Where There’s Smoke…

Most of you know that I’m a “more recent” hockey fan. Meaning, I didn’t fall in love with the sport until late 2011. After the Canucks cup run. After a lot of the rivalry drama had passed. I touched on what brought me into the sport a little when I talked about how I became a Leafs fan, and how Mason Raymond’s story and perseverance made me into a fan – of not just his, but of the entire sport.

It’s also a well-known fact I’m not a fan of just one team. I have my favorites – the Canucks, Leafs, Flames, Penguins, Lightning, and Canes. That list used to contain one more, the Nashville Predators. The first hockey game, not just NHL game, but any type of hockey, I attended was the Vancouver Canucks in Nashville on April 15, 2013. The Canucks won 5-2. I don’t remember a lot from that game, to be honest, but there are some things that I’ll never forget.

  • My best friend getting me down to the visitor’s side next to the glass during warm ups to take pictures. (I took a lot.)
  • Meeting Derek Jory (Canucks Twitter account – at the time, it was @canucksgame).
  • Derek Roy’s first goal as a Canuck.
  • Alex Burrows pointing out my best friend’s Nashville Predators #17 Kesler jersey to Ryan Kesler and the looks on both of their faces. (Her last name is Kesler, I promise it makes sense.)

And I’m sure there would be more, but mostly I just remember the levels of excitement I had watching my favorite game live. The sounds and feeling of the crowd just don’t translate over television. It was amazing, and I remember leaving Bridgestone Arena that night with the feeling of “when can I come here again?”

Living in the middle of Washington, it’s not easy to get games. My nearest NHL team (the Canucks) is nearly a 5 hour car ride away – longer if there is a wait at the border. Stockton, CA, home of the Stockton Heat (and the nearest AHL team) is 12 hours by car or 2 hours by plane. And while I have 3 WHL teams I could conceivably get to (Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds, and Portland Winterhawks) even they are minimally a 2 hour car ride. In addition to that, they rarely play home games on Tuesdays or Wednesdays – my days off.

But, I made it back to Nashville. Not once, but twice. In October 2013, I watched the St Louis Blues destroy the Preds. (It was sad, TJ Oshie scored. So did Derek Roy, which was slightly happier. It’s also where I fell in love with Nick Spaling, who scored the lone goal for Nashville, a short-handed beauty. But I digress.)

My next trip to Nashville didn’t happen until March 2015. It’s a day and night I’ll never forget, for multiple reasons. But before the game, some stuff had happened that made me more than a little worried about being in Nashville at all. I posted that from Seatac, waiting for my plane to take me to the city that I was beginning to think of as my getaway place. I wondered then if it would destroy the coming two weeks, if my vacation would be ruined.

I hadn’t yet made my peace with the Predators organization, much less On the Forecheck’s derailment tactics. Over the course of my trip, I met up and talked with a writer for OTF a couple of times. We’d been friendly, had met up in my October 2013 trip, and, with my best friend in tow, I felt that keeping the lines of communication were important. At that point, despite Ribeiro, that was still an organization I was proud of, and OTF was still an outlet that represented a large portion of Nashville Predators fans.

I was informed that to the selection of Predators fans that had attended OTF’s Watch Party, I (and others that had opposed Hoag, Zito, and company’s take on Ribeiro) was the “bad guys”. People were buying Zito drinks after the “rough day” he’d had. (Yeah. I’m sure the look on my face was super fantastic at that.)

In full disclosure, that friend that wrote for OTF and I have gone our separate ways since then. But any ways.

I left that last meeting feeling like maybe I had been heard, and it was understood why we were so upset at the take OTF had on Ribeiro. I attended the Predators-Canucks game on my 30th birthday, thrilled that my bestie and I had upgraded our seats to be close to the action. Even more thrilled with Eddie Läck’s shootout win and the way the Canucks kept the game interesting for me.

I came home from that trip excited to get back to Nashville again, already planning on attending the 2016 All Star Game.

And then… Then this summer happened. Before Voynov’s “voluntary” deportation. Before Patrick Kane became the suspect of a rape investigation, before the NHL let us down in multiple ways, the Nashville Predators had already disappointed me, and countless others, with choosing to give Mike Ribeiro another contract worth $7 million over 2 years on July 1, 2015. The contract would come just days before settlement details where the Ribeiros former-nanny accused him of sexual assault would be made public. David Poile would stand in front of media and call Ribeiro “a good teammate, a productive player and a person of character amongst his teammates, the community and with his family”.

And that’s when I lost all respect for the Nashville Predator organization. I canceled my plans to attend the 2016 All Star Game, I made a vow to not watch the Preds on television (even if they were the visiting team), and I packed away my Colin Wilson shirsey and Shea Weber hoodie so I wouldn’t be tempted to wear them this season.

It hurts. I almost feel like I’m  breaking up with a significant other. The Preds were a large part of why I enjoyed hockey, since the moment I discovered the game. I love so many players on that team. The first game I ever watched on TV was the Preds, and I would love to have my faith restored in that organization, but I just can’t see it happening.

I know I’m not the only one that feels this way about them, or about the Blackhawks, or about the Kings, or about the entire NHL. Because while I’ve broken up with one team, others feel the need to leave the entire league behind (and more power to them.)

I need something to change. I need the NHL to change how it reacts to sexual assault and domestic violence allegations. I need the league to do better by women everywhere and draw a line in the sand making the point of what is unacceptable and what they will not put their backing behind. Enough is enough.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And the NHL is on the edge of burning down.

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