Erat displays scrimmage scoring prowess

Thursday, September 20, 2001 at 12:00am

Left-winger Martin Erat had been scoring his share of goals in scrimmages, but he kept on waiting for the exhibition games to begin before putting any credibility on his scoring skills.

In Tuesday night's 3-2 loss in Columbus, Ohio to the Blue Jackets, Erat scored one of the two goals for the Predators to break what was then a shutout. He knows exactly what he has to do to impress the Predators coaching staff - score goals.

"I have to keep shooting in camp," Erat said. "If I don't score, everybody is going to be looking and asking what is wrong with me. If I score, everybody shakes my hands like it's a big thing. But I have to do lots of stuff. I have to not only score, but play defense and do everything else."

Erat, pronounced "EE-rat", was born in Trebic in the Czech Republic, Aug. 28, 1981. He was drafted in 1999 in the seventh round as the Predators 12th pick overall.

Last season was doubly big for Erat, a left-handed shooter. He was a major scorer in the Western Hockey League with 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) for Saskatoon in 31 games and 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) in 17 games for Red Deer, the WHL and Memorial Cup champions, and also won a gold medal in 2001 World Under-20 Championship for the Czech Republic.

"Last year was good for me," Erat said. "I had so much pressure on me. It gave me a little bit of experience.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself. We lost one or two games at Red Deer and the coach said I had to keep going and score goals. It was good for me to be traded to Red Deer and get the chance to play for the Memorial Cup."

Playing for a franchise where goals often are at a premium, it would be great if Erat's scoring skills translate well on the NHL level. He admits he has seen an improvement in his game every season.

"When I was a kid, I just started scoring goals," said Erat who started playing at age 5. "Every year I scored more and more goals. When I came to Canada to play junior hockey, everyone was expecting me to score goals.

"First of all I'm a European. And second, I scored goals in my first couple of games. Everyone started expecting it from me."

Erat is working hard to be the next Scott Hartnell or Greg Classen for the Predators. Last year that pair made it impossible to send them back to the minors or junior hockey at the end of training camp. Coach Barry Trotz likes what he sees from Erat so far and will be watching him closely in the rest of the preseason games, including Friday night's visit to Huntsville, Ala., to face the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 in the Von Braun Civic Center.

"Martin has played well," Trotz said. "We will let him go through the preseason. He may take someone's spot. He is earning the right to get a serious look."

Trotz likes Erat's scoring ability, but he also is appreciative of the rest of the youngster's skills.

"He has some speed," Trotz said. "He's courageous. He can go wide around the net or he'll bowl in and muck around to get a loose puck. He makes the second effort coming out of the corner with guys hanging on you. He has some pretty good skills.

"There is the competitive factor. He is hard on the puck. He takes the puck to the net. He creates turnovers and when he does he can make plays. He is not afraid to take the step to the net. Once in awhile we tell him he is getting a little too creative, but he is a guy who makes something happens when he is on the ice."

MORE ROSTER CUTS

Four more players were reassigned Wednesday afternoon. Three of this year's draft choices, No. 1 pick Dan Hamhuis, fourth round pick Jordin Tootoo and second round pick Tomas Slovak will all return to their junior teams. Hamhuis, a defenseman, returns to Prince George of the WHL. Tootoo, a right-winger, will also be back in the WHL for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Slovak, a defenseman, will play for Kosice in Slovakia.

Also reassigned was defenseman Eric Lavigne, a free agent. Lavigne tried out for the Predators during the prospects camp at Traverse City, Mich. He is expected to sign with either Milwaukee of the American Hockey League or Cincinnati of the East Coast Hockey League, both minor league affiliates of the Predators.

TICKET SALES DONATION

The Predators will donate all ticket sales over the next five days for their preseason games Saturday and Sunday to the families of firefighters and police officers who lost their lives last week in New York City.

The Predators will play the St. Louis Blues at 7:05 Saturday night and the Chicago Blackhawks at 5:05 Sunday. Both games are at Gaylord Entertainment Center.

All money collected for tickets beginning with sales Tuesday are designated for the contribution. Predators owner Craig Leipold has purchased a block of tickets, which will be donated to local charitable organizations to jump-start the effort.

"Our fans showed their support with their contribution to the Red Cross disaster relief effort last Saturday during our intrasquad scrimmage," said Predators president Jack Diller. "This is another way for our fans and our organization to recognize the heroic efforts of so many and to assist in a small way to help family members cope with the tragedy."

Nashville Metro Police officers will also be at both games to collect donations at the entrances of the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets may be purchased at the box office, Ticketmaster outlets, over the Internet at www.nashvillepredators.com or by calling 615-770-PUCK.

Nashville vs. Columbia

at Huntsville

Friday, 7:00 p.m.

Radio - WSM-FM (95.5)

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