The GNASH playoffs begin on Monday. For the next few days, Michael Hackney, who has broadcast GNASH 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_NEWBy the mid-2000s, GNASH had grown to 15 teams. That number has fluctuated over the last 13 years or so, getting up to as high as 20 teams for the 2007-08 season. Last year saw 18 teams playing GNASH hockey; it shrunk to 15 for this season.

Back in the mid-2000s, there was only one trophy to play for: the GNASH Cup. The tournament was inclusive: everyone, no matter where they finished in the regular season, got to take part. But it was obvious that not everyone was good enough to win the league championship, or get to the final four, and have a shot at playing in the Predators Cup.

So, for the aforementioned 2007-08 season, GNASH decided to create a new postseason tournament for the teams in the middle of the pack and lower to play for. The trophy was named after Henry Hine, a Brentwood pharmacist and GNASH co-founder. Hine is the one who came up with the league’s name: Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey. He used to present the trophy to the tournament winners, but hasn’t done it in a few years.

The Hine Cup’s format has never been consistent. It’s gone back-and-forth from single-elimination to double-elimination to pool play into a championship game (it‘s mostly been single-elimination, though). No matter the format, the Hine Cup Final has, historically, been a very good game. In fact, I’d call one Hine Cup Final the best GNASH game ever.

The first Hine Cup tournament in 2008 was a simple, single-elimination affair that featured eight teams. In the end, it was Franklin defeating the old Hillsboro-Hillwood co-op 3-1 in the championship game.

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The 2009 tournament switched to a double-elimination format. After three weeks of play among six teams, two former co-ops, Ravenwood-Brentwood (which was basically a combined JV team for both schools’ separate varsity squads) and Franklin Road Academy-Christ Presbyterian Academy met in the final. The game was the first GNASH contest MTSN ever broadcast. The Woods, as they were known, won 3-1, behind a hat trick from Nathan Traczewski, who would go on to become a key member of Ravenwood’s varsity team for the next three years, helping them achieve two GNASH Cup-Preds Cup doubles in 2010 and 2012, and a runner-up finish in the Preds Cup in 2011.

For 2010, the field dropped to five teams, so, the format became pool play into a championship game. After one run through pool play, Blackman and The Woods advanced to the championship. Ravenwood-Brentwood returning to the final seemed impossible, as they had only won two games in the regular season, and both of those wins came after New Year’s Day.

This is the game I consider to be GNASH’s greatest. It was held on Rink A at Centennial Sportsplex, and for the first time, the Hine Cup and GNASH Cup Finals (the last GNASH Cup Final to date, by the way, since the GNASH Cup is now awarded to the regular season champions) would be played back-to-back.

Blackman had a 2-0 lead at one point, only for The Woods to tie the game up with around two minutes left in regulation. The game went to overtime. Back then, GNASH’s rules for championship game overtimes was simple: continuous 12-minute periods until a winner was determined.

The first overtime came with no winning goal. Same with the second overtime.

Around this time, a huge crowd started to gather around the rink, as people were filing in to the GNASH Cup Final between Centennial and Ravenwood. Meanwhile, the shape of the ice was getting worse; the last time the Zamboni had cleaned the ice was before pre-game warm-ups. I later found out that if the third overtime came and went without a goal scored, they would’ve likely pulled both teams off the ice for a resurfacing.

However, Andrew Falls stepped up early in the third overtime, racing to the Blackman net, and burying the puck to give Ravenwood-Brentwood their second straight Hine Cup, making them the trophy’s first two-time winners in just its third year of existence.

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Falls’s goal was The Woods’ last moment in GNASH. The co-op dissolved during the offseason, and never returned. Falls was promoted to Brentwood’s varsity team for the 2010-11 season, where the Bruins achieved their own GNASH Cup-Preds Cup double. Two years later, along came his younger brother Daniel, who would play in goal for the Bruins, backstopping them to two more GNASH Cups in 2014 and 2015, and another Preds Cup in the latter year. Daniel Falls is, for me, the best goalie GNASH ever had.

Anyway, back on topic. For 2011, the Hine Cup returned to single-elimination, and would stay on this format for the next three years. Seven teams took part. Franklin, the top seed, were the heavy favorites. However, as the regular season drew to a close, Franklin Road Academy-University School of Nashville began to get hot. On the final night of the regular season, the two teams skated to a 4-4 tie.

Two weeks later, on Groundhog Day no less, the two teams met again with the Hine Cup at stake (this is the earliest a GNASH tournament has ever finished; the Preds Cup for 2011, which was the first since GNASH was given full control of the tournament, took until the end of February). The two teams were tied at 2 after 2 periods. With 3:35 left in regulation, Scot Ware scored his second goal of the game on a power play to give the Rebels a 3-2 lead. With 50 seconds left, though, there would be a faceoff in the Franklin zone. FRA-USN called their time out to draw up a play. Whatever head coach Mike Mykeloff drew up worked to perfection, as Jake Wallstedt scored to force OT.

