‘I took my friend Justin to this game. We’re not friends anymore, I don’t think.’: The Oral History Of The Worst Game In Conference III History (So Far)
On April 9, 2013, the St. Louis Blues traveled to Nashville to take on the Predators in the teams’ final game as Central Division rivals. Of course, both of these teams will be members of Conference III next season, so the game carried less of the nostalgic import as the final games against Detroit or, to a lesser degree, Columbus.
To set it up: by this point, the Predators were all but eliminated from playoff contention in a year rife with injuries, frustratingly inept offense and Yakety Sax defense. The Blues had won four straight and were fighting to hold on to the Central’s No. 2 spot, the best they could do in a year with Chicago on a historic tear.
It was the teams’ fourth and final meeting of the year, St. Louis having won twice (once in a shootout). The third game was a result shocking not only in its outcome, but in its score — a 6-1 Predators win way back on February 5.
The biggest pre-game news was the promotion of Swedish forward Daniel Bång for Nashville and much time was spent — including on my pre-game segment with Predators’ flagship radio station 102.5 The Game — debating the pronunciation of his name. Is it “BANG” or is it “BONG”? Jokes, predictably, were made, a last grasp at levity in the Music City in a season devoid of much light-heartedness.
Eventually, the Blues would win 1-0. The win wasn’t surprising. Really, neither, was the scoreline. But the game itself was a special level of boring. It was a hockey game that led people to apologize to their friends. Parts of Nashville experienced a power surge as TVs across the city were turned off simultaneously.
What follows is the story of that game in the words of people who lived it, coached it and played it. Their words are italicized.
III Communication General Counsel TMurda: Zoë (J.R.’s 11-month-old daughter) could sense that it was going to be a snoozer and went ahead and pushed up her 2nd period nap to early in the first. I’d like to think she looked around and thought “nope, not staying awake through this.” Some times the babies are the lucky ones.
Drew Blumberg: I was rooting for the team as if I was watching my niece play t-ball…I didn’t really know what I expected of the team. Perhaps it is the prospect of only seeing 8 more Predators games that made me want to watch. … [W]hen all looks dreadful, (Predators’ broadcasters) Pete (Weber) and Terry (Crisp) will be ever vigilant. Most people who watch this team would have said they were dead in the water, but with a 3% chance of playoffs before the game, the crew was optimistic that it could be done. Perhaps it’s the sales aspect of TV broadcasting, but at this point the desperation of the sales pitch sounded like a Pontiac dealer trying to unload the remaining yellow Aztecs. … Youth is served, whether you want it or not. Before the game, “glass half full” fans were excited to see what the kids could do. …Believing with all of my heart that the reason Scott Nichol was scratched was because he was doing a Camper’s Corner commercial.
NashvillePainter: “What tasty liquid,” thought I as the libation made its way down my gullet. Crumbs dripped from my fingers as I devoured the last of the golden Christie Cookie distributed by a happy lady wearing a t-shirt at the entrance to the Tire Temple on 5th Avenue. I gazed longingly at the empty seats across the ice as flat as Shirley Temple’s heaving bosom, but somehow could not bring myself to regret – after all, two of these guys are bona fide MVPs and there’s just something about Kevin Klein’s wrister that’s enthralled me all season.
One reader saw the (thankfully-now-abandoned) weirdo pre-game tone poem the Predators had been using since their return from their last long road trip as an omen of what was to come.
Andy Axel: The funereal tone is set by the Requiem For A Lost Season opening, narrated (mostly) by Matthew McConaughey. (Note to the video editors: “We Are Marshall” begins with a plane crash and ends with a demoralizing defeat. It is not a story of triumph in the face of adversity.)
TMurda: “Man, thin crowd tonight.” (pre-puck drop) …“I do not like St. Louis fans. Luckily, even they seemed reluctant to come tonight.” (early in the first) … Brain shuts off watching two teams just skate around for a while. Let’s call this phenomenon “white like ice noise.” (from 2:00 to 18:50 of the first) … “I wonder what the lowest amount of shots for teams combined are.” … “No one’s here but at least the bathroom line is short.” (first intermission) … “She may have a boyfriend but she sure doesn’t act like it.” (rendezvous on concourse during first intermission)
At the end of the first period, St. Louis had a 6-4 shots advantage.
The second period began with a strange series of boring events which stuck in the memories of many observers:
Scott Osborne: At the start of the second period, after four icing calls against the Predators, the guy next to me turned and asked, “Did you see Louisville and Michigan last night? Wow, what a game!” I replayed that game in my mind till we walked out of Bridgestone Arena.
Jacob Smith: I was at the game and the highlight for me was after the 2nd period whenever I realized that I, a 27 year old who has never played hockey, could’ve traded places with Brian Elliott and the outcome would’ve been unchanged for that period. Well that, and the three consecutive icings to start the period…
Andy Axel: Oh, yeah. The second period. Seven or eight icing calls in the first 4 minutes against the Preds. That was about as close as it got to a sustained… well… anything.
Shea Weber: When you can’t sustain any offensive zone time, it’s tough to get any shots. Everything we got was from the outside, and we really didn’t have many quality scoring chances.
Indeed, the series of icings were so legion, no one can agree how many there were. In fact, Nashville iced the puck five times in the first four minutes of the second period, according to the game log.
Somewhere in the middle of the second, Bång got a shot on goal — his only appearance on the score sheet.
Drew Blumberg: Hopefully the Bang shot will be nominated for Doc Emerick’s “Skitter of the Week.”
