There was a nostalgic feeling at Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena last night as professional hockey returned to “Charm City” for the first time since 1997, with the Washington Capitals falling to the Nashville Predators 2-0 in the Capitals’ exhibition opener. Adding to the nostalgia, the notoriously bad ice at Baltimore’s arena also returned and made sustained play on either team’s part nearly impossible.
There were few bright spots for the Capitals on this night, particularly in the first period, but one of them was defenseman, Sean Collins, who registered a solid body belt on Nashville’s Martin Erat on his first shift of the game. He also registered a couple of shots on goal in the frame and has skated in 19 contests for the Caps over the last two seasons.
“Everyone’s really excited to get back into it,” said Collins, who is trying to earn his spot on Washington’s opening night roster. “It’s one of those games that it’s not really hard to get up for. I was excited to get out there and try to make some plays. As the game went on, the ice got a little bit chippier, and it was a little bit tougher to make those plays. It was nice to get a good start.”
“It’s always nice to play with someone you’re comfortable with,” said Collins when asked how much his pairing with Patrick McNeill helped his performance. “I played last year with Patrick for quite a while and we’ve played together for four years. He helped out a lot.”
Although he admitted the ice conditions presented a huge challenge for the players, Collins refused to say the surface was the worst that he has ever skated on.
“It forces you to play a quick puck moving, dump-and-chase kind of game. It seemed like a lot of our passes were bouncing off sticks. It’s hard to handle a puck out there. The conditions made a difference, but both teams were playing on it.”
The Predators struck for their first goal of the game at 17:31 of the second period, with Chris Mueller doing to the honors.
Nashville tacked on another goal in the third period when Colin Wilson was able to slide the puck past goaltender Michal Neuvirth and sprawling defenseman, Patrick Wellar, but Collins provided a bit of comic relief in the frame by getting his stick stuck in the door in the Caps zone, with efforts to remove it proving futile. Eventually, Collins threw in the towel and skated away, sans stick.
“I was trying to go stick-on-puck with that guy and kind of flush it up the boards, and it got stuck in the Zamboni door. I tried to pull on it and it wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t just sit in the corner and yank on it,” he laughed.
Notes: Former Capitals and Hershey Bears defenseman, Tyler Sloan, who signed with the Predators over the summer after being bought out of the remainder of his contract by the Capitals, skated in the contest, as did Kyle Wilson, who spent four years with the Capitals organization before signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau has a bit of Baltimore hockey history in his past, having skated in 17 late season games for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the 1984-85 season, when he joined the club after the culmination of his season in Germany. Nashville head coach Barry Trotz also has a Baltimore hockey background, having served as an assistant coach and head coach with the Skipjacks.
Capitals head athletic trainer, Greg Smith, also served in the same capacity for the Baltimore Bandits in the 1996-97 AHL season when they were the top minor league affiliate of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Nashville netminder, Pekka Rinne, who started the game before yielding way to Jeremy Smith in the second half of the second period, was bested by the Bears in the 2006 Calder Cup Finals when he patrolled the pipes for the Milwaukee Admirals.
The Capitals continue their exhibition season tomorrow night, when they travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets.