Good times roll in Nashville dur­ing Preds’ play­off run

‘Elec­tric at­mos­phere’ in Mu­sic City for first ap­pear­ance in West­ern fi­nal

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - TERESA M. WALKER

NASHVILLE 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 and Lee Green­wood are singing with the house band dur­ing in­ter­mis­sions.

Not only do Preda­tors’ flags and ban­ners drape Nashville’s fa­mous honky tonks, 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 Triple-A

I’ve been to a lot of hockey sta­di­ums, and it’s def­i­nitely up there at the top. Ev­ery time I go, the at­mos­phere’s pretty elec­tric.

Nashville Sounds showed the Preda­tors’ play­off game a few blocks away on their gui­tar-shaped 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.

About 70 per cent of the Preda­tors’ tick­ets are sold out­side the city’s home county, with up to 20 per cent of those com­ing from out­side of Ten­nessee.

Matt Clark, a 30-year-old hu­man re­sources man­ager, has driven down from Louisville, Ky., for two to three games per month for the past three years. He grew up play­ing hockey in Roanoke, Va., where his favourite ECHL player was Ter­ence Tootoo, whose brother, Jordin, played for Nashville.

Clark said the Chicago and Detroit jer­seys he used to see in the stands are gone, re­placed by Preda­tor gold.

“I’ve been to a lot of hockey sta­di­ums, and it’s def­i­nitely up there at the top,” Clark said. “Ev­ery time I go, the at­mos­phere’s pretty elec­tric. One of my favourite things is dur­ing the TV time­outs when ev­ery­body stands and cheers at the top of their lungs to en­cour­age the team.”

Fans make Bridge­stone Arena so loud that a ra­dio en­gi­neer mea­sured the deci­bel level at 121.7 late in Nashville’s last home game. While there are bigger NHL build­ings than Nashville, where of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity is 17,113, the Preda­tors in­sist none is louder.

“They’re on their feet the en­tire game,” de­fence­man Ryan El­lis said. “It al­most feels like a col­lege foot­ball game of some kind.”

Tap­ping Un­der­wood for the na­tional an­them this post-sea­son was pretty easy since her hus­band, Mike Fisher, is the team’s cap­tain. Who’s singing the an­them now is a closely guarded se­cret with artists of­fer­ing to help out as the good times roll in Smashville.

“It’s great to see that the whole hockey world re­al­izes how big of a hockey city this is,” de­fence­man Ro­man Josi said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Coun­try mu­sic star Car­rie Un­der­wood, the wife of Preda­tors cap­tain Mike Fisher, sang the na­tional an­them be­fore Game 3 of Nashville’s first-round se­ries against the Chicago Black­hawks.

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