Though the Tampa Bay Lightning showcased young firepower during a 5-1 preseason victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday, September 19, it was the visitors who made a greater impact on hockey in Southwest Florida.
However, following Monday's unusual doubleheader with the Florida Panthers, which received widespread attention across the internet because of an embarrassing lack of spectators, the Predators remained in the Sunshine State in anticipation of Thursday's match-up with the Lightning.
Not only did the decision save the time and expense of travel, but it provided an opportunity for all-important preseason bonding. Spending a few days near the beaches of Naples and Fort Myers undoubtedly brought additional benefits.
The 7,000 seat venue is longtime home to the Florida Everblades, a minor league team that was the 2012 Kelly Cup champion and perennially ranks among the top ECHL contenders. Competing in a "Double-A" rated hockey, the Blades have put dozens of alumni into the NHL, and currently possess affiliations with the Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
Nashville becomes the fourth NHL club to skate at Germain Arena, but first to do so without affiliation with the Everblades, as the Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes all previously trained at the facility.
Holding daily 2-hour workouts between Tuesday and Thursday, the Predators brought approximately 70 players to Germain Arena, including 32 year-old center Matt Hendricks, who scored 24 goals for the Blades during the 2004-05 season.
Typically-competitive Nashville, which missed the NHL playoffs last year for just the second time in the past nine seasons, used both the main arena and the building's blue practice rink.
Team meetings and off-ice sessions were further scheduled by coach Barry Trotz, who has guided the Predators for their entire 15-year history and is hockey's longest-tenured skipper. In fact, Trotz's staying power is only exceeded in top-level American pro sports by Gregg Popovich, who has led the NBA's San Antonio Spurs since 1996.
The building next hosts hockey on Thursday, September 26, when it becomes setting for a much-anticipated exhibition game between the Lightning and Panthers.
Meanwhile, the Predators returned home following the loss to Tampa Bay, and will hold a scrimmage on Saturday morning at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville.
Still assembling the 2013-14 roster, the Everblades open their own season in Estero with a game against the Orlando Solar Bears on October 18, but the rivals first meet for a preseason contest at Germain Arena a week earlier.
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