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Marketing-conscious Predators celebrate draft on sand
Posted: Sunday June 27, 1999 04:54 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Nashville is about as landlocked as it gets, but that didn't stop the Predators from throwing a beach party to celebrate the NHL entry draft.
The team used 100 tons of sand Saturday to build a temporary beach near the entrance to the Nashville Arena and closed an entire city block to automotive traffic.
Some 5,000 Predators fans walked into the block party through bamboo huts and were given Hawaiian leis as a Caribbean steel-drum band played. Other outdoor attractions included a 12,500-gallon pool, a dunking tank, and a Zamboni.
And they weren't disheartened by the gray skies and intermittent rain on a hot and humid day.
"The Predators have been amazing at getting people interested," said Eric Barrett of Spring Hill, a season ticket-holder who came to the party with his 2-year-old son, Jackson. "It makes you feel like it's really Nashville's team."
Inside the arena were tricycle and miniature Zamboni races for the children, and a large video screen so fans could watch the ESPN2 broadcast of the draft from Boston.
Fans roared their approval as Predators general manager David Poile, who was in Boston, welcomed them on TV and announced the team had chosen goaltender Brian Finley with its first-round pick.
It is rare to take a goaltender as high as the Predators did, with the sixth overall pick. Finley was the top-rated goalie in the draft, but just the 11th player overall in the rankings by The Hockey News.
"Mr. Poile has done some risky things. He brought in rookie coaches and he went to a younger team and things have worked out," assistant coach Paul Gardner said. "We're hoping this pick works out too, and I'm sure it will."
The Predators had expressed interest all along in the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Finley, who went 36-10-4 with the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts. They were also concerned about injuries to two of their top three netminders, Mike Dunham and Eric Fichaud.
"For a big man, Brian's got great reflexes and seems to be confident in his game for a 17-year-old," Gardner said. "He goes out and challenges shooters, and he just does everything you'd want in a goaltender at a young age."
In the second round, Nashville chose Swedish right wing Jonas Andersson, Michigan State right wing Adam Hall and defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, Barrie defenseman Ed Hill, and Slovakian goalie Jan Lasak.
In the third round, the Predators selected North Bay defenseman Brett Angel and Branko Radivojevic, a right wing from the OHL.
Nashville picked up right wings Alexandr Krevsun from the Russian Hockey League in the fourth round and Konstantin Panov of the WHL the next round.
Defenseman Timo Helbing of the Swiss League was the Predators' sixth-round choice.
In the seventh round, Nashville took left wing Martin Erat of the Czech Republic and goaltender Kyle Kettles. In the eighth, Nashville chose defenseman Miroslav Durak of Slovakia and the Predators final pick, No. 248 overall, was Darren Haydar, a right wing who played for the University of New Hampshire.
The beach party was typical of the Predators' aggressive efforts to attract and keep fans in this new NHL market.
"It's a great way to get some hockey during the off-season, and do it in a very fun, entertaining, family atmosphere," team vice president of communications and development Gerry Helper said.
More than 90 percent of last year's season ticket-holders had renewed their tickets, Helper said.
The Predators concluded their inaugural season as the NHL's attendance leader in markets under 2 million people, despite a 28-47-7 record. They averaged 16,145 a game, and 10 of their 17 sellouts came after January, when their playoff hopes had dimmed.
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