TMurda: White like ice noise (second period in toto)
With 3:23 left in the second, Alexander Steen scored a goal. Officially, it went down as “Goal scored by Alex Steen(Slapshot 35 ft) assisted by Vladimir Sobotka and David Perron.” We cannot dispute this, because of the many submissions we got for this oral history, zero mentioned the goal. Literally none. But the NHL said it happened and there’s video. The light sounded. Some wayward Blues travelers screamed and re-enacted that weird towel thing. By the way, David Legwand won the ensuing faceoff. And Nashville promptly, yes, iced the puck.
Even in a dreadful season, a highlight of Predators’ broadcasts is the often-combative interviews associate coach Peter Horachek conducts with Weber and Crisp during the second intermission. It’s even funnier, because he is now self-aware. Even he was uninspired:
Drew Blumberg: Missing the days when Horachek would sign off awkwardly, telling Pete and Terry that they had good questions.
As the third period began, the Blues settled into a shell that only moved out from in front of Brian Elliot when A) they got bored B) they realized Nashville couldn’t enter the zone cleanly or C) because even the earth’s imperceptible movements were faster than this game and that motion flung the Blues into the neutral zone, which they dutifully clogged up.
For seven blessed minutes early in the period, nothing happened. No whistles. No stoppages. No goals, of course. But no icings either. I was standing in the entranceway, politely waiting for a stoppage to return to my seats. I held my daughter — who was born nearly a year ago, the night the Predators beat the Red Wings in Game 5, at 11 pounds, 4 ounces — in one arm, prying my drooping eyelids open with the other.
TMurda: I bet it’s fun to just skate.
Drew Blumberg: The grass-fed beef at Whole Foods is really good. I cooked it up during the third period. This game will remind me of the first time I tried this magnificent local beef.
Andy Axel: There is what Ray Emery refers to as “a boring kind of hockey.” This was that, and then some. It was as though Bridgestone Arena was a large puck conveyor belt that only worked along the dasher. The Predators were content to work the puck clockwise along the boards during the first, counterclockwise during the 2nd, and again clockwise during the 3rd. It couldn’t have been sleepier if (Bridgestone Arena PA man) Paul McCann had been running a loop of Eno’s “Music for Airports” through the PA the entire night. Pass. Pass. Dump. Pass. Turnover. Pass. Pass. Dump.
At some point, Predators game ops made an effort to excite the crowd, an effort that would have been fruitless even if they had distributed bags of Colombian bam-bam to everyone while playing “It Takes Two.”
There were, for some reason, lots of people in the morphsuits made famous by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Vancouver’s Green Men. Sale at the fetish shop, I guess. One man was, shall we say, more generously proportioned than the usual wearers of this outfit.
Dawn: The entire team seemed to have amnesia as they clearly forgot that hockey should be a north-south game, that they have a net they are actually supposed to shoot at and that you are actually allowed to hit people. And the guy in the gold morphsuit added just a bit to much awkward to night for my taste.
DFash: I was fairly entertained when they showed the chunky guy in the gold ‘green man’ suit and played Roll Out The Barrel. I’m pretty sure that was the best part of the game.
The team even tried the “Rally Goat,” which, while a sheep and now terribly annoying, had some magic early in its run.
NashvillePainter: Only when the large blue cat-man came calling was my reverie interrupted: somehow I had fallen asleep, but had thought the sound of the lambs screaming, Clarice had been but a dream. “Nevermind,” I said to myself as play after play dinged against the glass with a sound reminiscent of hail hitting headstones. “Only a few more months till next year’s training camp.”
Andy Axel: Also too: The Rally Goat was stunned into silence.
TMurda: We done here? Looks like we’re done here.
Drew Blumberg: Turns out, playing NHLers is hard, and the kids seemed out of sorts. Whether it was Austin Watson running into Brian Elliot, Taylor Beck missing the net multiple times, or Daniel Bang getting one shot on net, the prospect of a team full of guys with little to no NHL experience isn’t a recipe for success.
Joshua Roop: Now this wasn’t like any game you have ever seen before. There was no fast skating, skill or amazing plays. Just a bunch of what appeared to be boys going through puberty and one older gentleman who kept waiting for the other teams net to empty (David Legwand). Amazingly this game defied the space time continuum and seemingly made time stop all together. As I watched this game and experienced this strange phenomenon I couldn’t help but wonder how this could happen? Wasn’t this the team that had finished 4th in the western conference last season?
NashvillePainter: Blessed relief: Freedom from millions of what my grandfather had disdainfully deemed “thugs from Chicago.” Regret tinged with misery returned as I contemplated Conference III looming above like a thunderhead…
Jeremy Dickens: Lineup depleted/mostly due to injury./Chemistry is lost.
Ryan Shannon: It was the game I sat in three different seats. It was the game I got Coke spilled on me. It was the game I missed Chicago fans filling the empty seats. It was the game I had a panini at a hockey game.
Even the Blues seemed unwilling to even celebrate victory in this chalkdust sandwich of a game.
Brian Elliot: The Detroit game was a little tougher to get the shutout. It really doesn’t matter, you just always want to beat them by whatever — one.
Ken Hitchcock: It’s one game, survive, move on. Get to the next arena and put on the show again. Five wins in a row, all it does is give us points. I think we’ve got to start looking up rather than look over our shoulders. To me, looking up is more important than anything right now.
The Predators stayed as positive as they could.
Barry Trotz: I can’t fault the effort of our team. We were one puck away, and you get one bounce to just go your way you’re right there. We’re playing really hard and that’s what you want. We know we’re not in a great situation right now with the number of people we’ve got called up.
Pekka Rinne: It’s the way things have been going, and it seems like it’s hard to change. I’m happy and proud we’re working so hard and still giving everything we’ve got. But it’s hard, and goals are hard to come by right now.
But there is sunshine after the rain, of course. Maybe it was the taint of the Central Division which made it so bad.
Ryan Shannon: Long love (sic?) Conference Three.