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The Predators, bless their hearts, are doing their best to bring back at last a small slice of old-school hockey

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The Nashville Predators had to fight off some nasty European jet leg when they returned home, where they lost five straight games to dig themselves a deep, early pit, but the NHL won’t have to ask them twice about going back to next year.

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A season-opening journey to Prague, Czech Republic, and Bern, Switzerland, beats the heck out of Winnipeg and St. Louis, even if it did grind them into a bit of a stupor when they finally got back home.

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“It was incredible,” said Oxbow Sakatchewan’s Tanner Jeannot, who is not far removed from bus trips with the Moose Jaw Warriors and commercial flights with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.

“It was my first time overseas, not only seeing the countries but the hockey and the fans over there was really great. The atmosphere in the rinks was awesome. It was a great team-building thing. It was something I’ll remember forever for sure.”

It’s been a slow recovery for the Predators, who beat San Jose twice while in Europe, but are 1-4-1 in their first six games back home. They admit that the nearly 10-hour flight, seven-hour time change and unusually-high doses of adrenaline and excitement took a toll, but nobody is willing to blame their woeful start on physical and emotional fatigue.

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“I never want to make excuses,” said Jeannot. “It played a bit of a factor, but that’s part of being a professional, you have to do what you need to do to be ready for the game.

“Everyone in here was doing that. We don’t make excuses. We have to perform; that’s part of this business. You’re paid to go out there and be ready and that’s what we were trying to do.”

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) works with the puck around Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on April 14, 2022.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) works with the puck around Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on April 14, 2022. Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel /USA TODAY Sports

Sweden’s Filip Forsbeg is conditioned to the overseas trip because he flies to Europe and back at least once a year in the off-season, so he didn’t feel it as much as some of his teammates did. But even he will tell you it’s a challenge getting your North American legs back.

“I feel like I felt pretty good coming back,” he said. “I’m obviously one of the guys who does this every year, so maybe that was a little bit of an advantage for me. But you dealing with the travel and all the emotions and all the excitement is a little different. So is playing your home opener when you’re already two games into the season.”

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BERNING FOR YOU

Players who grow up in North America take it for granted when they get to play in their home cities in front of their friends and family, but Europeans almost never get the chance.

So the Predators were more excited to see veterans Roman Josi and Nino Niederreiter lace it up in Switzerland as they were to be on the trip themselves.

“It was awesome being in Prague, but I think Bern was the highlight for everybody, being able to go there and see the reception that Roman and Nino got,” said Forsberg. “That was awesome and something that we will always remember.”

Nashville Predators defencemen Matt Benning (5) knocks the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) at Rogers Place on Jan. 27, 2022.
Nashville Predators defencemen Matt Benning (5) knocks the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) at Rogers Place on Jan. 27, 2022. Photo by Perry Nelson /USA Today Sports, file

“Nino has been in the league a long time and his grandparents have never seen him play live in the NHL,” said Nashville coach John Hynes, who made a similar run with the New Jersey Devils a few years ago, taking on the Edmonton Oilers in Sweden and Germany.

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“They can’t fly because of their age, so it was really cool for them.”

Josi is still smiling about it three weeks later.

“It was such an amazing experience just being home, playing in front of my family in the rink I grew up at and played my whole life, It was a really special trip,” said the 32-year-old defenceman.

“We go to Vancouver or something and guys who are from there get to play in their home town once or twice a year, but for some guys it never happens. I was lucky enough to do it now and it was really special.”

DROP ‘EM

The Predators, bless their hearts, are doing their best to bring back at last a small slice of old-school hockey. They play a hard, heavy game, one that resulted in leading the NHL in fighting majors last season. And they’re back with all kinds of muscle in their lineup this year.

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“It’s my style of game,” said Jeannot, who has as much backup as any club in the league. “I like going out there and playing a physical game.

“I’m not as skilled as some guys out here so it’s one thing I can do to make a difference in the game. I don’t think (physicality) is all the way out of the game. The fighting aspect still has some kind of a role in it, but it’s not just that, it’s going out and being physical and creating space for your teammates. It’s something I’m good at and enjoy doing so hopefully it makes a difference.”

Hynes said Nashville’s style suits the players on the team and isn’t quite sure which came first, the non-chickens or the egg.

“It’s how our team is built,” he said. “Every team has an identity. We have a highly-competitive group and a big strong group of forwards who can play fast and, for a lot of them, it’s natural to play physical and be hard on the puck. They’ve taken hold of that as a group and that’s the style of game that gives us the best chance.”

rtychkowski@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rob_tychkowski

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