We have all heard the cliche's about character, veteran leadership, and playing as a team versus as an individual. I will spare everyone 'most' of the cliche's, but the last 2 victories for the Predators have shown me something that I haven't seen consistantly from this team in past years.
How many times have we seen a team totally dominate the regular season only to lose in the playoffs. Pick a sport, any sport. It happens. And it happens more often then one would expect. But why does it happen? Did the Florida Marlins have more talent then the New York Yankees? NO Did Boise State have more talent then Oklahoma last year? NO. Were last years San Jose Sharks statistically better then the Nashville Predators? NO. But in all 3 cases, the leam least likely to win statistically did win. Again, WHY?
The answer is character and teamwork. And I personally think that character and teamwork carry more value in hockey then any other sport. Baseball can have a pitcher totally take over a game. Basketball can have 1 player totally take over a game. But in hockey, while individuals can lose a game, it takes a team to win the game.
I will spare anyone any grand projections about the Predators and their team chemistry turning the team into a Stanley Cup Champion. The truth of the matter is that until you hoist the cup, you can stake no claim to the cup. But something is different about this years team. And it's character. But what builds character?
Well I am pretty sure that character comes in many forms. But with regards to the Predators, I believe it comes from developing in one organization, having hungry veterans that want to prove they still belong, and having failed to achieve in the past. How did I come up with this? Take a look...
1) Development in one organization -
Up until last week, this organization has only had 1 owner. Dave Poile is the only GM the team has ever know. Barry Trotz is the only head coach the team has ever know. But its the players on the current roster who can thank the Predators for being where they are. Chris Mason, Dan Hamuis, Marek Zidlicky, Ville Koistenen, Greg Zanon, Shae Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klien, Martin Erat, Alexander Radulov, David Legwand, Jordin Tootoo, Jarrod Smithson, and Vernon Fidler are all guys who were either drafted by the Predators or saw their real playing time begin after being acquired by the Predators. All of them came up through the Preds minor league affiliate the Millwaukee Admirals. A good portion of them were on the 2004 Calder Cup Championship team. This core group of guys have been on planes, trains, and automobiles with each other for years. They have stayed in crappy hotels, carried their own luggage, and eaten in some dives along the way. They have seen guys get married, have kids, and go through all of lifes challenges. Find me another team that has so many core members home grown. Simply stated, they want the CUP and they want to earn it together. It would be the result of years of teamwork all the way from Millwaukee.
2) Hungry veterans who want to prove they still belong.
The Predators made a huge Free Agent signing at the beginning of last year and brought Jason Arnott in for a 5 year contract. Coming from Dallas, he wanted to prove he could lead a team. With Kimmo going to Philly this year, Arnott got the nod as Captain. And so far he is proving that he deserves it. He wants to lead. He wants to prove that is is worthy of this honor. He wants another CUP. Radek Bonk is a proven scorer throughout his career. Never one of the top guys, but a guy who was thought to have the potential. Sitting in Montreal the last 2 years as a defensive forward, he offensive skills were ignored. So to Nashville he came and I think every HABS fan will agree he can score after last nights game. He wants the CUP. He wants to prove he can still contribute. Matin Gelinas is in his 19th year in the league. Keep in mind that Gelinas was the infamous player to be named later in the Gretzky trade in 1988. Yes, Gelinas has been around a long time. He has nothing to prove. He isn't a Hall of Famer, but he is respected around the league and is battle tested and tough as nails. But wouldn't one more chance at the CUP be worth playing another year? And so Gelinas is playing hard, tough hockey for the Preds and hoping that he can go out with a bang. Jed Ortmeyer came to the Predators as a player looking for a chance. Sidelined with a pulmonary embolism in 2006, his recovery with the Rangers never panned out. But Ortmeyer has skated every shift with the Predators as though its his last. Considering what he has been through, you can understand why. He has earned the respect of his teammates and the fans. Woulnd't a CUP be fitting for a guy who has gone through what he has? J.P Dumont...shunned by Buffalo in an arbitration hearing, he came to Nashville. The silent one has not failed us yet. He plays hard, fast, and as a consomate teammate. He wears the A on his jersey with pride.
3) Failure in the Past
The 2003/2004 playoff run was exciting and even though the team lost to Detroit in 6 games, a milestone was achieved. The Nashville Predators 1st trip to the playoffs. But the team has been stuck on that milestone ever since. Yes, we have made the playoffs the last 2 years, and yes we have made team history along the way. Most points in team history, 1st 100 point season, Big Name Free Agents in Paul Kariya and Peter Forsburg. But we have also lost to the San Jose Sharks in both playoff runs in the 1st round. We haven't won our division yet. Quite fankly, this team is tired of just falling short.
I said at the begining that I wouldn't use cliche's. But it is often said that the best reward for losing is to continue working hard and finally overcome and WIN. Its early in the season and I won't lay claim to where the Preds will end up, but this team as mentioned above has something different then previous years. They are holding on to leads late in the game, scoring last minute goals, stealing a point when a loss was immiment. They ARE playing for the logo on their front as opposed to the name on their back and as a Preds fan, I am proud to call them OUR TEAM NASHVILLE. Go Preds