The Call-Up

Sunday didn’t provide much positive news for the Trenton Devils…so I figured now was as good of a time as any to share this.

It’s Thursday morning and I’m in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Los Angeles Kings have just finished their morning skate, and I’ve made my way down to their locker room.

I’m interviewing Anze Kopitar for a story on former Reading Royals goalie Jonathan Quick when I feel a gentle hand on my left shoulder.

“Excuse me,” says the stranger’s voice.

I turn around…it’s Ryan Smyth.  Captain Canada!  Man, what a great player.  Wouldn’t it be great if I got to see his 700th NHL point tonight?  I remember when he got traded from Edmonton and started crying…that was intense.  I’m in Ryan Smyth’s way, wow…Oh crap, I’m in Ryan Smyth’s way!

It was a moment that took about a second, but was still an awkward realization of many dreams having come true.  Ever since I started my sportswriting career in 2003, covering the NHL has always been one of my goals.  So first off, big thanks to Tim Darling of the Nashville Predators for allowing me to come down and work on a Jerred Smithson feature, and for his hospitality during the trip.

It was only my second time covering the NHL — the New Jersey Devils were kind enough to let me work a game last April — but this was my most productive trip.  In case Smithson got traded at the deadline, I needed to come up with some backup ideas to justify being there…so my second idea was the Quick story, and my third idea was interviewing Dan Ellis, who was the Kelly Cup Playoffs MVP in 2004.

So I ended up interviewing Smithson first, and he was great.  He remembered a lot more about the three games he played for the Titans ten years ago than I thought he would.  You will see that feature, just don’t know if it’ll be here or elsewhere…the Bobby Sanguinetti piece was supposed to run here and ended up in The Trentonian, so you never know.

Anyway, after I got done with Smithson, I interviewed Pekka Rinne for the Smithson piece…then chatted with Dan Ellis for a few minutes for his story.  The Ellis story will almost certainly run with the other ECHL alumni pieces I’ve been sitting on for the past two seasons now.

I went back into the seats and watched the end of the Kings morning skate, then spent a few minutes with Quick.  I also spoke too Jack Johnson, Kopitar and yes…Ryan Smyth for the Quick feature. 

Inbetween the morning skate and the game, I explored the city for a while; which entailed lunch at Coyote Ugly and visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and headed back to the arena around 4 PM.  I went down to the media lounge, and I’m fairly certain that there are more jeans and country music going on in there than any other media lounge in the NHL. 

But, after some chicken parm with pasta, a salad, some chocolate cake and some Mountain Dew, I headed up to the press area and checked out the seating chart.  In the seat next to me would be three-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman Steve Smith.  Considering I usually sit by myself in Trenton (which yes, I actually prefer) this was a bit of an upgrade.

The game itself was only so-so.  Nashville’s a great place to watch a game, though…the fans provide a really interesting atmosphere, and I really do hope that team can succeed in that market.  After the game, which the Predators won 4-2…and where Jerred Smithson scored an empty netter, I was able to interview Shea Weber and Jason Arnott for the Smithson feature.

So, all in all, I got to cover an NHL game and interview nine pretty good quality NHL players…three of them were just on the rosters for the USA-Canada gold medal game.  Not a bad haul if you ask me.

The whole thing was very surreal, but covering the ECHL for the past season and a half (and…uhhh, seven years of baseball, basketball and football coverage) really helped prepare me.  I have never — not once — had a problem with anyone in the Trenton Devils room, and feeling comfortable when talking to guys like Rick Kowalsky, Vince Williams and the players really helps with the confidence you need to be able to hang in the big leagues.  I didn’t feel out of place, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong, and I didn’t feel like I couldn’t get back there again.

So that’s that…and now, back to your regularly scheduled ECHL programming.  Stay tuned for a Jeff Lerg Q&A (and accompanying Kowalsky input) most likely Tuesday.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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3 Responses to “The Call-Up”

  1. chiarams Says:

    Good stuff Mike. My dad has been a Preds STH for a bunch of years now – of all the “newer” buildings I’ve been to, I think their arena is one of my favorites in terms of how it’s set up.

    Did you ask Steve Smith about what it was like scoring on his own net on his birthday?

  2. titans04 Says:

    Great stuff Mike and good for you. Hopefully more opportunities come your way real soon.

  3. tdevils Says:

    Thanks guys. This was actually my second trip to Nashville…had been there once before to see Predators-Red Wings in December of 2003. Love watching games there. Nice arena (overpriced merchandise, however…$28 for a player t-shirt and $210 for a replica player jersey = fail) and a nice area as well. Nashville and Columbus are two of my favorite places to check out the NHL.

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