Just how passionate is Nashville's hockey fan base?
Posted: Monday March 12, 2007 1:04PM; Updated: Monday March 12, 2007 6:22PM
I've been to Nashville many times and always enjoy my visits to the city. Now, this isn't a travelogue piece, but my schedule brought me there over the weekend and I decided to spend my time as a diehard hockey fan. I took in two Predators games, multiple youth hockey games, and even went to the Preds' Friday optional skate at their practice rink.
All of this was to get a sense of how the much maligned market was responding to the team's rise atop the NHL standings. From my vantage point, the Preds fans are thoroughly enjoying their team. After an impressive 6-3 win on Thursday night over the Calgary Flames --announced attendance: 15,515, slightly above this season's average of 14,918 for the 17,113-seat Gaylord Entertainment Center although actual head count is often about 1,500 fewer -- the scene surrounding Saturday night's affair with the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets had to be exactly what the league and ownership envisioned when the franchise opened for business in 1998. The game was a sellout. People milled about the streets and filled the bars and restaurants hours prior to the 7 p.m. puck drop.
In other words, there was atmosphere and a feel unique to the city -- I call it Hockey-Tonk. I mean, where else can you shuffle past one establishment after another, each blaring live country music from their open air fronts, while people -- an amazing number wearing Predators jerseys, although I must admit, I can't recall seeing one of their mustard colored road editions -- idle away the time leading up to face-off?
Inside, the energy was palpable, even though the Preds had polished off the Jackets seven times this season. I don't think the crowd buzz had anything to do with the potential sweep of Columbus, which the Preds ended up doing by a 2-1 count, thus running their recent record to 7-0-3.
No, the atmosphere inside the arena reflected a crowd doing what most crowds do when their team is playing well, though the Preds' fans do have their own chants and rituals -- like the train whistles that blow randomly throughout the building every time Jordin Tootoo steps on the ice to wreak havoc. Or the college-like response of "you still SUCK" after the PA announcer intones that the Predators have taken a penalty. OK, not the height of originality, but in unison it had a tongue-in-cheek, mock-the-visitors, we're-in-this-together feel to it. And, with the city hosting the 16th annual Country & Western youth hockey tournament, there were lots of kids in attendance, which always brings a building to life.
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