Saturday night will mark just the second time that former Predators Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen have played in Nashville since leaving. The duo’s negotiating rights were dealt to Philadelphia during the Preds’ fire sale in the summer of 2007, but they are excited to be back in Nashville this weekend.
“It actually feels like coming home,” Timonen said on Friday. “I have so many good memories from this rink and this team and the coaching staff. It’s nice. It’s like a second home for me.”
Said Hartnell, “Being here as a young kid and growing up here, the city was awesome. The people down here are super nice. I miss the city a lot, but in the hockey world you have to move on sometimes and I love Philadelphia. But it’s real nice to come back here and enjoy the city. I try to come back once each summer for a couple days to get my fill of honky tonks and see some old friends.”
Hartnell and Timonen were important pieces for the Preds when they went from expansion team to playoff team around the lockout. Timonen was an original Predator, a former captain and a workhorse on the blueline. He amassed 222 assists and 301 points in 573 games in Nashville, ranking in the top five in each of those categories in the franchise’s history. Meanwhile, Hartnell played in 436 games and was drafted in the first round by the Preds in 2000, developing into a 20-goal scorer before being traded.
“It’s good to see them,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re jabbing me and ragging me already. They’re mocking me; I’m mocking them. It’s all good.”
Hartnell is on pace for a career-high 38 goals, while Timonen is on pace for his third career 50-point season. Simply put, both have been key parts for the Flyers this year, just like they were with the Preds.
“They were a big part of our organization for a long time. You like to see them have good success and they both have. I think Scotty is having his career year and he should be on the All-Star team. He’s playing outstanding and he’s a great complement for (Claude) Giroux and (Jaromir) Jagr. (Kimmo) was one of the first stars here and still is a star. He’s one of those quiet, very efficient stars.”
Hartnell, who says he still keeps in contact with a few of the current Preds who were his former teammates, is appreciative of the job Trotz did when he was in Nashville and has done ever since.
“He gets a lot out of his players,” Hartnell said of Trotz. “He’s a really good teaching coach. It seems like every year when you look at their roster – nothing against some of the guys here – there aren’t superstars, they’re not leading the league in points or anything like that, but they find their way to the playoffs every year. It says a lot to the management and coaching.
“Barry made sure I worked hard every day at practice, and more importantly, make sure I was prepared for games. … I was fortunate enough to break in with this organization and learn a little bit about hockey, being a pro, being a man.”
When Hartnell and Timonen were traded, the Preds were coming off their two best seasons and the sport’s popularity in the city was just starting on an uptick. Both players recalled old memories with the Nashville fan base and are impressed with the way it has grown in recent years.
“The first year, it was obviously a totally new sport here,” Timonen said. “I remember in my first or second training camp when they still had to explain the rules to the fans. During exhibition games there were people talking on the microphone that plays were offside and that kind of stuff. Obviously, now they know the game and know the rules. They are great fans.”
Hartnell added, “Watching last year in the playoffs when they won the first playoff round, it was an incredible atmosphere here. You could tell on TV it was just booming. I remember in 2000 the fans would cheer for a shot off the glass that would make a loud noise. I feel bad saying that, but now they’re hockey people, this is a hockey town and I think it’s grown on a lot of people.”