FRANKLIN — For an assignment at school this week James Morton had to write an argument on a topic of his choosing. The 11-year-old elected to discuss hockey and his premise was simple.
“Hockey should come back,” he said.
Hockey, at least the National Hockey League, did not come back Tuesday. Owners kept players locked out for the 59th consecutive day because the sides have been unable to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Nashville Predators, however, brought hockey back to the future, in a manner of speaking, for Morton, his Blizzard teammates and their opponents, the Cyclones.
Franchise officials recruited about 200 fans to A-Game Sportsplex and shortly before 7:30 p.m. they executed a "Smash Mob." While the Junior Predators teams went through pre-game warm-ups fans poured into the seating area led by a drum line, the Predators Dancers and Ice Girls, and mascot Gnash. The game operations staff and public address announcer were on hand to re-create the sounds and atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena.
When players got to the bench, side-by-side with their regular coaches were Predators coaches, including Barry Trotz and Peter Horachek with the Blizzard and Lane Lambert and Brent Peterson with the Cyclones.
“We all kind of thought something was going on in the locker room when they started videotaping us,” Morton said. “It was like, ‘What is this?’ ”
It was an attempt to create an NHL-type experience for the kids, right down to post-game interviews in front of a banner filled with Predators logos.
“It was an incredible experience for the boys,” Matt Dunn, coach of the Blizzard, said. “You could see the adrenaline just flowing through them. They couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces. They had a little more jump in their steps. They were flying all over the ice.
“Having all that enthusiasm with the crowd noise and all that, it really made it special for these kids.”
The Blizzard won 2-0 on a pair of second-period goals from Sean Karaman and some strong goaltending from Max Styler. Karaman also was assessed a penalty, which required Trotz to do some actual, albeit unusual coaching.
“I had to go into [the penalty box] to console him — that was my first time doing that,” Trotz said. “He was a little teary-eyed because he didn’t think he deserved one and I agreed with him on that call.”
Other than that, the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL kept it pretty simple in terms of what he asked of the players.
“He said not to change when we’re in the defensive zone,” 12-year-old Quentin Rummo said. “I couldn’t hear much over all the cheering.”
The effort was the franchise’s latest attempt to stay connected to its fan base during the lockout, the NHL’s second in less than a decade. Regularly on Fridays over the last two months staff members have taken part in community service projects and there have been any number of Predators Pride events.
This one connected them to some of their youngest fans.
There’s no guarantee that any of them will make it to the NHL, but all of them now have some idea of what it’s like to be on the ice when NHL games actually are played.
“It was fun,” Trotz said. “It was a unique night, I think, for these kids. They’re going to go back to school [Wednesday] or whatever and have a great story to tell about small miracles. This was a small miracle for them.
“… They worked hard. Obviously, they had a lot of fun. You could tell they were into it.”