September 21, 2011
BALTIMORE — The Nashville Predators played in the inaugural The Baltimore Hockey Classic against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night; an event held to promote hockey in Baltimore, the city that once hosted an AHL team.
There are quite a few hockey fans who live in Baltimore and travel to Capitals games in Washington DC, and both the Predators and the Capitals treated Baltimoreans with some of their biggest stars: Alex Ovechkin(notes), Nicklas Backstrom(notes), Shea Weber(notes) and Pekka Rinne(notes).
The conditions of the ice surface proved to be an issue and the "Hockey Classic" turned out to be a far shot from a true hockey game, with players falling over for no apparent reason and pucks getting stuck in puddles of water. One player noted that the concrete was visible through the cracks in the ice right next to the boards. Alexander Semin(notes) told me that the ice reminded him of a worse version of the Winter Classic ice in Pittsburgh.
"The ice was, well… It was the same for both teams" Predators' goaltender Pekka Rinne told me after the game.
"On the ice like that the quality of the game was going to go down a bit, obviously. But for me personally, because it was my first game, it was just fun to be out there," he said. "But it was so hot! It was extremely hot! It was like a Finnish sauna!"
To which I replied: "You would know!"
"Yeah!" Rinne laughed, "but it was still fun to play again. We have a great mix of players here: guys from last year and a few good young guys. For our coaching staff it was a good game."
With one of the most tragic — if not the most tragic — summer for hockey virtually behind, it was just a breath of fresh air for players to get back to playing. Especially for the Nashville Predators, with the death of Wade Belak(notes) touching everyone in the locker room -- something the players are still trying to cope with it.
"With all the bad things that happened in hockey over the summer it was a different mood in the locker room when everybody got back in town," Rinne told me.
"At the same time, we could talk about things together. We are able to go through things together with your team mates. You can ask questions, and it is important. The mood, everything was way different this year. But obviously you have to stay positive. Even though it is terrible, you have to get over these things. These things make your team more united, they brings us closer together. The work now [brings] everybody in and it's great."
The Predators got off to a good start in the preseason, beating the Capitals, 2-0, in Baltimore on Tuesday night. There are real expectations for the Predators to emulate last season's success, which saw Rinne nominated for the Vezina Trophy.
"I honestly thought from the beginning it was Tim Thomas who deserved it," Rinne elaborated.
"All three of us were good enough to win it. But that guy [Thomas] deserved that trophy. He made the all time-record in save percentage and that is such a difficult thing to do. It used to be held by Dominik Hasek(notes). I am a big fan of Tim Thomas. But overall it was a cool experience, I loved it in Las Vegas and had a really good time."
Going deep into the playoffs is the Predators' ultimate goal. And as for Rinne winning the Vezina this year?
"Ha! I don't set those kind of goals for myself. But that would obviously be an ultimate good year [if I win]," he said.