By C-Murder (Puck Correspondent)
HOCKEY IS BACK! We’re over a week in to the 2017-2018 NHL season and like countless other fans, I feel an obligation to announce to anyone and everyone who will listen that HOCKEY IS BACK!
This is important shit, like a public service announcement or an amber alert. ALL CAPS, exclamation point, “Hockey’s back” gets you put into the boards. This isn’t summer league with the boys back home. This is the fuckin NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, and its fuckin back! Fuckin.
I work in sales so I’m sort of obligated to spend my time talking to clients and prospects. I don’t usually mix business with pleasure but I spent most of my morning “call block” last Wednesday looking through my contacts to find the 3 or 4 guys I’d noted as fellow fans. I drank about 5 “sodas” last night while watching the boys pick up 2 points (no big deal), so writing emails with the subject line reading, “HOCKEY IS BACK!” seemed like a better idea than making any attempt at talking on the phone.
Sure enough, the one reply I received came from a Canadian. He has high hopes for the Leafs this year but doesn’t want to jinx them. As for business, he recently parted ways with the company I was targeting. What the hell am I supposed to do with that, Karl?
As the clock pushes 10:45, it’s probably still mid-morning technically, but I’ve convinced myself that its close enough to lunchtime to justify setting work aside for 45 minutes or so to put together some thoughts on the upcoming season. My buddy has a blog with a lot of sports content but the site has been in desperate need of some hockey. I decided a couple weeks ago that I owe it to the game and to myself to head man the attack.
I’m a lifelong Predators fan…even during the first 10 years of my life when the franchise didn’t exist I could feel fang fingers forming somewhere deep inside of me (some might say having fingers deep inside of me as a child made me who I am today). Last season was easily the best in franchise history but, for me at least, it was the toughest to let go of and move on from. I had a breakthrough in group recently and am trying to move on so we won’t get into that.
Actually, you know what? Maybe we will. Just for a second though – a quick toast, not a full-blown eulogy. The ’16-’17 Preds were a team of destiny. Sure, they barely made the playoffs, but they swept the Blackhawks in the first round, went on to beat the Blues, and then roasted the Ducks like it was being broadcasted on Food Network instead of Fox Sports Tennessee. The Predators, with Captain Mike Fisher in what would be his final series before huntin, fishin, and lovin Carrie Underwood everyday of retirement, would face off with Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup Champions – the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was a hard-fought, evenly matched series until the ref robbed Colton Sissons of the opening goal of Game 6. He should have swallowed his fucking whistle instead of blowing it and waving off a clear indisputable goal. I was in the building. I saw it happen. And it was wrong. We got jobbed. The Preds kept it close all series but goals in the Stanley Cup are like precious artifacts that you’d go to the ends of the Earth to get. You can’t go pick up another one at IKEA like it’s nothing because some dick in a striped shirt thought he saw it first. It was more than the Predators could overcome.
Former Pred, Patric Hornqvist AKA Horny scored the game winner late in the third and Carl Hagelin put in an empty netter to twist the dagger. Imagine the feeling of dropping $700 for a nosebleed seat and then having to watch Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin team your girlfriend in your own bed raise the cup on your own ice.
Speaking of nosebleeds, one of my favorite moments of that playoff run came when Ryan Johansen joined his teammates on the bench to celebrate the Western Conference crown. Sidelined by a season ending injury earlier in the series, Johansen had been watching from a box seat but hobbled down to the bench to high five and hug his teammates after the win. As James “The Real Deal” Neal approached, Johansen’s face lit up, the crazy eyes came out, and he gave the old nostril double tap to indicate how they’d be celebrating later.
After 6 games of watching blue lines and spraying ice, it was time to snort some snow. Now I’m not a huge coke guy but I did go to college and I’ve spent a couple long weekends in Vegas. There’s no better moment or connection between bros than ones when you don’t even need words. A look and a tap of the finger, a nod and a wink is all that’s required for a non-verbal discussion of the weather and agreement that snow was in the immediate forecast. That kind of continuity is what makes bros for life and turns out it makes for some great chemistry on the ice.
Speaking of James Neal, holy fuck he’s off to a hot start. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person who felt kinda sorry for the guy when he was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last offseason. Neal started his career with the Stars, was traded to Pittsburgh 2 years after they won the cup in 2009, and then he was traded to the Predators 2 years before the Pens won it again in 2016. In 2017 Neal had the opportunity to beat the team that had traded him away – talk about retribution (and another reason to do lots of drugs). But it wasn’t in the cards as the Preds came up just short in case I hadn’t mentioned it.
Heart breaking? Absolutely. But knowing you’d have a shot to be back next year was enough to get you through. Until you get drafted to a brand-new expansion team. That’s gotta suck, right? It took Nashville 20 years to raise their first banner. They still don’t have a cup, but they were right there and so was Neal. But before he could say “Lord Stanley” he was on the next plane to fucking Nevada so he might as well go ahead and kiss his dreams of raising the Cup goodbye… NOT SO FAST! The Knights are 3-0-0, Neal is tied for 2nd in the league with 5 goals, and he already has 2 game winners. Talk about “The Real Deal”. What a beaut. He’s an all-around playmaker who outhustles most Vegas strippers (not talking about you, Lexie). He’s got a wrist shot that spins thin mints faster than a girl scout in front of Costco. Can’t feel too sorry for him.
I do feel sorry for the people of Las Vegas though. I’m glad James Neal has gotten their team off to a hot start. I think NHL hockey has been able to galvanize a community that needs something positive. Hats off to the Arizona Coyotes as well who stayed on the ice with the Knights to salute the Vegas fans after getting creamed in their first home game.
Speaking of Arizona and beauts with sick shots, Auston Matthews is a name we’re going to be hearing for a long time. If you’re not familiar, he grew up in Arizona and was selected first overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2016 draft. He scored 4 goals in his first NHL game as a rookie last year… that’s insane. He scored in his first game this season and had a highlight real OT winner a couple games later. In equally impressive fashion, he took on Barstool El Presidente, Dave Portnoy in a goalie challenge. Even watching this guy rip tennis balls in street clothes is enough to make me drool.
The full video isn’t all that special but don’t let that stop you from checking this next one out. That’s enough for now. We’ve got a long season ahead of us and you’ll be hearing from me again soon.
Until next time, stay out of the box and keep ripping the snip shows. Tendas ain’t got nuttin.