From Zach Gilchriest @ZachGilchriest / Digital Specialist (NHL.com/Predators)
If you’ve been counting the days until Predators hockey returns to Bridgestone Arena, know that inside the Nashville locker room, the feeling is mutual.
With over a month to go until Training Camp and another before the start of the regular season, a core group of Nashville players – Preds Captain Roman Josi among them – have already taken it upon themselves to return to the ice in preparation for the new campaign.
“Nashville is such a great place to live and spend time, and it’s great even in the offseason to have a good chunk of us that live here and spend our offseasons here as well,” forward Ryan Johansen said. “We’re all out here working together and making each other better and just preparing ourselves for the season – it makes it fun coming in here and putting in the work together.”
“I think it just shows how dedicated these guys are and how bad they want to win,” defenseman Dante Fabbro said. “I think the earlier you can get everyone together and bonding again… It just sends a great message to the rest of the organization to show how dedicated we are and how willing we are to get everything started off on the right foot.”
While offseason training at its core provides players the opportunity to work on skills and get in shape for a new season, there’s certainly more at play.
With one of the younger rosters in the NHL, veteran skaters like Colton Sissons believe showing up to work without being asked and without anyone watching sets an important example.
“No matter where you’re at in your career, we’re all still hungry here,” Sissons said. “We’re all here for one reason and that’s to try to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville one day. It doesn’t matter if you’re 33 years old and a longtime veteran or if you’re 21 and just scratching the surface of your career. We have a pretty good mindset throughout the team.”
There’s plenty of palpable excitement as well, with two major offseason acquisitions made in two-time Stanley Cup Champion Ryan McDonagh and power forward Nino Niederreiter – a former teammate of Johansen’s in the WHL.
“McDonagh speaks for himself. He’s got two Cups, he was a captain for the Rangers for a while and he’s had a tremendous career,” Johansen said. “As for Nino, we really helped each other kickstart our careers and get drafted… It was a long time ago, but there’s some history, and there was some chemistry and some success and he’s just a tremendous guy in the room and a great teammate and he’s going to fit in here really well.”
With the franchise’s leading goal-scorer Filip Forsberg locked in for another eight years as well, a weight of uncertainty also seems to have lifted.
“We’re fired up,” Sissons said. “We needed to have Fil back and we’re glad that we got it done, because he’s a special player and it wouldn’t be the same with him.”
“He’s not just a top goal-scorer for our club, he’s one of the best in the League and I’ve been lucky enough to see that since I got traded here,” Johansen said. “He’s an elite, world class athlete, a world class hockey player and we’re pumped they were able to get that done and that both sides are happy… It’s exciting knowing as his teammate that there’s even more in there and knowing how competitive he is and how he wants to do even more.”
That excitement, paired with the sting of a quick, first-round sweep at the hands of the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche in May, has the team eager for a fresh start.
“It’s embarrassing getting swept,” Johansen said. “We’re embarrassed and the bottom line is you have to find a way to be better as a club. We’ve made some additions and run in a couple of new faces and we know that we need to get better and we feel like we’re not far away. So, if we can each improve ourselves and our team game a little bit, it’ll give ourselves a better chance in the postseason to make a run for that Cup.”
Postseason performance or offseason acquisitions aside, an unwavering sense of focus on a new season is already present within the Predators locker room.
“There’s always a different vibe within the locker room and within our group than what’s said in the media and outside these walls, so I think we’re going to approach it the same way with just that dog mentality,” Sissons said. “We have some new pieces that are exciting coming in this year, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be in the playoffs. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great team. You’ve got to earn that right. And we’ve got the guys and the leadership to do that.”