As the Nashville Predators near the midway point of their fourth season, the team’s well publicized plan to develop talent primarily from within their organization continues to show results. While it’s too early to tell whether they’ll reach their stated goal of making the playoffs this season, former draft picks David Legwand, Scott Hartnell and Martin Erat are maturing nicely as National Hockey League players and putting up promising numbers that bode well for the franchise’s future.
The citizens of Nashville have shown keen development over those four years tooas fans of a sport once considered foreign to the South. We asked a few of the Preds to comment on finer points of the game that are frequently unnoticed or misunderstood by new fans.
Most teams have an “enforcer” to prevent opponents from roughing up the smaller finesse players. Is there a fighting etiquette among these role players?
“There’s certainly a code of conduct,” says left wing Stu Grimson, a veteran whose skills with his fists have earned him the nickname “The Grim Reaper.” “You don’t take advantage of each otherdon’t hit anyone when they’re down or hurt. When you fight, you square off and conduct yourself in a fair manner. For the most part, the guys that do what we do for a living buy into that.”
As far as what percentage of fights are premeditated vs. spontaneous, Grimson adds, “Half the time guys are intentionally going out to start something. The other half start in the heat of the moment.”
Offensive players who station themselves in front of the opposing goal often take quite a beating from defensemen trying to move them or at least keep them off balance. How much can a defenseman get away with in this situation before drawing a penalty?
“It depends on how the game has progressed, on how many penalties have been called at that point and it sometimes depends on the ref,” says defenseman Cale Hulse. “If you’ve said something to the ref early or give him a reason to be looking to call a penalty, you can’t get away with as much. But if our team has just killed off one or two penalties, then you can get away with a little bit more. You’ve got to read the situation.”
As far as the techniques used, Hulse says the preferred target areas for encouraging an opposing player to move from in front of the goalie’s crease are the “lower back and around the feetwherever there’s no padding. Behind the legs, low back, inside the arms, wrists. But with two refs out there, it’s tougher than it used to be to get away with stuff like that.”
Each NHL team has a captain and two alternate captains (designated on their jerseys by the letters “C” and “A” respectively). What are the responsibilities involved with these positions both on and off the ice?
“You’re the intermediary between the players and the coach,” says Tom Fitzgerald, right wing and team captain. He adds that on the ice, the captain and alternates are permitted to discuss any questions relating to interpretation of rules with the referees during a game. “I try to go over and be politically correct and ask, 'What did you see?’ or 'Why didn’t you see that?’ or 'Can you be aware that [the opposing team] seems to be cheating on the line changes?’ You always want to protect your team.”
Often when an altercation or “scrum” breaks out after the whistle in one end of the rink, fans might notice defensemen remaining near the blue line rather than skating in and helping out their teammates. Rule 54 (m) requires the two defensemen to remain beyond the face-off circles or else the ensuing face-off will come outside the offensive zone. What’s the rule of thumb among players for deciding whether to break this rule in such a situation?
“It depends on who they’re going after or what’s happening,” says Hulse. “If they’re just pushing and shoving, they can sort it out themselves. But if someone’s trying to jump somebody or if it’s one of our littler guys or one of our best players, then you’ve got to get in there, because you’ve got to show the other team they’re not going to be able to get away with that.”
Off the ice, do Predator rookies have to endure any initiation or hazing at the hands of the veteran players?
“There’s no hazing,” says Fitzgerald. “What we do instead is have a rookie meal, where we go out to a five-star restaurant and do it up. Bottles and bottles of wine, alcohol, food, lobsters, you name it. The bill gets pretty outrageous, and they all split it up as rookies. It’s a pretty good penny.”
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