March 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Nashville Predators center David Legwand (11) tries to score on Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) as center Henrik Zetterberg (40) defends in the third period at Joe Louis Arena. Nashville won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

A Moment Five Years in the Making

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Well folks, it’s time for the real season to begin. It’s time for our little team that could to get their workboots on and take some giant steps forward. The Preds are playing their ultimate nemesis, and let us be honest, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Winning this series? Nothing would feel better.

For a moment, let’s revisit a moment in sports that most people below the 36th Parallel North can remember. In 1992, there were zero professional teams in Tennessee. College sports were king, and even then the Vols are Commodores weren’t exactly great in any men’s sports. There was one particular team that had most of the area’s attention, and it was the Atlanta Braves. After completing an improbably season that saw the Bravos go from worst to first in 1991 falling to the Twins in seven games, the Braves matched their feat the following year, and gave fans in the American south a moment we’ll remember for a while.

Awesome. MLB’s flash player doesn’t like all browsers, but this link does work.

To put it into further context, here’s what the sports landscape was in 1992:

  • Only two NFL teams in the Southeast, outside of the southern rim of Florida
  • Only one MLB team in the entire region including Florida
  • No NHL teams were located in the region, but the Lightning started play that same month.
  • The NBA had teams in Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami. You don’t remember this because we were all watching Mike.
  • The Vols were turning in 9-3 seasons, and starting to build momentum. Vandy was terrible.

The Braves filled the void of a region seeking a winner, and doing it in a likeable way. One of the things that drew fans to Atlanta were the crowds, and the intimidating atmosphere of old Fulton County Stadium. Chilling. (That one’s for you, Burton, Alaina, Laura)

The result- Long after the Titans, Predators, Hurricanes, Panthers, Grizzlies all arrived, the Braves remain one of the area’s favorite teams due to their media exposure from TBS at the time, and their success throughout the 90s. The Braves draw fans to Atlanta as far away as Mississippi and North Carolina consistently, and turned Middle Tennessee into their own territory away from the Reds.

******

Five years ago, Nashville was bounced from the playoffs by San Jose. That year, the team was facing real concerns of stability in the city, and went all-in with Peter Forsberg. Even Jim Rome liked the idea of “going for it”. The end result was the same, and the Sharks imposed their bigger physical style on the undersized Preds.  The following month, the Balsillie saga began. Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen were shipped off for a draft pick that ended up being Jonathan Blum. Tomas Vokoun went to Florida for draft picks. The dark days began. But in August, David Freeman and his group saved the day, and later that year the Preds battled in front of Dan Ellis to earn the 8th spot in the playoffs, falling to Detroit in 6 games. The Red Wings would go on to win the cup. Alex Radulov left for the KHL.

In the years since, both Chicago and St. Louis have risen to power since the Wings last lifted the cup, while Nashville has nearly turned over the entire roster since then aside from a select few.

The Predators are now presented with the ultimate opportunity. To vanquish their eternal rival in the playoffs during the one year that’s the organization has labelled “their year to go for it” would be a monumental step. It’s bigger than just hockey. With more eyes than ever watching Nashville due to a growing interest in the game, and a void left in a massive media market in Atlanta, this year’s success could be the springboard needed to become the team of the region.

To a die-hard fan that’s seen the little team on Broadway gradually grow into team with some serious talent, nothing would mean more to them aside than the cup parading downtown Nashville. The Red Wings symbolize everything that the non-traditional market hockey fans despises. It’s bigger than the one guy in the office who wears the Wings fear just to troll you. They are indeed the perfect villain, with a roster laden of villains. Todd Bertuzzi, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom all have done their part to insure that fans will always love or hate the Red Wings, and allow nothing in between.

For an organization that was founded on a gamble, and guided by a smart investor, the time to harvest has drawn near. Don’t kid yourself, more is on the line this April than ever before.

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Tags: Alexander Radulov Barry Trotz David Poile Detroit Red Wings Nashville Predators NHL Pekka Rinne Ryan Suter Shea Weber

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