This time, there would be no continuous OTs. It would be one 14-minute period (periods in GNASH games are 14 minutes), followed by a shootout. In the overtime, FRA-USN’s most dangerous player, Charles Rubinowicz, ended up on a breakaway, only for Franklin’s Zach Wright to try and disrupt by throwing his stick at Rubinowicz. The referee saw this, and gave FRA-USN a choice: a power play or a penalty shot. Well, since one goal would win the game, Coach Mykeloff chose the penalty shot, and picked Rubinowicz to take it. Rubinowicz scored, giving the Panthers the Hine Cup, and leaving Franklin empty-handed, when everyone thought that they would be the ones lifting the Hine Cup for a second time.

The 2012 Hine Cup Final saw FRA-USN return, this time against the old Independence-Page co-op. Indy-Page’s 2011-12 season was a wild one. Both of their goalies – a brother-sister tandem – left the team at the Thanksgiving break, leaving them without a netminder. However, GNASH introduced a unique new feature for this season: the goalie pool. If a team needed a goalie for a game, the league would reach out to teams that had more than two goaltenders, to see if a third- or fourth-stringer would like to play for them. For every game except one post-Thanksgiving, the Eagles would use the same goalie: Michael Butera from Hendersonville.

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Butera was a fantastic goalie, and the play of the guys in front of him greatly improved, putting them in position to end the season with a trophy.

For the first two periods of the final, Indy-Page dominated, leading 3-0 after 28 minutes. But FRA-USN refused to back down. The Panthers started the third with a 5-on-3. It took just 56 seconds for Rubinowicz to put them on the board. 34 seconds later, Chandler Premo brought them to within one. Indy-Page sustained the pressure, but with 39 seconds left, on the power play and with the goalie pulled, Rubinowicz tied the game, forcing the Hine Cup Final to go to overtime for a third straight year! In overtime, Rubinowicz put on his superhero cape once more, racing down the Indy slot, and sending the puck past Butera’s stick side into the back of the net, completing a hat trick, and adding to his legend.

The 2013 Hine Cup Final was the first one that didn’t contain any drama. To everyone’s surprise, Montgomery Bell found themselves in the lower division. But they were still better than the other teams they were playing alongside, and they easily cruised into the final. FRA-USN returned, looking for a three-peat, but the depth of the Big Red overwhelmed them, and MBA cruised to a 7-2 win. The highlight, though, came from the losing side: both of the Panthers’ goals were scored by Logan Orem, son of Brentwood head coach Chris Orem, and later a Junior Predator. Orem’s second goal came just 51 seconds into the second. He cranked a slapshot from the red line; the puck stayed on the ice, and blazed through the legs of MBA goalie Jack Coyle.

This Hine Cup win kick-started a golden era for the Big Red that continues today, as MBA went on to win back-to-back GNASH Cups in 2016 and 2017, and making three straight Preds Cup Final appearances from 2015 to 2017 (losing every time, unfortunately). The Hine Cup win also made MBA the last of GNASH’s Original Four from the inaugural season in 1999-2000 to win a league-sanction tournament (the other three charter members of GNASH are Brentwood, Centennial, and Mt. Juliet).

2014 saw a return to double-elimination, and the return of GNASH’s greatest-ever co-op, Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central, who, in their first incarnation, won three GNASH Cups (becoming the trophy’s first three-time winners) and one Preds Cup. Their first season back saw them relegated to the second-tier tournament, but they had a chance to make history. More on that in a second.

The big favorites to win this Hine Cup were the new supplemental team, the Tennessee Outlaws, who were full of great travel players like Russell Morris and Will Radcliff. The Outlaws and Mt. Juliet both ended up in the losers’ bracket, and ended up meeting in the Losers’ Bracket Semifinal, both teams two steps away from playing in the championship game. Mt. Juliet jumped out to a 2-0 lead early on, only for the Outlaws to quickly level things up. However, Mt. Juliet head coach Keith Grooms then asked the officials to measure the stick of Outlaws goalie Trey Dill. It was found to be too long, and Dill had to leave the ice to find a suitable stick. His backup, Jackson Brown, came in, and Mt. Juliet rattled off four consecutive goals, eventually winning 7-5. After dispatching Station Camp-Beech in the Losers’ Bracket Final two nights later, the Golden Bears found themselves in the Hine Cup Final just less than 24 hours later at Bridgestone Arena. Their opponent? FRA, now co-oping with Lipscomb.

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This Hine Cup Final made history for an unusual reason: It was the first time ever that the tournament’s decider closed a GNASH season, instead of the GNASH Cup Final (until the GNASH Cup tournament ceased to exist after 2010) or the Preds Cup Final. You see, the Preds decided to have the Preds Cup Final between Brentwood and Centennial (which was a classic, by the way, Centennial winning in overtime 2-1) immediately follow a game against the Winnipeg Jets, then the Hine Cup Final would come after.

While it didn’t go to overtime, the Hine Cup Final has its own drama. Goalless after two periods, all three of the game’s goals were scored in a span of 4 minutes and 4 seconds. Rutger Reitmaier put FRA-Lipscomb in front with 8:34 remaining. 3:04 later, Cade Crosslin tipped a Sam Penland shot into the net to tie the game at one. Exactly one minute later, Dillon Massia ripped a one-timer past FRA goalie Christian Smead-Williamson to give Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central the lead with 4:30 to go. Unfortunately, with 26 seconds remaining, Mt. Juliet’s Chase Perkins was injured after being pushed into the curved glass on the right-hand side of the bench the Predators use for their home games. He was transported to a nearby hospital via an ambulance, but later released. After a long delay, play finally resumed, with the final 26 seconds ticking down to zero, allowing Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central to celebrate.

As for the history they made? Well, Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central became the first team in GNASH history to have won the GNASH, Preds, and Hine Cups. Only one team has matched this feat since.

2015 saw double-elimination stay, but with a twist: if the team that came from the losers’ bracket beat the team that came from the winners’ bracket in the championship, a second, winner-take-all championship game would have to be played, just like Tennessee’s high school softball state tournaments (this rule was also in place for the Preds Cup in 2015). Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central returned to the final, this time joined by Franklin-Oakland. The Rebels would have to win the first championship game at Bridgestone Arena to force the second. And that’s exactly what they did, with Dylan Lee scoring the game’s only goal with just 3:29 left in regulation.

17 days later (yep, you read that right; 17 days between the first championship game and the if necessary game), the two teams met again at Ford Ice Center. Mt. Juliet led 1-0 after the first, but Dylan Lee tied things up 13 seconds into the second. However, the Golden Bears took control of the game, scoring three goals in the second to lead 4-1 after two. Murphy Smith brought Franklin-Oakland back within two nearly three minutes into the third, but the rough play would later reach a boiling point, a big hit causing a fight at the Franklin bench (Smith, who was serving a penalty, actually jumped out of the penalty box to join in; instead of being kicked out, like he should’ve been, the refs told him to get back into the box). Brenden Bristow added a power play goal with three minutes left to give Mt. Juliet a 5-2 win. In just eight years of existence, the Hine Cup had now been won twice by three separate teams.

2016 saw a return to the pool play into a championship game format, with four teams taking part. At the end of pool play, Pope John Paul II were unbeaten, with Franklin, once again playing as a scholastic team, joining the Knights in the final. After a scoreless first period, Clay Nieman, son of then-JPII head coach Pete Nieman, put the Knights up 1-0 with 72 seconds left in the second. Ryan Staggs and Alex Harness chipped in the other two goals in the third, and Pope John Paul II won 3-0, becoming the second team in GNASH history to have won the GNASH, Predators, and Hine Cups.

2017 saw the tournament return to single-elimination, with a twist. As mentioned at the start of this article, 18 teams took part in the 2016-17 GNASH season: 12 in the Gold Tier, 6 in the Blue. All 12 Gold Tier teams were placed in the Preds Cup, joined by the Blue Tier’s Top 2 finishers (JPII and Hendersonville-Beech, in this case). The other four teams from the Blue Tier were placed into the Hine Cup to start the playoffs. The losing teams from the first round of the Preds Cup were then dropped into the Hine Cup, with no further drops from above. Teams that lost in the Hine Cup through the quarterfinals were then dropped into the short-lived third-tier tournament, the Mielnik Cup, which was only played in 2016 and 2017, and won, respectively, by Independence-Summit and the aforementioned Hendersonville-Beech.

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JPII returned to the Hine Cup Final for 2017, this time joined by Indy-Summit. Indy had beaten Lipscomb-Brentwood Academy in overtime in the semis to get to the final. It was the first GNASH playoff game to use the 3-on-3 format. In another Hine Cup Final thriller, JPII led 2-1 after two periods, only for Gary Hix III to tie the game up at 2 just 38 seconds into the third, and Zach Householder to score the game winner with 2:24 remaining in regulation. In winning the Hine Cup, Indy-Summit made their own history: having won the Mielnik Cup the year before, they became the first team in GNASH history to win one playoff tournament one year, and a different one the next.

For 2018, the drop-down format will return. The seven teams that lose in the first round of the Preds Cup will be dropped into the Hine Cup; this time, though, the four Preds Cup quarterfinal losers will be dropped in, as well, a change from last year’s format, where, once you advanced to the Preds Cup quarterfinals, there was no more dropping. It was win, or go home.

This year’s Hine Cup promises to be exciting. I can think of at least seven teams who can win it (more on that in my playoff preview on Sunday).

Sadly, I won’t be able to broadcast the final this year on March 2, as I’ll be in Philadelphia broadcasting the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association Regional Championships, but you should definitely be heading to Ford Ice Center to catch the Hine Cup Final. It’s almost always an exciting game, and this year should be no different. The game will be at 8 PM on the North Rink, and the best part? Admission is free!

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