On the bus to and from Fort Campbell, Ky., they were Nashville Predators, but as soon as they entered the gates of the military base they were nothing but recruits for the day.
And a day was long enough. After the rigorous Wednesday, the players were so drained that they were given Thursday off.
“They got smoked,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “They were tested physically. They were tested mentally.
“It was a challenge emotionally for some of them. One of our players told me the first hour was the toughest hour he had ever encountered physically and mentally.”
As part of a team-building exercise the Predators were put through the paces by members of the 160th Special Ops unit, known as SOAR (Special Operations Air Regiment). Trotz marveled at the way his players responded to the military challenges.
“The neatest thing I saw was how a group of guys came together and how some leaders became really good leaders,” Trotz said. “Guys stood up for each other. They figured things out.
“I was really proud of them. But more than anything they should be proud of themselves.”
He noticed which players took leadership roles and was especially impressed with team captain Jason Arnott and goaltender Chris Mason as they helped guide their team through an obstacle course.
“They had to survey it before the rest of the group did it,” Trotz said. “I watched them GPS to their group what was ahead. There was a lot of adversity they had to deal with. When I saw them come back they weren’t the same two guys who started that day. They were two different guys. To me, that was the most incredible thing I saw.”
Trotz admits that he doesn’t think last year’s team would have performed as well under the same conditions.
“They got through it and there wasn’t any complaining,” Trotz said. “That told me a lot about them as individuals and a lot about them as a group. They were hard and they were smart.
“The dynamics change every year. This group is hard enough to handle something like this. There is nothing against the players who are not with us anymore but the guys that we have this year and their mentality is a lot different than last year.”
Spending time with the military gave the players an appreciation for the armed forces on many levels.
“Our players have a good awareness of what the military goes through in terms of training and what they do to protect our freedom,” Trotz said. “The players said one of the things they will remember most is the memorial to the members of the 160th who have passed on.”
COUNTDOWN STARTS: With less than week to go before the season opener, Trotz has a checklist of things left to do.
“We have to get back to playing hockey,” Trotz said. “We will get our feet back under us and work the soreness out.”
The final preseason game is Saturday at the Sommet Center against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7.
Trotz thinks he could make the final cuts for the team either before or after practice today.
“Most of the decisions have been made,” Trotz said.
The most difficult decision will be to determine the back-up goaltender for Chris Mason. Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have been in a virtual dead heat for the spot.
“There is a slight separation in our minds, but it’s not much,” Trotz said. “It is a good problem to have.”
TICKET COUNT: The Predators have sold approximately 9,360 full and partial season tickets, putting them about 1,000 ahead of this same time last season.
However, there are still approximately 2,700 tickets remaining for the season opener Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche. There are also 8,000 tickets still on sale for the Oct. 6 game with the Dallas Stars at the Sommet Center.