This Week In The 'Drome : A new enemy, March's mambo, a change for the better in blue and more ...
Cliff Barnes v. Juliette Barnes : It was a tough week for the people of Dallas, what with the funeral of their greatest citizen and all.
And it sure didn't help that their local hockey team gave up four goals to the high-flying Nashville offense while scoring a grand total of zero. No wounds were salved in giving up a penalty-shot goal to Rich "100 Percent No Lie" Clune. (Do your research on the Internet, by the way, and you'll find that Clune has a great story to tell as well as a brother down at Sewanee.) It probably didn't feel too good for Dallasites to watch one of their stars get pummeled by a guy who spent the lockout caddying his wife's purse.
The Predators and Stars have played two very entertaining, very pugnacious games this season which portends well for a rivalry that will take on new life when they are in the same division after realignment starting next year. Nashville will be looking for someone to replace Detroit — who never really considered Nashville much of a rival quite frankly and will be going to the Eastern Conference in any event. Anaheim was a nasty foe for awhile, but it faded away. For their part, Dallas has never really had a natural rival of their own, having been foisted into the Pacific Division for reasons passing understanding
And Nashville and Dallas make a lot of sense. While Tennesseans fought valiantly for Texas' independence, Texans act as if their state was independent from Time Immemorial and they only joined the U.S. because the latter needed them. And who can forget Haven Hamilton imploring the good people of Nashville to remember they are better than the folks of Big D?
And of course, there are our respective primetime dramas — the Barnes Fight, as noted by On The Forecheck's Dirk Hoag.
All those artificial constructs aside, the hockey games have been good with lots of built-up bad blood boiling already.
The Stars make a trip to Nashville April 12 and if the first two games were any indication, it'll be a nasty prologue to a long-term rivalry.
The Week Behind
Dancing Machines : The March fate of one Nashville team is already decided.
Belmont — in a dramatic way — won the OVC in its first year in the conference and waits for its ultimate destination in the big dance.
The Bruins get to rest easy — for mid-majors who might just have the resume to make it as an at-large, it's sweet relief to go in the normal way. Their brethren down I-24 have it tougher.
Like the Antarctic sun, MTSU shines bright from December through February. And again they did, burning through the Sun Belt in their last year in the conference. Alas, also like the Antarctic sun, the Blue Raiders disappear in March. Again, Kermit Davis' charges faded in Hot Springs, leaving the automatic conference bid to old nemesis Western Kentucky.
So now Middle waits. Before losing in the tournament, they owned the nation's longest winning streak. As the big-boy tournaments get underway, the Raiders' RPI is down in the high-20s. Their non-conference strength of schedule is in the top 10. And yet they're no shoo-in. With an identical resume in their soon-to-be conference home of C-USA, they'd likely be predicting a seed. In the Sun Belt, though, the lack of cachet means they wait until Sunday afternoon — and ponder whether to make it a public celebration.
Vandy "upset" Arkansas in their opening game in the SEC tournament and play Kentucky tonight at 6:30 (ish).
Wild Night : Most coverage of Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild will say Predators fans started booing Ryan Suter on his first shift, but it started before that.
It started when he skated for warm-ups and, by proxy, it started on the concourses of Bridgestone Arena and the concrete of Broadway, when anyone wearing Minnesota's Paula-Deen's-house-at-Christmas jersey with a 20 sewn on back was booed.
Suter didn't get a tribute video — and in hindsight, that was probably the right call. Even those of us who (rightly, it turned out) predicted throaty, lusty, continuous boos underestimated the amount of vituperation slung at Suter. Even the slightest touch pass of his stick was greeted with a Bronx cheer. And, frankly, everyone understood it.
Except him. From Cooper:
“I was just trying to get through it, trying to block it out. It’s not fun being booed. It went the whole game, too. That kind of surprised me. They’ll probably have some sore throats tomorrow.”
It's hard to understand what exactly Suter expected. As Friend of The 'Drome Ryan Lambert put it:
Should old men have wiped away tears of joy that their homegrown talent had finally cashed in and been able to buy a nice, comfortable home in the country for pretty much every member of his extended family? Should children who spent a week after the signing crying into their No. 20 Preds jerseys have gone wild at the chance to see their favorite player return to his old rink? Should drunk guys in their 30s have clapped in stoic appreciation of all he’d done to make them give a rat’s ass about this sport?
Maybe he thought they’d throw roses on the ice when he picked up an assist on Zach Parise’s goal to open the scoring, like a matador who had successfully slain the savage beast of The Pressure that comes with heading back to his old stomping grounds.
I've called for Suter to embrace the villain role before. And even now, even after hearing the hostility every time he skated on the ice, Suter still doesn't get it. He's no longer preening for our affection, but he doesn't understand why he doesn't get it by default.
