When hockey came to Nashville in the 1960s, nobody expected this…nobody expected SMASHVILLE.
It all started with the Dixie Flyers in 1962, a proud bunch of hockey players who really did it for the love of the game. They played a hard nosed physical brand of hockey that lead them to quite a bit of postseason success, including two Eastern Hockey League championships. Many of the old Dixie Flyers are still around the Nashville community today, and they remember they started the trend of hockey in Nashville before anybody else did. In a place where hockey wasn’t suppose to be cool or successful, the Dixie Flyers changed the mold on that thought process up until their untimely demise in 1971. They didn’t leave because they didn’t have fans, they left mostly because the owner didn’t want to fund a hockey team anymore.Â But that 9 year run, that was the spark that lit the flame.
It took ten long years after that before we had a chance to see hockey come home. In 1981 the Nashville South Stars took the ice, as the primary minor league affiliate of the Minnesota North Stars (who of course are now the Dallas Stars). They lasted all of two and a half years before they ultimately became the Virginia Lancers. The primary owner of the South Stars (Larry Schmittou) decided he would much rather put more money towards his baseball team (The Nashville Sounds) than his hockey team, and in turn the South Stars folded halfway through the 1983 season, becoming the Virgina Lancers in the process.Â You can’t really blame Larry in this scenario, he was a former baseball coach at Vanderbilt AND he played a little baseball himself, it was obvious his favorite would always be the little round white ball and not the hard black puck.
In 1989, Nashville would once again see it’s hockey come back. This time in the form of the ECHL Nashville Knights. At this point was when it was beginning to look like hockey could, and would be a full time thing in the area. The Knights never really had any major success, at least not until they moved to Pensacola. They did make the playoffs consistently, but they didn’t ever do much when they got to the playoffs. The team itself was a tough gritty bunch that started drawing a tough gritty crowd, planting the seeds for what is known at the Predators faithful today. It’s also important to note one of the former coaches of the Nashville Knights, is the one Peter Horachuk. Halfway through 1993, it was announced the city of Nashville was going to build a new arena in downtown Nashville, in hopes of cleaning up the image that had plagued the city. It was also suppose to be a hotspot venue for concerts, but that wasn’t the only intention.
Shortly after breaking ground in 1994, rumors began to swirl about a possible sports team using the arena, followed quickly by the offer from the City of Nashville of 20 million dollars to any NHL team that relocated to play in the new arena.Â The Devils considered it, but in the end elected to stay in New Jersey. This angered the Nashville Knights, who elected to move to Pensacola, Florida starting in1996.Â The city of Nashville was on the verge of not having a hockey team again, despite building a NHL ready arena. They quickly tried to lure the Sacramento Kings out of California in hopes of having a team in the arena when it opened in 1996, but even that fell through. It was at that point Craig Leipold and the city got together in hopes of bringing in an expansion hockey team, they made the pitch to the NHL (who at that point and time was on an expansion spree) and were awarded the franchise, who could play as quickly as 1998 if they had the adequate amount of season tickets sold.Â The Predators quickly met that number and were allowed to play in 1998.
Before that time frame was met though, a new team came in to satisfy the hockey craving for the city. The Nashville Ice Flyers took the ice for only one season in 1997-1998, and they managed to win 41 games before losing in the playoffs.Â But their job was complete, they successfully dumped lighter fluid on the spark lit by the Dixie Flyers all those years ago.
It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Nashville Predators since entering the league. While the team struggled to gain depth, they were fighting and clawing to stay relevant after the feeling of “new” wore of. They didn’t have a very good marketing director, nor did Craig Leipold want to put forth the money to do big advertising. It turned out to be a bad thing for the Predators in the long run, and despite finally turning the corner and winning enough hockey games to get into the playoffs the last three seasons, Leipold had enough of the Predators and decided to sell them. At first selling them to a man by the name of Jim Balsillie, a businessman from Canada.Â The man agreed to leave the Predators in Nashville for the 2007-2008 season before looking into relocation options, except he broke his promise and started advertising tickets for the Hamilton Predators before he even bought the team. Leipold backed out of that deal and in turn agreed to sell the team to a group of local investors (appoximately 30) and the group included a man by the name of William Del Biaggio, a guy who was ready to move the team to Kansas City should he ever have the power. Alas, that never came to be thanks to a huge “SAVE THE PREDATORS” rally and the local investors stepping up to buy the team from under Del Biaggio (who also had a big to be a sole owner).This was just the start of the problems for Mr. Del Biaggio.
It was later found that William had used fraudulent money to purchase the team, and he must liquidate his assets in order to pay back the money. This included the sale of his stake in the Predators. It didn’t take long for them to find a new investor, as Brett W. Wilson’s name popped up rather quickly in talks. It wasn’t announced until 2011 that he had bought a stake in the team, so before that time frame nobody fully knows what happened with the business side of things. Some reports have said that Predators Holdings LLC bought up the remaining stake and began to sell it individually, others say they absorbed the loss and kept part of the team up for sale while doing so. Until that story fully comes out, I guess we will never know. However, it is my pleasure to report as of right now the Predators ARE making money, and they ARE staying put in Nashville.
Where the name came from, and the future
The Predators team name was voted on by the fans, and it was actually Leipold’s submission that won out.Â However, it is no coincidence that the mascot is a Sabertooth Tiger. During construction on what is now the Regions Center in downtown Nashville, they found the skeleton of a Sabertooth Tiger. Since the Regions Center is right up the road from Bridgestone Arena, they felt that it would be a perfect fit for the team.
In terms of the future, I think the Predators will keep selling out, I think they’ll keep making money, and I think we will keep some players despite losing many. Does losing Hamhuis, Hartnell, Timonen, Suter, and many other hurt us? It did at one point, but now instead of losing everybody that makes the team go we’ve found ways to retain our stars. Guys like Patric Hornqvist, like Shea Weber, like Pekka Rinne…all of them should be Predators throughout the rest of their careers, pending everything goes the way it is suppose to go. The team has taken some licks, and it’s gotten right back up. I don’t think the Dixie Flyers knew what they were doing when they first dropped the puck in 1962, but I do think they’re quite happy with the results.