A new era of hockey is finally beginning in Middle Tennessee as the Nashville Junior Predators hit the ice at home for the first time in their existence. After beginning the season on the road with three straight victories, the new team to the North American Tier III Hockey League (NA3HL) is ready to enjoy their home opener in front of fans. Head coach Karlis Zirnis, who played out his college hockey career at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), joined the team not too long ago and is excited for the opportunity to coach junior hockey.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Zirnis. “It’s perfect because I didn’t have to move away. My home is in Nashville. It works out great for everyone.”
Zirnis, who served as an assistant coach to Team Latvia in the 2014 Winter Olympics, has helped guide the Junior Predators to two victories over Topeka and one over Point Mallard. Knowing how to keep the momentum going will be important during the upcoming three-game home-stand.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard work,” said Zirnis. “These boys are dedicated to it, that’s why we’ve been successful. The boys have been contributing and dedicated to learning the systems and working hard.”
One of the important aspects of the game that Zirnis continues to work on with the team is positioning. Especially at this age, teaching the players sound positioning can contribute greatly to them finding further success in hockey when their time in the NA3HL is up.
“These guys are trying to advance to the next level,” said Zirnis. “Obviously skill is important too, but if you get called up to the next level and you’re way out of position, it doesn’t matter what your skill is, they’ll send you back down. You have to balance both of them, but you want to get everyone on the same page in the beginning.”
With a junior team now arriving in Nashville, it is further proof how much the hockey market in the Nashville area has grown. Zirnis, who has been in the area for many years, has been able to witness this growth.
“It’s just the next step for [hockey],” said Zirnis. “To see how youth hockey has developed over the years is great. It takes time and there are so many people volunteering to help with the growth of hockey. So many parents helping to do this. They deserve the pat on the back.”
As a former UAH Charger, Zirnis is well-engrained with hockey in the south. Seeing the program continue to rise will always be on his mind as they are an integral for the continued growth of the sport in the region. He understand that the success of any team in the area helps the growth of all hockey programs, and believes that UAH is on the right track.
“I try to make a couple games a year,” said Zirnis. “I talk to coaches down there that I know very well. They’re on the right path, too, with the WCHA and the recruits. They are recruiting the right people that come to the rink every day and work hard.”
The experience that Zirnis brings to the Junior Predators is tremendous. From his time playing college hockey and semi-professional in Huntsville, to coaching in the Olympics and World Championships, Zirnis is an asset to hockey in the Nashville area and it will be exciting to see the team grow.
Make sure to head out to A-Game Sportplex in Franklin, Tennessee this weekend to catch any of the three home games for the Junior Predators. Recently, we interviewed one of the owners of the Junior Predators, former Nashville Predator, JP Dumont. You can listen to the interview here. More information about the team and their schedule can be found at JuniorPredators.com.
As the official radio home of the Junior Predators, you can listen to all home game right here.