It’s a strange feeling sitting in a state that seemingly has no hockey influence at all. For the next week I will be covering the NHL, and Nashville Predators from Southwest Virginia. I feel like a fish out of water.
Some people say hockey can’t work in the South, and while there are examples of it working, I will say hockey couldn’t work here. This is ACC college football country. There is not a stick, skate, puck, or sheet of ice to be found anywhere. There is no mention of NHL hockey on the radio, or written about in the news paper.
This is a mountainous land untouched by anything or anyone with hockey roots. NHL hockey has survived in some southern areas such as Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville, and Carolina, Dallas but there is little chance of hockey working anywhere else in the south.
However, only one team has had any success putting fans in the seats, and winning. Tampa has won a Stanley cup, and has had superstar players. The Panthers have; well, they have served as a punching bag for much of their existence. It’s not all the Panthers’ fault; playing near the Miami market is a major problem. There are a lot of other things going on all the time. As for the Lightning, they have had the luxury of drawing northern transplants that escape to the Gulf Coast for winter. Tampa has also had the luxury of having some star power along the way.
Nashville: The Predators have slowly gained footing in Nashville. The Predators seemed to find a way to balance playoff appearances with community action. Not only does Nashville want the Predators to succeed; Nashville wants to help the community grow. Together it seems that the Predators will have a home for a long time.
Carolina: The eye of the storm. The Carolina Hurricanes have managed to grow a fan base, and win a Stanley Cup. It seems that in this NASCAR town hockey has found a way to get its’ share of the market.
Dallas: The Dallas Stars have created a hockey culture in Texas. A big part of that was winning the cup in 1999. If a team were added today I’m not sure it would have the success the Stars enjoy.
Out of the five teams above three of them could sneak into the playoffs this coming season.
The old saying “If you build it they will come” is not true where I sit today. Rinks have been built, teams have played, but not for long. The rink is gone, and the fans never came. Hockey is something of a fairy tale down here. It’s something people have heard of but don’t believe in. If the NHL is going to expand, it better not expand down this way.