Ready for its close-up

Preda­tors’ post-sea­son run has turned Mu­sic City into Smashville

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - HOCKEY BY TERESA M. WALKER

The place known as Smashville is ready for its close-up.

The Nashville Preda­tors have reached their first West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal in fran­chise his­tory and that has spread hockey fever far beyond their arena and the team’s loyal le­gion of fans.

Stars from Car­rie Un­der­wood to Lady An­te­bel­lum are lin­ing up to sing the na­tional an­them and the likes of John Hi­att to Lee Green­wood are singing with the house band dur­ing in­ter­mis­sions.

Not only do Preda­tors’ flags and ban­ners drape Nashville’s fa­mous honky­tonks, they now hang from front porches in the sub­urbs of Mu­sic City.

“You can’t drive through a neigh­bour­hood with­out see­ing a flag,” Preda­tors pres­i­dent Sean Henry said. “So it’s fun to tap into a pas­sion that this com­mu­nity has for sports, and right now it’s all about the Nashville Preda­tors.”

Col­lege foot­ball may be king in the South and NASCAR re­mains pop­u­lar, but hockey cer­tainly has a foothold. It’s not un­usual any­more for a South­ern team to be in the mix for a Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship — this just hap­pens to be the first time that Nashville has made it this far.

The Preda­tors are on their best run post-sea­son yet and the long­est by ei­ther of Nashville’s two ma­jor league fran­chises in 14 years. Shoot, the NFL’s Ten­nessee Ti­tans haven’t reached the play­offs since 2008 and last reached the AFC cham­pi­onship in 2003.

That’s why most TVs were tuned to hockey at a lo­cal bar­be­cue joint af­ter the Preda­tors ousted St. Louis in six games. Peo­ple wanted to watch Nashville’s next op­po­nent, ei­ther Ana­heim or Ed­mon­ton.

Nashville na­tive and PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker said he’s never seen so much yel­low walk­ing around down­town be­fore Game 4 against the Blues. Ev­ery­one in his child’s class at school has Preda­tors’ gear, too.

“To feel the en­ergy on the ice was un­like any­thing I’ve felt in sports be­fore,” said Snedeker, who brought the Ry­der Cup with him to the game. “It was such a dy­namic, elec­tric at­mos­phere to see all that en­ergy in one place pulling for one team and do­ing some­thing only Nashville would do in the right way ... it was awe­some to watch.”

The Ti­tans have been very sup­port­ive. Pro Bowl run­ning back DeMarco Mur­ray stirred up fans wav­ing a rally flag for one game, while coach Mike Mu­larkey and gen­eral man­ager Jon Robin­son reg­u­larly wear Preda­tors’ gear. Dur­ing a rain de­lay, the TripleA Nashville Sounds showed the Preda­tors’ play­off game a few blocks away on their gui­tar­shaped video board. The Van­der­bilt Com­modores watched the end of Sun­day’s clincher on their own video board af­ter their own game.

For­mer Bills and Jets coach Rex Ryan is a sea­son-ticket holder who at­tended play­off games in St. Louis and Nashville. For­mer Ti­tans coach Jeff Fisher also was at a re­cent play­off game.

“Peo­ple just want to be with this team, and we just love this fan base,” Henry said.

The Preda­tors also are ben­e­fit­ing from youth hockey pro­grams in this non-tra­di­tional mar­ket, and now for­mer skaters are buy­ing their own tick­ets. They’ve now sold out 55 con­sec­u­tive games, in­clud­ing ev­ery lux­ury suite this sea­son.

AP PHOTO

In this April 17 file photo, coun­try mu­sic star Car­rie Un­der­wood per­forms the na­tional an­them be­fore Game 3 of a first-round NHL play­off se­ries be­tween the Preda­tors and the Chicago Black­hawks in Nashville, Tenn.

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