Sometimes my surrogate teams have rewarded me with an exciting playoff run. To this day, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks in large part to first their unlikely 2002 cup run that ultimately fell just short, and then again in 2006, when they did attain the Cup. My decision to follow the Canes that year was made with all of those prerequisites satisfied. They were a team built similarly to our own Predators, playing an exciting style with no true superstars(eventually Eric Staal would grow into that distinction, but hadn't to that point). They were comprised of likable "good guys," such as Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley, and Bret Hedican. Best of all, they were matched up against Canadian sweethearts, the Edmonton Oilers. The Hurricanes' victory that year sounded on so many levels for me. On the surface, I enjoyed following a team that played hockey the right way, with grit and skill in equal measure. On a more cerebral level, the Canes' triumph represented a victory for hockey in an unconventional market. The Stanley Cup's deliverance to Raleigh was a metaphorical middle finger to the NHL's faction of good-old-boy, hockey-should-be-played-where-ice-is-naturally-occurring, traditional-market critics. The fact that Carolina, a place that in their mind was more appropriate for barefoot kids with straw in their mouths and tobacco-chewing banjo-pickers named Cletus than NHL hockey, was in possession of hockey's greatest prize was an affront to their sensibilities. And "niche" fans such as myself couldn't have enjoyed their outrage more.
Similarly, the past few seasons, I've thrown my support to the Washington Capitals. While their story isn't as warm and fuzzy to me as that of the Hurricanes, I enjoyed the unapologetic, in-your-face, who-cares-if-we-don't-play-defense attitude of the Capitals. The centerpiece, the embodiment of that culture is undoubtedly Alexander Ovechkin. He makes no attempt to disguse the fact that he's hot stuff, and ragingly conscious of it. Consider also that the Capitals toiled in mediocrity for so many years, save a lone finals appearance in the late 90s, and they were an easy sell for me. However, this season feels a little different to me, and I don't find the Capitals to be as easy to root for as I once did. The Capitals, who once went down as smooth and cool as a vanilla milkshake, suddenly give me heartburn. There's a few contributing components that are immediately apparent to me.
First, like a spoiled child, the Capitals no longer seem appreciative of what they've been given or what they have. Rather, there's an expectation that being the best isn't something you achieve, it's just something that you are. That sort of entitlement has been the Achilles Heel of the San Jose Sharks for several seasons now, and ultimately I think the Capitals are doomed to succumb to the same fatal hubris. No longer a polished late-model Honda Accord that anyone could relate to or get behind the wheel of, the Capitals are now a boisterous Italian sportscar, a Maserati, and it's hard not to smile a bit when it eventually takes the curve too fast and goes right off a cliff.
Secondly, and this may even be more of a gripe to me than that first factor, the Capitals' fanbase has become just as loud and obtrusive as the red on their sweaters. The maelstrom of outrage that spewed forth from Caps fans when Columbus BlueJackets forward RJ Umberger spoke his opinion was swift and prolific. Similarly, the fury they bring to any Norris Trophy discussion that doesn't immediately favor "Jersey Shore" reject Mike Green would melt the gel from his hair and the spray-tan from his tribal-tattooed bicep. Disregard that he's practically a fourth forward that's less acquainted with the defensive zone than Marek Zidlicky-- he's the only candidate that deserves consideration, as they'll brusquely declare. The Washington Capitals are sort of like New York City -- they'd be great, if not for the people.
Capitals Defenseman\All-around Tool, Mike Green
So the Hurricanes are out of it, the Capitals have disenchanted me...so who does my support go to, in the event that the Predators fall short, this season? My vote goes to the Ottawa Senators. This could of course change, once things get going, but for now, that's my pick. Daniel Alfredsson may be one of the most underrated, classiest guys in the game. The Senators also extricated themselves of Dany Heatley last summer, sending him to a team that would absolve me of any personal conflict regarding liking the team\hating the player, the San Jose Sharks. If the Senators happen to fall out of it, I'll re-evaluate at that time, but that's who I'm going with for now.
I should clarify that a "surrogate" team is by no means an adequate substitute for the Predators. The prospect of another early exit for the Preds is as crushing to me as it is to anyone. This is simply a means to take some solace and find some enjoyment in the aftermath of that disappointment. My first choice would naturally be to never have to choose such a team, so consider this whole discussion hypothetical.
Speaking of the 'Canes, captain Eric Staal netted a hat-trick on, of all nights, free hat night in Carolina. I've always dreamed of such a thing happening at the @BridgestoneArena . Hey, maybe we'll get to toss our free visors to the ice, tomorrow! A man can dream.
Congratulations to @BlakeGeoffrion, whose Wisconsin Badgers defeated RIT in the NCAA semifinals yesterday by a score of 8 to 1. Blake picked up a goal and an assist in the blowout win; Preds' prospect Craig Smith also netted a marker for the Badgers. Wisconsin will take on the Boston College Eagles in the NCAA Championship on Saturday.
Bryan Mullen reports in The Tennessean that Barry Trotz is confident that Hornqvist will be ready for game one of the playoffs, slated to start mid-next week. This is great news, but I'm reserving elation until I actually see number 27 on the ice.
The Preds dropped to seventh place last night, as the Kings managed to salvage a point in a shootout loss to the Coyotes. The Coyotes and Red Wings both have two games remaining; the Preds have one. If the Predators can wrap up their season tomorrow against St Louis with a victory, they will only need one of the Red Wings or Kings to lose one of their final games to clinch no worse than sixth place.
I'm pretty stoked about the numbers that my now-five-day-old blog is getting, per day...so THANK YOU to everyone who is reading, and an even bigger THANK YOU to those of you that have spread the word\retweeted\linked\shouted out. I encourage you to use the comments function of the blog...I'm all for dialogue, and welcome feedback of any sort.
Along those lines, who is YOUR "surrogate team?"