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In Sports Commentary

Long before he lead Nashville to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, goaltender Pekka Rinne honed his craft in Milwaukee.

Sunday Scorecard: Predators' success began in Milwaukee

Prior to their decisive Game 7 last week against Houston, the Milwaukee Admirals got a gift of sorts from parent-club Nashville.

The Predators, having been eliminated by Vancouver from the Stanley Cup Playoffs the night before, returned forwards Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk and defenseman Jonathan Blum to Milwaukee in the hopes of closing out the series.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way they had hoped – the Admirals lost to Houston, 4-2, bringing their season to an end – but the sentiment was nice, especially considering how many times Milwaukee's best players were sent to Nashville during the year.

If you were lucky enough to catch a few Predators' games during the post-season, you probably heard a lot of familiar names. Goaltender Pekka Rinne spent three years in Milwaukee and finished the post-season with a respectable 2.57 goals-against average.

Shea Weber, the captain, played in Milwaukee. So did Cal O'Reilly, Jerred Smithson, Nick Spalding, Jordin Tootoo and a host of others. The small-market Predators have made it an organizational focus to build from within and the system appears to be working.

"Our organization is about winning," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said after his team was eliminated. "Very few teams have both teams that seem to be in the playoffs every year and that's what we've done here. We're creating a good environment for winning but we've got a long way to go."

The Predators finished the regular season fifth in the Western Conference with 99 points and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in their 12-year history, taking the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks to a sixth game before finally being eliminated.

The Predators' focus on home-grown talent has been beneficial to the Admirals', as well. The team has become one of the most consistently successful teams in the American Hockey League – despite a high number of back-and-forth players each season – and has made the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons.

What's next for Lambert: With the sad news that assistant coach Brent Peterson won't return to the Predators' bench next season due to Parkinson's disease, there is speculation that Admirals' head coach Lane Lambert could get a promotion.

No doubt, Lambert deserves it. In four seasons with the Admirals, his teams have gone 184-103-37, advancing to the playoffs each year and twice winning both the West Division and Western Conference regular-season championships.

Bright lights: Four Wisconsin football games will be played at night this fall, a record for the program.

The Badgers will play in prime time against UNLV (Sept. 1), Nebraska (Oct. 1) at Michigan State (Oct. 22) and Ohio State (Oct. 29). ESPN will air the UNLV game while the other three will be broadcast by either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

The game against Nebraska is sure to draw a lot of interest as it marks the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten Conference game. The games against the Spartans and Buckeyes will pit the Badgers against their fellow conference co-champions from a year ago.

Wisconsin is 8-2 in night games at Camp Randall Stadium and 16-2 in its last 18 prime time games.

Vikings press forward on new stadium: Lockout or not, the Minnesota Vikings are pressing forward with plans for a new stadium. The team has introduced a plan to build a 65,000-seat facility in suburban Arden Hills. The facility would be financed in large part by a one-half percent sales tax in Ramsey County and a $400 million contribution from the Vikings.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have introduced a plan that would incorporate the current site of the Metrodome and also include money to upgrade the Target Center, home of the NBA Timberwolves, and the convention center.

Considering the current labor situation in the NFL, you have to hand it to the Vikings for having the guts to suggest taxpayers foot even a portion of the bill for a new stadium. Yes, the Twins (finally) got their new house last season, just like almost every other team in American pro sports.

Times are different now. Thanks to the economy, growing unemployment and a host of other budgetary factors, support for publicly financed new stadiums and arenas is minimal in most major markets – has anybody come out and publicly supported a new arena for the Bucks? – though it's more than likely that any public opposition will be ignored and lawmakers, facing threat of relocation, will crumble under pressure.

Killebrew to end treatment: Former Minnesota Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew's announcement that he will end his treatment for esophogeal cancer should be yet another cue for Major League Baseball to step up its efforts in promoting cancer awareness within its largest demographic: men.

Come Father's Day, there will be the occasional blue bat, batting glove or on-field accessory to promote prostate cancer awareness but the effort will get a tiny percent of the attention that goes towards breast cancer (which, by the way is a worthy cause ... let's not take this the wrong way).

Baseball has a responsibility to its fans. And part of that is making men aware of the dangers the face. Men are far less likely to go to a doctor and thus, there needs to be an equal emphasis on men's health initiatives.

Larry King Lounge: If you haven't read Bob Buege's book on the Milwaukee Braves, do yourself a favor and pick it up at a bookseller near you. It's a tremendous look at one of the most successful teams in baseball history ... Two former Wisconsin players, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski, are trying to get the San Jose Sharks into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ... The Bucks have a 13 percent chance of winning the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday ... In case you missed it, here is a replay of Yuniesky Betancourt's amazing double play toss last week.


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