When I was a young adult heading off to college, my father had this particular habit of turning every experience into a life lesson. It didn’t matter the subject, my dad found a way to use extraordinary and everyday moments to talk about how the world works. At the time, I didn’t appreciate this parental skill. After all, I was 18—I already knew how the world worked and had things figured out all by myself thank you very much.
Now that my own 18-year-old is heading into his first year of college, I recognize why my father wanted to share a few last nuggets of truth before I embarked into the wide world that was my oyster. In the spirit of my father and for the benefit of my son, here are a few life lessons from the Predators’ 2019-20 hockey season.
Life Lesson #1: Highlight reels are exciting but not always truthful.
Take a look at this Predators season highlight video.
This 1:47 shows a team with tenacious defense, stalwart goaltending, and offensive swagger. For moments in the season, that would be true. Unfortunately, the highlights don’t tell the total story of the Predators season, which can be described as
Predators fans can attest to a 2019-20 roller coaster of hope and despair. Finishing with a record of 35-26-8, the Predators went from first in the Central Division last season (with the banner to prove it) to fifth, and suffered from an incurable case of inconsistency. Highlight reels are just moments pieced together—they don’t tell a complete story.
Teens and young adults are inundated with the highlight reels of social media, and I am certainly not the first to point out that people aren’t sharing their entire story. No one’s life is as two dimensional as their highlight reel shows. While people showcase their best moments, those often aren’t the moments that truly make us grow. Most of the life lessons learned from this season come from the challenging moments.
Life Lesson #2: Pick your moment and shoot your shot.
If I had a nickel for every time I yelled, “SHOOT THE PUCK!”—especially on the power play—this season, I could singlehandedly end the coin shortage…at least for nickels. It is wired into hockey fans’ DNA to want shots, shots, and more shots. Unfortunately, shot count alone does not a victory make. The Predators lost to the Coyotes despite having a 56.30 CF% to Arizona’s 43.70%. Putting shots on net can be good, but putting good shots on net is better. Go to the high danger area even though you might have to work a bit harder to get a shot off. The slot is not lava.
The flip side of that is not to hold off taking a shot until everything is perfect because you just never know. Guess which Predator ended the season with the best shooting percentage?
That’s right— Pekka Rinne. He made 100% of the shots he took. Took one. Made one. Shot right into hockey history. That isn’t to say that Rinne didn’t invest a little time in the 200-foot shot now and again in practice. He chose an opportune time to shoot his shot in a game—empty net, Preds up by two, and against the Blackhawks. When wisdom and opportunity meet, shoot your shot. Who knows? You may end up grinning like Pekka RInne.
Life Lesson #3: Surround yourself with people who make you better.
People often misquote Aristotle when they say, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What Aristotle actually wrote in Metaphysics is “the whole is something besides the sum of its parts.” This is true in hockey, metaphysics, and life.
This is best exemplified by the third forward line, the one I affectionately refer to as the “Smithbaldi” line—Craig Smith, Nick Bonino, and Rocco Grimaldi. Smith and Grimaldi each had solid years with 31 points apiece, while Nick Bonino was the Preds’ second-highest goal scorer behind Filip Forsberg. Both Bonino and Smith also logged hat tricks this season. Each of these three players contributed individually, and when they took the ice together they became the most consistently productive line for the Predators this regular season. While many of the other players spent time in the line blender under Laviolette (and, to a lesser degree, Hynes), the Smithbaldi line remained together and productive.
There is something to be said for surrounding yourself with the people who you know well, who pursue goals with a similar passion, and who help make you better. Find your Smith, your Bonino, or your Grimaldi and stick with them. The world is full of people trying desperately to be superstars alone. Be better with others and make others better with you.
Life Lesson #4: Take on that giant.
There was a moment this season when young Yakov Trenin endeared himself to Smashville, and this is when it happened:
I am not an advocate of fighting, but when Trenin stood up to notorious NHL heavyweight Zdeno Chára and connected with a solid right, he made a statement to his team. It takes audacity to face off against a veteran player like Chára, and Trenin’s boldness speaks to his commitment in that moment.
We all face our own versions of Zdeno Chára at some point in life. When staring at a giant there are three choices: avoid, cower, or stand. If it is for the right reasons or the right people, take a deep breath and stand up to that giant. Most giants aren’t bulletproof, and their power can be more about hype than history. Standing up to a giant isn’t always about knocking him down—sometimes just taking him on speaks volumes. Example? Colin Blackwell.
Did Blackwell win this battle? Not even a little bit. Blackwell ended up on the ice himself. If that is your result, do what Blackwell did. Pick yourself up, mutter “ouch”, and get back in the game. That’s life. Sometimes the giants fall and sometimes they don’t. Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they deserve to go unchallenged.
Life Lesson #5: Find a mentor who cheers for you.
There has never been—nor ever will be—a hockey friendship more pure and sacred than that of Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne. Rinne, the elder statesman of the goalie crease, welcomed Saros not only into the organization but also into his home when Little Bear (as OTF sometimes calls him) first came to Nashville.
This season began with Rinne as the starter in net, but after he struggled down the stretch, it ended with Saros taking the ice for the entire postseason. In the waning years of his hockey career, Rinne surely struggled with sitting out the postseason, but this never affected his support for Saros in goal. The collective melted hearts of Smashville flooded like it was 2010 when this Tweet made the rounds.
Are we crying? Yes. Probably will be for awhile because LOOK AT THEM. pic.twitter.com/VEQImV7h36— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) August 4, 2020
Learning from someone with more experience doesn’t take away what you bring to the table. Neither age nor youth is a limitation, and both are better because of the other. Seek out someone who has been around longer, has had success, and wants to see you succeed. When you get older, become that person for someone younger, and remember that their success doesn’t take away from yours.
Life Lesson #6: When life is challenging, remember Kyle Turris.
If any one Predator embodies the “what in the ever loving flagnog is happening here” of this season, it’s Kyle Turris. While Turris has never quite lived up to fans’ ideal price-to-ice ratio, this tumultuous season headed off the rails when Peter Laviolette benched the center for seven games in November and early December.
Turris, one of several underproducing offensive weapons early on, nonetheless became the Predators’ scapegoat in a “lineup decision” spiel—an explanation by Peter Laviolette as nebulous as it was brief. Sure, the acquisition of Matt Duchene left the not-so-physical Kyle Turris playing third- and fourth-line hockey at that point in the season, but there were several Preds players who were struggling as much or more than Turris.
As frustrating as Turris’s benching was to watch, it had to pale in comparison to the frustration Kyle Turris himself felt throughout that seven game stretch. In a season of inconsistent hockey, Turris consistently handled this situation with honesty and grace.
Julie Turris shared a revealing story about Kyle during this frustrating stretch of the season on her podcast “Off Ice with Ida and Julie”. After the “lineup decision”, Julie came home to find Kyle not stewing or venting, but building forts with their kids in the living room.
Handling frustration appropriately is a life skill people of all ages need to work on these days. An explosive political climate and the easy anonymity of the internet has relegated this skill to near extinction. When challenges come—and they always will—conduct yourself with dignity and respect even when you are right.
(And build forts. Always build forts.)
The 2019-20 Predators season was a confusing mix of highs and lows. After an inconsistent start, a paused season, and a very short stint in the modified postseason, fans are left wondering what the hockey takeaway for 2019-20 should be. While I can speculate on the hockey lessons the Predators will hopefully learn, I’m going to take a minute to share this season’s life lessons with my son as he sets off into the world.