Jr. Predators bring new level of hockey to Nashville
October 3, 2014
By Maren Angus, The Tennessean
In the past, local hockey players have had to leave home to compete at the next level.
This year, with the help of former Nashville Predators player J.P. Dumont, the North American 3 Hockey League expanded to Nashville.
“I fell in love with Nashville right when we moved here and decided to retire here,” said Dumont, an assistant coach. “I decided to get involved with youth hockey the last several years and I thought it was time for us to bring a junior team here. So far it has been a great experience, a lot of fun and we are trying to give a new opportunity for some of the hometown boys.”
The Nashville Jr. Predators are off to a 3-0 start. Their home opener is Friday at 7 p.m. at A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin. Tickets are $10.
The NA3HL is a USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior league. The mission is to provide a structured developmental environment for student-athletes whose youth options are limited but are still reaching their potential and have aspirations of playing in the NAHL (North American Hockey League) or United States Hockey League (USHL) and eventually the NCAA or American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Karlis Zirinis, who has been a part of the local youth hockey scene, has spent the last three years assisting Ted Nolan as a coach for Team Latvia in the Olympics and the last three World Championships.
“I didn’t get a chance to coach in Buffalo and literally 24 hours later the coach that was hired here left and (Dumont) asked me if I was interested,” Zirinis said. “I didn’t hesitate. It’s a great opportunity.”
The Nashville Jr. Predators held tryouts in Flint, Mich., over the summer and came back with a diverse group of players. The ages range from 17 to 20. There are four players in high school, four from Middle Tennessee, a few from other southern states and a couple from Europe. But the majority of the team is from northern states.
Local players Noah Keener, Jesse Hyde and Jacob Elrod made the roster out of camp.
“At the beginning of the (school) year I thought I was going to move, but it’s even better getting to stay close to home,” said Elrod, a senior at Centennial. “I get to go to the same high school and graduate with all of my friends and that’s really nice.”
Keener, a Clarksville native, has spent the last four year playing alongside Jesse Hyde, who is from Springfield. Neither played in the Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey League but played for the Jr. Predators organization.
“It makes it easier playing with a guy you have known forever,” Keener said. “It helps we are on the same line, too.”
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