but there's just something about being in Canada and watching Hockey Day in Canada a few hours before going to cover another game that was about to be shown on the same coverage. Ask any Canadian player in the NHL, and they'll all tell you the same thing - watching Hockey Night in Canada on a Saturday night is simply what you do in this country - and being a participant now is special.
Although Saturday's date with the Oilers didn't go Nashville's way, there was still plenty to like about the performance, and after everything was packed up once more, it was off to British Columbia and quite possibly the best road city in the NHL.