TERRE HAUTE —
For many, many years, the number of live games televised on WGN has been cited as perhaps the main reason for the popularity of the Chicago Cubs (it’s got to be something besides masochism, right?).
I’m not here to argue that point today, only to say that seeing a team live can have an even greater effect.
Right now, after seeing them live a little over three weeks ago, I’m pumped that the Nashville Predators have won their first playoff series ever.
As I’ve mentioned before, I rooted for the Preds all season knowing the family would be at that April 5 game, wanting it to have some playoff-style intensity. Since then we’ve gotten a call at home from the Nashville ticket office hoping we’d enjoyed the game and asking us if we needed any playoff tickets — that’s got to be a small-town hockey thing, because we’ve never gotten callbacks after any major league baseball teams we’ve seen — and I rushed home from work Friday night knowing the Preds and the Anaheim Ducks would finally be a national television game.
The two players I told JoJo to watch three weeks ago were defenseman Shea Ward, with his booming slap shot, and Jordin Tootoo (can you guess his number?) because, I told her, he was an “agitator.”
“What’s an agitator?” she asked. “Just watch,” I said.
It was too late for her to be awake when I got home Friday night, Preds teetering on the edge of a loss that would put them down 3-2 in the seven-game series, but I should have gotten her up. Ward ripped one from the blue line with 36 seconds left in regulation time that sent the game to overtime, and less than two minutes into the extra period Tootoo bolted down the ice, ripped two shots at the Ducks’ goalie, then got the rebound of the second one and passed it to Jerred Smithson for the game-winning goal.
It was Smithson’s first goal since January — he had a whopping five during the regular season — and to prove it was no fluke, Tootoo assisted on two goals in the series-winning game on Sunday, with Nick Spaling — another player not known for his offensive prowess — getting both goals.
Understand that I’m not a diehard fan of any hockey team. I’m sentimentally drawn to underdogs (I own an Edmonton Oilers sweatshirt — although that’s more because Gretzky used to play there and because the shirt was on sale — and I liked the Tampa Bay Lightning even before Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos got there), teams that need fans desperately (you go, Phoenix Coyotes) and teams with players I love to watch (my ideal Cup final right now would be Vancouver, with the Sedins, or Detroit, with Pavel Datsyuk, against the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin). I also like the Maple Leafs, because they’re from Toronto.
My former ideal finals pairing of Los Angeles vs. Pittsburgh has been put on hold because of injuries to Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin (if you’re counting, my favorite international team is apparently the Russians). And I prefer the Western Conference, maybe because its games are usually still on when I get home from work.
But the Preds satisfy the first two criteria to a degree, since they’re enjoying the most postseason success they’ve ever had right now and since Nashville isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, and they provided the Amey family with a fun night. If they’re not exactly dazzling offensively (Sergei Kostitsyn might be their only Russian), they’ve at least got Tootoo and his line to get in opponents’ faces, knock people into the boards and get some goals they’re not supposed to get. So I won’t be rooting against them for awhile.
Now, back to the original premise. If your argument is that there were enough other factors to make me enjoy the Preds besides the visit to Smashville earlier this month, it would be a valid one.
But I have an ace in the hole, as it were. I’ll prove my point with something else that’s happened in the last 13 months.
You probably don’t remember the Ameys’ 2010 spring break trip by now, but it was to central Texas, and we saw the Giants play the Astros.
No, I’m not talking about the World Series. I’m talking about the fact that for the last half of last season, I started paying lots of attention, and enjoying the success of, the Astros!
I’ve never met an Astros fan, and why would I? A team so dull it makes the Preds a thrill-a-minute proposition, a team with the second-worst uniform colors in baseball (sorry, Padres), a team that hasn’t had an exciting player since Cesar Cedeno … I’m rooting for them, hoping Clint Barmes gets back in the lineup soon and that Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are baseball’s next great one-two punch.
I rest my case.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.