After all, all he did was make the right move for him and scoop up zillions of dollars in the process. In his worldview, perhaps, that is the highest virtue — serving one's own needs and amassing the most wealth.
That, however, isn't the best way to win over those you jilted on the way.
Garbage Time : Last second dramatics at the boys' state basketball tournament. ... Vandy takes two of three in Oregon in the last weekend series before SEC play begins. ... Vancouver hit a late penalty shot and an empty netter to beat back a comeback by the Predators 7-4. ... Vandy heads for spring football looking for an answer to its quarterback question, same as it ever was.
The Titan In Winter : "There's no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once," it's said, except for snapping and plotting. Though in the case of these two marginally memorable former members of the Titans-slash-Oilers, perhaps snapping and plodding is the better method.
So congratulations to Erron Kinney, named as Mt. Juliet's first fire chief this week. Yes, fast-growing Mt. Juliet, city of nearly 25,000, long relied on its cash-strapped county government and occasionally the largesse of its far more blue-collar neighbor Lebanon for its fire protection. And also congratulations to even less memorable Oiler Rayna Stewart for being named Nashville's second most famous Rayna and football coach at Whites Creek.
Burnt Orange : It's always seemed odd to me that Doug Matthews refers to UT with the first-person pronouns on his radio stints: "we"-ing and "us"-ing all over 104.5's airwaves. Sure, he coached there, but he went to school at Vandy. He was the SEC rushing champ for the Commodores, in fact, and he treats that school with less affection than he does Oklahoma, where he never played.
In any case, the old coach is in some trouble, being sued for non-payment of more than $1.2 million in loans.
Speaking of old UT coaches, the Bucs of ETSU, located in the pirate-heavy Johnson City, want Phil Fulmer to revive their football program. Fun fact: I saw Randy Moss go for about 300 yards against ETSU in 1996. It was amazing.
Video of the Week : Sergei Kostitsyn (and his five-o'clock shadow that probably took him four months to grow) is part of the IIHF's anti-doping video.
Subtweet of the Week : This week, Beech High School running back Jalen Hurd verbally committed to UT. The only reason I mention this — since what I know or care to know about recruiting could be inscribed on the head of a pin and leave plenty of room for the angels to dance — is because it gave Vandy coach James Franklin chance for a couple of epic subtweets here and here. And then, after being accused of subtweeting (which he obviously was even if he told SBNation he wasn't), he then subtweeted the media. He's so neat.
The Week Ahead
Bullhead : If the Preds were ever going to make that big move, there's no better time than this week as they get a chance to feast on the bottom of the Western Conference.
Tonight, they square off with Calgary in a game destined to be 1-0. Probably in a shootout. Two offensively explosive teams here. Old tapes of Nashville-Calgary games have been approved for use in replacement therapy for Quaaludes addicts.
Sunday, it's a St. Patty's Day special against Edmonton, a young team who have historically given Nashville problems, but whom Nashville scored six easy ones a few weeks ago. Then it's a quick sidetrip to Columbus, where the Jackets are actually playing pretty well, as young teams will do (a streaky bunch, these young thundercats) and finally back home for another one against Calgary. After this roadtrip, 12 of the Predators' final 18 are home, which is great news.
Not Gonna Do It: The 'Drome isn't exactly scheduled to make NCAA predictions easy. We don't yet know if MTSU will be in (and technically, as of press time, Vandy is still alive). They'll announce the pairings Sunday. Maybe Belmont (and any others) will play Thursday. Or maybe Friday. Who knows? Good luck everyone.
This weekend, Vandy hosts what has become one of the better women's collegiate bowling tournaments, the Music City Classic, with 17 of the country's top 20 teams represented at the Smyrna Bowling Center.
Doing It And Doing It And Doing It Well? : If this year is truly a make-or-break, playoffs-or-bust year for the Titans coaching staff, all credit to them for making the right moves.
Signing a guard and a tight end on Day One isn't sexy by any means, but it represents a change in personnel philosophy for the Two Toners, who typically don't swim in the swirling waters of the first day of free agency, preferring to wait for the bargains later in the week.
But this year, they addressed crucial needs and maybe even overpaid a little for the services of guard Andy Levitre and tight end Delanie Walker.
But that's OK. In fact, that's what Titans fans have wanted the team to do for years. Go get who you need. Pay that man his money.
Bud Adams' weird devotion to his staff in Tennessee — a devotion he never had when the team was in Houston — bred a safe approach to free agency. Whether the bird-slinging nonagenarian has expressed the win-now mandate to Munchak, Webster, et al is unknown.
But they sure are acting like it.
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