I have the blues. Right now, every time I look to the right side of this page and see the section labeled SCHEDULE, I get a little misty because thanks to the NHL lockout, there isn’t a schedule. Worse, this coming weekend was supposed to be one of my personal high points of the season: Predators-Red Wings for my birthday.
December home games against the Wings aren’t on the Preds’ schedule every year, but when they are I try to go. They’ve been burned into my mind as some of the best games to take in since my earliest days as a fan. The weather was usually cold enough to justify hockey. The scrappy Preds were always the underdog in a matchup against the Wings, who were at the time the league’s powerhouse franchise. But they also showed up hungry. Detroit was the measuring stick for the Nashville franchise back then; a win against them meant more than against anybody else in the league. At the time you could count on half the crowd at those games wearing Detroit red. Transplants who cheered for the Preds in every game where they weren’t playing the Wings cheered every mistake their adopted team made and every slick play pulled off by their old hometown favorites. Any win was sweet for the emerging Predators, but a win in that kind of environment was even sweeter.
How much better were these games than all the others in the early years? Put it this way: normally $15-upper-bowl kind of guys, we would splurge and buy tickets off the scalpers to sit in the lower bowl. It’s fun to hate Chris Chelios from pretty much anywhere, but it’s a blastwhen you get to do it sitting next to the Detroit penalty box.
Two games from that era stand out in particular:
On December 29th, 2001, I actually had those tickets by the Detroit penalty box for a 3-2 Nashville overtime win – the team’s first against Detroit in more than a year. The GWG was provided by rookie defenseman and University of Michigan alum Bubba Berenzweig, who only scored two more goals in his NHL career. On December 20th, 2003 - just months before the last NHL lockout – I was in the lower bowl again to see my favorite Predator, Tomas Vokoun, shut down the Wings offense. I also got to see another game-winner by a Nashville rookie defenseman. Dan Hamhuis scored with eight minutes left and the Preds held on to win 1-0.
Some of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen have been Detroit-Nashville games in December. I’m glad I have those memories. I’m sad I won’t get to add to them this year. But I’m not mad. The NHL won’t allow me to give them my money so I can watch the Predators and Red Wings, so I’m going to see The Hobbit instead. Speaking of which – what’s the difference between the 2012-13 NHL schedule and the new film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit?
One is a fantasy tale…and the other one is about a hobbit.