If we’re being honest with ourselves, hockey in the South is an odd breed.
Smack in the middle of one of the most football-obsessed portions of the United States, the traditions and rituals picked up by the professional hockey teams in this region are almost all started from scratch. The unique challenges presented to teams like the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes can make the daily grind more difficult, but they also work to make success taste that much sweeter when it comes.
New Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said he sees a lot of similarities between Carolina and Nashville in market size, fan base and even roster makeup. The Massachusetts native explained this week that he appreciates the special characteristics of hockey in the South due to his time coaching in North Carolina and Tennessee.
“My wife and I made a pact a long time ago that wherever we went we would 100 percent buy into the community, the fans and the team. It’s important for us to do that and when you’re able to build something special–and we had that opportunity in Carolina–it’s so meaningful,” Laviolette said. “You feel like you were really a part of it, you didn’t just steer it. You were actually a part of what the community and fans were able to get out being successful in that kind of market.”
Hockey promises different experiences than the other sports that have set up shop in the region for decades, and that often brings a special type of closeness between the organization and their fans. Laviolette saw this firsthand in 2006 when the Hurricanes overcame the odds with their Stanley Cup run.
“If the community is involved, the fans are involved and the players too, then building something is really special,” the 49-year-old coach explained. “You’re actually able to bring a lot of people together and believe in one thing, and that’s the feeling that a lot of people left with when Carolina won a championship. I think Sports illustrated picked us to finish 29th that year, but when it started to build we all felt like as a group we were rising and building together.”
The coach will be trading in Caniacs for catfish this fall, but his willingness to invest in the Music City should make the transition seamless.
“I think Peter is a great fit for what we need here and going forward,” Predators center Matt Cullen said. “Clearly it was great to win a cup under him in Carolina and I just think a lot of Peter as coach. He has a real ability to get the best out of his players whether you’re a fourth line guy or a first line player.”
Not many men have a line on their resume that says “I understand how to make hockey in the South work,” but Laviolette wears one every day, and it’s his Stanley Cup ring.