I don’t think there’s any other way to say what we’re all feeling right now…at least, not on a family-friendly environment such as this. But, as I muddle through all the superlatives, I try to match each one up with the emotions that I am sifting through.
As I quickly go through the 5 stages of grief, I quickly come right back to acceptance, followed with, “UUGGHH! They were so close!”
And they were. Despite the lopsided scores and not having an opportunity to play a deciding game 7, the Nashville Predators did everything they could…everything right in their quest for their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. As is so often the case in the Stanley Cup Final, lucky bounces here and there, a hot goaltender, and unfortunately human error (as was the case last night with Colton Sisson’s disallowed goal), the better team doesn’t always win.
Did the better team win last night? Maybe. Perhaps. I dunno. It’s hard to say who the better team is when one team outshoots, outhits, wins 60+ percent of the faceoffs and loses. I will say with absolute certainty, the Pittsburgh Penguins had the puck luck from the Hockey Gods this series. Goals scored off players in front of Pekka Rinne, a goal scored through a gap literally the size of a puck on edge between Rinne’s glove and hip and then of course last night’s early whistle. The Hockey Gods were intent on having a back-to-back champion.
I find that there’s a lot of lingering anger directed towards the NHL, not the Penguins nor the result. The league allows their “favorites” to shine while the blue-collars are forced to constantly take it on the chin. From having players’ heads rammed repeatedly into the ice, to God-awful officiating to broadcasters pushing the league’s agenda, that’s where Predators fans need to direct their ire.
The league is sitting on a gold mine. That mine is busting at the seams full of casual fans that are yearning to grasp on to this beautiful game we all love, and they are so close to pushing them away. For the first time in…well, forever, we have next year to look forward to by not having the Chicago Blackhawks rammed down our throats during an outdoor game. Yet, with the exception of the Boston Bruins, the Cup winners for the last decade have been the Penguins, Blackhawks, or the Los Angeles Kings. There is ZERO parity. Want to know the effects of not having any variety? Just look at the NBA. That product is complete garbage. To the point where one of their lead analysts in Charles Barkley couldn’t get away fast enough to watch hockey.
But last night, as the gloves flew freely and the Penguins secured their fifth title on visitor ice, I sat back just as I did 17 years ago when Jason Arnott stabbed me in the heart and defeated the Stars in six games to lift the New Jersey Devils to their last Cup. The biggest difference this time around is I have two boys who I share my love of this game with. For the first time in their lives, as much of the city of Nashville, this was their first experience with having their team in the Final. As Philip Pritchard brought the Cup out to be presented to Pittsburgh, I looked into the eyes of my oldest and I saw a disbelief that the Preds didn’t win. It was almost as if it was their right.
Perhaps he was right. After all, Nashville did all the right things.
I took the opportunity to provide a life lesson for my son. I explained that just the ability to play for the Stanley Cup should be celebrated. Before I could finish that thought, however, he looked up at me from my lap, full frown face and tears welling in his eyes. I went from sports crying (which is perfectly acceptable) to full blown ugly crying. I composed myself and continued to explain that he should allow himself to be upset over the loss, but not allow the joy and memories to be blanketed by negativity.
As we walked back to our car, serenaded by the angelic voice of Keith Urban playing in nearby Nissan Stadium, I pulled my kids over and overlooking the Cumberland that was reflecting the lights of the skyline and dancing lights from the concert, I pointed out that “this is your backyard now.” Dallas never could nor would attempt to do what Nashville succeeded in. They would fail. Miserably. Despite not winning the Stanley Cup, we were surrounded by over 100,000 incredible, passionate fans. New to the game and veteran fans with Grammy-winning singers who helped celebrate this amazing run. This is our new hockey life.
Summers will be short from here on out. Sure, the Preds have consistently made the playoffs, but never going beyond the 2nd round, and you have yourself a couple of extra weeks. But, this was months. While no one is ready to close this chapter, we have to. The next chapter starts in 6 days when, and this is one of the unfortunate aspects of the business, Nashville will see a very good player leave for Las Vegas in the expansion draft. However, in two weeks, David Poile and his scouting staff will choose the future of the team during the NHL Entry Draft to be held in Chicago. Before you know it, the prospects from Norfolk and Milwaukee will descend on Music City for Development Camp followed by training camp. Then, just when the sting of Game 6 starts to wear off, it’ll be October, the wind will have a bite to it and there will be an approximate 8′ X 5′ banner being raised right besides the No. 7 in the rafters.
It will read “Nashville Predators Western Conference Champions 2016-2017.” It will be beautiful. It will be forever. So will these past two months. New friends and dare I say, families, were created. We have become one big family and that too will be beautifully forever.
The hockey world has been put on notice. They have heard our collective, “UGH!” Soon, they will hear our “glorious” roar as we announce our return. Remember how you feel today. Embrace the feelings. What you feel is passion. That passion is contagious and will infect new fans who will become family. When the Hockey Gods see what they have created, they will say it is good, and we can say what it was like in the beginning.
This chapter is over. The new chapter begins now.