PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – OK, who out there had Kiefer Sherwood scoring the first goal of the season for the Nashville Predators – and then ending up as the game’s first star on a global stage?
Better yet, who even knew much about Sherwood until the past couple of weeks?
When he signed a modest one-year, $750,000 deal with the Predators in mid-July, it was one of those additions that barely makes a blip. It was overshadowed by the trade for Ryan McDonagh or the free-agent addition of Nino Niederreiter, two high-profile moves that have been often mentioned – inside the team and out – as reasons for higher hopes this season.
But Sherwood? How is it that Friday in the Czech Republic, an unheralded 27-year-old from Columbus, Ohio – in the midst of his first-ever trip to Europe – ended up scoring a huge goal, adding an assist, playing well and stealing the show before a massive audience? He was a major part of the Predators' season-opening 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Global Series.
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“It’s surreal,” Sherwood said.
So much that it’s worth a chuckle, really.
Not from me. From him.
Sherwood laughed a little when I asked if he could have envisioned it. And as for the last time that he has been first star in an NHL game?
“Never,” he replied, breaking into a smile and a stronger laugh, the knee-snapping variety.
He signed with the Predators, for whom his brother Kole had been a part of the organization and played one NHL game last season. Sherwood came to Nashville with hopes of getting the shot he appears to now be receiving.
“In the minors, I think the biggest thing I've learned is to just have a chip on my shoulder and put my head down,” he said. “When you play the game the right way and try to work hard, I think good things usually happen. Just to get a chance and an opportunity is something that I've just dreamed of. I've just got to keep building on this one.”
For all the hype that predated this game in Prague, Friday’s eventual moment – and by far the best storyline – went to Sherwood.
And maybe a little bit to Predators coach John Hynes, too.
Every once in a while, Hynes is prone to a curveball that’ll make Preds fans shake their heads and grumble. Entering Friday’s game, that curveball was moving Sherwood ahead of Philip Tomasino, a 21-year-old former first-round pick who played in 76 games last season and has been widely considered a breakout candidate this season. Instead, Tomasino was a healthy scratch Friday.
Sherwood for Tomasino? Huh? And not just in the top 12. Sherwood was in the top six. He started on the Predators’ second line with Ryan Johansen and Niederreiter, who also scored in his regular-season debut.
“The more we play together, the better he gets,” said Niederreiter of Sherwood. “He did a great job tonight."
Why did Hynes like so much about Sherwood? His speed.
Sherwood’s season-opening goal took 61 seconds. Yeah, that’s pretty fast.
WELCOME TO SMASHVILLE, SHERWOOD! pic.twitter.com/CgMBSHvCB8
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) October 7, 2022
On his first shift, he slapped a loose puck into the net to put the Predators ahead in a game they’d never trail.
“One of the objectives, we felt, in the offseason was to become a faster team,” said Hynes on Friday morning. “… Sherwood's speed is a real factor.”
After one game, it has been.
Hynes was careful to say that competition for that second-line spot remains alive. Here’s where I need to remind you that it was just one game.
But it’s one that Sherwood will always remember, and it’ll make Smashville always remember him.
Who saw that coming?
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Predators, Kiefer Sherwood top Sharks as NHL season opens in Prague