It was the summer of 2007. Apple revolutionized technology by releasing the fist version of the iPhone upon the world while filmgoers were simultaneously falling in love with the summer’s biggest on-screen hero, Spider Pig. It was also at this time when I made the decision to move to Nashville, Tennessee. I had never set foot in Tennessee before 2007 and I knew next to nothing about Music City.
But I was aware that they had a professional hockey team.
Just months before I moved to Nashville, there was an attempt made by Canadian businessman, Jim Balsillie to purchase the Predators. Balsillie took a page straight from the script of Major League and was seemingly hoping to relocate the Preds to Hamilton, Ontario, if Nashville’s 2007-08 average paid attendance fell below 14,000 fans per game.
Balsillie’s deal fell through and the Predators finished the 2007-08 season with a paid average attendance of 14,910 (87.1%). Nashville also finished second in the Central Division that season only to be ousted in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Red Wings, who would later go on to defeat Pittsburgh in the finals.
As a new Red Wings’ fan in town, there was nothing eminently threatening or intimidating about the Predators at that time. Sure, Jordin Tootoo was a persistent thorn in the side and it was easy to mock the barrage of tiny toy train-whistles that serenaded him every shift he took, Nashville always just came off as a pesky and annoying little brother that could sometimes hit you where it hurt.
Even then, though not as numerous, Preds fans were still a loyal and proud bunch. When the team pulled off a big win against rivals such as Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis, they certainly let you know. Every time I walked through the doors at Bridgestone Arena to attend a Red Wings and Predators matchup, I knew I was going to either leave the arena the most proud fan on Earth, or a shamed soldier prepared to face a gauntlet of insults from the victorious underdog.
This may all seem like an extraneous exaggeration, but as we all know, fans of professional sports are a loyal, and sometimes rabid, breed of people. I’ll be the first to admit, I am a passionate Red Wings’ fan who proudly professes my allegiance at games, especially after consuming several cold adult beverages, but I also know where to draw the line and pay my respects.
Before the Predators evolved into the Western Conference championship team that they now are, I felt the scorn of the Nashville faithful many times. I’ve had peanuts thrown on me from the upper bowl, beer “accidentally” spilled on me, and heard more “Lidstrom/Zetterberg sucks” comments than I thought were humanely possible. Heck, I was even called a “Yankee” once at a Preds game.
So in my more youthful Red Wings’ fanaticism days I wasn’t hesitant to mock the Predators, I had acquired plenty of ammo and inspiration to fuel my assault. The team had no banners, no long history to speak of, a fan-base that was new and still learning the game of hockey, and let’s face it, a uniform that screamed 1990’s expansion team. If a Preds’ fan had a insult, I had five more locked and ready to be unloaded.
To those living outside of Tennessee, you may not be aware that there is a large population of people from Michigan who transplanted to the Nashville area after some of the big automakers opened up plants in the surrounding areas. You’re honestly just as likely to see a car with a Michigan license plate/team sticker on it as you are to see a Tennessee counterpart on the roads down here. Many of the Michiganders who migrated brought their love of hockey with them and began being referred to as “Pred Wings” fan, a term I scoffed at in my stubbornness.
It all came to a head during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Nashville eliminated Detroit in the opening round. I realized the Wings were in the process of starting to lose what they had only a few short years ago and would ultimately not defeat the Preds, a fact that I later shared during a chance encounter with Barry Trotz at a Buffalo Wild Wings. I will still never get behind how Nashville celebrated Shea Weber slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass at the conclusion of game one in that series.
But both age and time can soften and mature the most loyal fanatic’s heart, and the enemy of a former enemy can eventually become a friend.
Not to mention that Nashville now has one hell of a respectable hockey team.
As I mentioned earlier, I know when, where, and who to give my respects to, and the Nashville Predators and their fans alike have earned my respect. David Poile has built an electrifying and loveable hockey team that has turned Nashville, Tennessee into a true modern-era hockey town. Ten years ago it was rare to see any Predators’ memorabilia out and about in Middle Tennessee, but now you can’t go two miles down the road without seeing a sticker, flag, shirt or sign proudly displaying the Preds logo and colors.
The Bridgestone Arena atmosphere and Nashville’s fanfare may not be the choice cup of tea for old-school hockey purists and opposing fans, but it’s an undeniable force in and of itself. Watching the Preds play in the 2017 NHL Playoffs has been both fun and impressive, something I thought I’d never admit, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
Predators’ general manager, David Poile, has done a remarkable job in Nashville, both on and off the ice, to construct a team that will only positively influence the growth of hockey in North America. The Predators have created and backed an ever-growing youth hockey organization that will without a doubt eventually yield to an elite-prospect coming out Tennessee.
I’ve always known in my hockey loving instinctual gut that the Preds and their fans were stealthily evolving into something special and unique. When Poile shocked the hockey world by trading Shea Weber for PK Subban last summer he sparked a powder keg. Whether you love it or hate it, Nashville has become both a contender and a hockey town.
As far as the whole catfish throwing goes, well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.