The GNASH playoffs begin on Monday. For the next few days, Michael Hackney, who has broadcast GNASH (Greater Nashville Scholastic Hockey) games for his own company, the Middle Tennessee Sports Network, since 2009, will contribute articles to Penalty Box Radio about the history of the GNASH playoffs, plus odd trends. He will provide a playoff preview on Sunday. The Middle Tennessee Sports Network is online at MTSNOnline.com. From there, you can find the network’s Twitter and Facebook accounts through the “Connect” page.
ashton-remax_NEWWhen the Predators Cup began in 2000, it was a true state tournament, pitting teams from Nashville against teams from Knoxville and Memphis. Nashville would send four teams – typically, the regular season champions, and the three highest-finishing teams from the GNASH Cup tournament who already didn’t have a berth – while Memphis and Knoxville would each send two.

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For the first six years of the tournament’s existence – 2000 to 2005 – the Predators Cup was evenly shared between Nashville and Memphis: the Memphis Metro Warriors, a supplemental team (supplemental teams being made up of players from more than two schools), won the inaugural edition in 2000, with Houston and Collierville winning the tournament in 2004 and 2005, respectively. In the three years between the triumphs for the Metro Warriors and Houston, 2001 to 2003, the trophy was won by Centennial (2001), then passed on to Brentwood (2002), and then onto the greatest co-op in the history of Tennessee high school hockey, Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central (2003).

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In 2006, though, everything changed. The tournament was set to be played in mid-March, its usual date. But the Nashville teams who qualified wanted the dates changed, because it interfered with their Spring breaks. The Predators, however, declined this request, leading to the Nashville teams boycotting the tournament altogether. The 2006 Predators Cup was then cancelled (the Predators Cup page on the Preds’ website lists Ravenwood at the 2006 Preds Cup champions, but how can you crown a champion for a tournament that didn’t take place?).

The tournament resumed as normal in 2007, but it quickly began tilting in the direction of the Nashville teams. Pope John Paul II won the tournament in both ‘07 and 2008, becoming its first two-time champions, let alone the first team to win it back-to-back (they were also the first private school to win the Preds Cup). Father Ryan then made it a three-year stretch of private school champions, claiming the title in 2009.

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Then, came the 2010 edition.

The 2010 Predators Cup was the first one I ever broadcast. It’s the one I remember the most, because it was played over one weekend at A-Game Sportsplex (RIP), instead of being spread out over two or three weeks, as it is today. Instead of eight teams, there were six: four from Nashville (regular season champs Pope John Paul II, plus the top three finishers from the GNASH Cup – Ravenwood, the champs; runners-up Centennial; and third-place Brentwood), one from Memphis (Christian Brothers), and one from Knoxville (one of their supplemental teams, the Warriors). The six teams were split into two pools of three: Ravenwood, Brentwood, and Christian Brothers in one, Centennial, Pope John Paul II and the Knoxville Warriors in the other. Instead of the teams playing the ones in their own pool, they’d play the ones in the other pool. The teams with the two best records at the end of pool play, regardless of which pool they were in, would advance to the Sunday final.

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The tournament began with another classic between Ravenwood and Centennial, as the two teams skated to a 2-2 draw. Then, Brentwood and JPII ended in a tie, but I can’t remember the score. Then, it was time for the outsiders to play. The early scouting report on the Warriors was…not great. And in the game with Christian Brothers, it showed, as the Purple Wave dominated, winning 10-2.

Saturday morning quickly came around. Ravenwood beat JPII (I think 3-1 was the final score, but I’m not sure) in a game that started nearly an hour after it was supposed to, thanks to early-morning pool play games in the Country & Western tournament going long. With that done, I made my way over to Rink 2, where Kevin Whitmire was calling the other two games. His first game, Centennial vs. Christian Brothers, had already finished, with Centennial winning dominantly 10-0, showing that, despite clobbering the Warriors the night before, the Purple Wave were no match for Nashville’s best.
That left Brentwood versus the Warriors, which was going the way everyone expected, the Bruins dominating easily. With about four-and-a-half minutes left in the game, Brentwood scored the final goal to seal up a 10-0 win. I looked over to Kevin as he was about to toss to a break, when suddenly, his eyes rose, and the tone of his voice changed.
“Oh, and we’ve got fighting going on!”

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I looked back at the ice, and sure enough, players had dropped their gloves, ready to go, only for officials and both coaching staffs to quickly defuse the matter before it got out of control. The ruckus started when Brentwood’s first player in the handshake line decided to make a smart remark to Knoxville’s poor goalie about his team’s performance. This understandably angered the young man, but wanting to settle it with his fists probably wasn’t the best idea. Both teams would have players suspended for their remaining pool play games (Brentwood against Centennial, and the Warriors against Ravenwood).

I knew that there was no way the Warriors would play Ravenwood after that. I was proven right. They forfeited, and the Raptors, with two wins and one draw, locked up the first spot in the Sunday championship. JPII and Christian Brothers then took to the ice for what would be the two teams’ tournament finale. The Knights won 7-2, but the game ended with two players throwing punches at the final buzzer. The stage was cleared for Brentwood-Centennial, with the winner getting the other spot in the Sunday final. Centennial, taking advantage of Brentwood being shorthanded because of suspensions, won the game, setting up yet another postseason meeting between they and Ravenwood.
The 2010 Predators Cup Final between Ravenwood and Centennial was one of the tournament’s greatest. Tied at 1 after regulation, a single overtime period still wasn’t enough to separate both teams. After a shootout that needed six rounds, Ravenwood finally prevailed to claim their first Preds Cup title.
In the wake of a classic tournament, the Memphis and Knoxville leagues came to an unwanted conclusion: their teams had lost ground to the ones in Nashville, and the gap was only growing wider. It didn’t help that the Memphis area was down to one sheet of ice, one having closed a few months earlier. Not wanting to suffer any more humiliation, the two leagues decided to stop sending teams to the Predators Cup. They haven’t returned.
Not wanting the tournament to die, the Predators gave full control of the Predators Cup to GNASH for the 2010-11 season; they’ve had control ever since. That same season, GNASH began awarding the GNASH Cup to the regular season champions; previously, the regular season champs only got a Preds Cup berth. Now, they get a trophy.
In 2012, the Memphis and Knoxville leagues got together to begin their own state tournament, the Blue Division State Tournament. GNASH would send a team or two, usually teams that finished mid-pack. In 2014, Pope John Paul II won this tournament, defeating Franklin-Oakland in an all-GNASH final. I don’t think the tournament still exists.
Will Knoxville and Memphis ever return to the Predators Cup? I don’t know. I don’t see it happening any time soon. Maybe with the Predators’ continued excellent play inspiring more and more kids to try the game, maybe we will get to a point where the Preds Cup returns to being a state tournament in the purest sense.
Until then, Nashville will continue to own the tournament.

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