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Saturday Morning Quarterback

Andy Reed • Jun 17, 2017 at 8:30 AM

While eating at one of Lebanon’s fine restaurants last Sunday evening, I was watching the first period of the Predators’ Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final - minus the play call of the best hockey announcer out there, Mike (Doc) Emrick.

Though I couldn’t hear the game, I knew it was scoreless when we left at the end of the first period.

When I turned on the TV upon arriving home, about four minutes had passed in the second period and there was still no score. But little did I know of the tempest in the teapot that had been stirred.

In a bitter irony, a former Predator broke the scoreless tie in the last two minutes.

But that wasn’t the most bitter thing about Nashville’ season-ending loss. A stick-in early in the second period was waived off because an official was screened from the play, thought the puck was smothered by the goalie and blew his whistle.

Had the goal by Colton Sissons counted, then Patric Hornqvist’s goal would have only tied the game, and there would have been no empty net for the easy second goal. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened. Pittsburgh might have scored on Pekka Rinne anyway, either in the final 1:35 of regulation or overtime. And had the Preds won, they would have had to return to the house of horrors, otherwise known as PPG Paints Arena, where they had yet to scratch victory.

While the Preds players, coaches and staff downplayed the goal that wasn’t, fans on social media lit into the NHL. And I tend to agree. Two Preds goals were waived off during the Stanley Cup finals, and for a market with new fans who don’t completely understand the sport, the league didn’t do a good job of explaining the rules as they were applied. For the new fans (and I’m one of them), the league lacks some credibility. We’re not sure the better team won Game 6. And Sidney Crosby dribbling P.K. Subban’s head to the ice and getting away with it during Game 5 is another matter.

It’s a shame the best two-month run in the history of Nashville-area sports ended that way. The Predators brought unity to Middle Tennessee while opening the Nashville brand to new national and international markets not reached by country music.

Trump supporters and haters cheered side-by-side as one while wearing gold Preds hats and apparel, bonding over this game with two halftimes, power plays and line shifts. While 17,000 jammed Bridgestone for home (and road) games, some 50,000 filled the streets and sidewalks of downtown Nashville. If you could make ice in June to cover Nissan Stadium, you could have a Winter Classic (that’s the hockey game played outdoors every Jan. 1 in a football or baseball stadium while we’re watching bowl games) and fill up the 68,000-seat home of the Titans.

I don’t remember the Titans’ Super Bowl run at the turn of this century being as big as this spring’s Predators-Nashville lovefest. It’s ending one yard short of forcing what would have then been the first overtime Super Bowl left a feeling of unfinished business which has never gone away, nor will it, since that team is no more. If Marcus Mariota leads Tennessee to the Vince Lombardi Trophy within the next few years, it will be the same franchise but a completely different team from Steve McNair, Eddie George, Frank Wycheck and company.

In fact, the Titans and Predators could win championships in the future and not have the euphoric feeling we’ve had the past two months. What’s that about the first time?

But at least Super Bowl 34 didn’t end controversially. The Rams were the (barely) better team that day.

The Penguins may have been the better team this spring, but the NHL got in the way by not reviewing the Sissons non goal.

I read where the official apologized to Sissons, and the league said that other than the early whistle, the play was handled properly.

That’s not good enough. The NHL owe the Preds an apology. More so, the rules must be amended to make it right in the future. If that means greater reliance on replay and less on the humans wearing striped shirts, then so be it.

Some people say we would be losing the human element if we take live, breathing, human officials out of the picture. So? The players are still human, and that’s enough. We watch games to see which team plays better, makes the fewest mistakes, makes the most and biggest plays. Humans are used to officiate the games because when modern sports were developed, it was the best system available to police the action. We don’t watch games to see if one team can beat the other and overcome referees’ mistakes.

Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman said recently after a plate umpire apparently botched a ball-strike call he expects a computer to be calling balls and strikes within the next five years, and when that happens, the umpires will have only themselves to blame.

Fans at all levels blame officials (fairly or unfairly) when calls don’t go their way and it adversely affects their team. That’s life.

But the technology is there to make the calls right. And unlike youth leagues or even high schools, there’s big money involved. The NHL, which placed an expansion team in Nashville 20 years ago to grow the game in non-traditional markets, can’t afford to have its growth stifled by perceived officiating or unfair or incorrect applications of its rules, some of which are still foreign to us.

It’s a shame commissioner Gary Bettman was booed following Game 6. But the fans were telling him something. He and those in charge of the game had best listen.

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