Nashville Predators: The Predators Have Made Hockey Fit for Nashville

Apr 30, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Fans make their way into Bridgestone Arena prior to game three of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 30, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Fans make their way into Bridgestone Arena prior to game three of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

In a sport dominated by teams in the northern parts of the United States, the Nashville Predators prove that hockey can thrive in the south.

Nashville Predators general manager David Poile shocked the hockey world in July 2016 when he sent defenseman Shea Weber, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time NHL All-Star, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for P.K. Subban, another star defenseman with two All-Star nominations and one Olympic gold medal.

Weber was a longtime fan favorite in Nashville, and served as the Predators team captain since 2010. However, the trade certainly made sense from a hockey perspective. In addition to being one of the NHL’s premier two-way defensemen, Subban was just 27 years old at the time of the trade, almost a full four years younger than Weber. Essentially, the Predators gave up a 31 year old for a 27 year old with very similar talent and playing style.

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Nashville’s culture

Looking back on the deal a year later, however, it seems to make the most sense not from a hockey perspective, but from a personality perspective. The Canadiens, whose management staff and fans share an old-fashioned view of the game of hockey, did not support Subban’s outgoing nature. They thought he should play with more class and conduct himself in a more humble manner.

Nashville embraces Subban’s incredibly fun and energetic personality as one of his finest qualities. Predators fans have loved Subban ever since the moment he arrived in Nashville, and it was hard for them not to, considering that one of the first things he did in Music City was walk into famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and perform a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Acquiring Subban is the latest move the Predators made in a 20+ year effort to make hockey “fit for Nashville.” Media members, radio personalities, and fans still discuss the amazing response to the game of hockey by the people of Middle Tennessee. What they miss is the fact that the Predators incredible success in the Nashville market is certainly not a one-sided effort.

SEC Country

Though the Predators preceded the Tennessee Titans into town by a year, they nonetheless entered a football town. There’s a reason that Titans fans fail to receive the same attention that Predators fans have because the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the early years, they were one of the NFL’s loudest and most passionate. However, it was expected. This is SEC Country, after all.

For years, the people of Middle Tennessee supported SEC football to an incredibly sizable level. Still today, it’s hard to go places in Nashville during the autumn without running into Tennessee orange, Vanderbilt gold, or Alabama crimson. Even Kentucky, Georgia, and Missouri fans don their attire proudly. Unlike football, hockey was a foreign concept for Nashville.

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s really easy to understand where the original naysayers were coming from when the NHL expanded into Nashville. With the Titans on their way, and an already existing deep allegiance to college football, what reason would these people, who likely had no idea what terms like “icing” or “forecheck” meant, have to support a hockey team?

Fans show support

As the voice of the Predators, Pete Weber, astutely noted on the Dan Patrick Show last month Predators fandom in Nashville really took off in 2010 following a “Save Our Team” campaign that came about when the possibility arose of the Predators departing Nashville. But, again, it didn’t magically go from fans not wanting the team to leave to repeatedly telling opposing goaltenders that they suck.

The Predators, with assistance from fan groups such as “Cellblock 303,” the fans who sit in Section 303 of Bridgestone Arena that initiate the venue’s famous chants, have done an innumerable amount of things to make Predators home games exciting not just for hockey fans, but for any Southerner who wants to have a good time. The star studded playoff National Anthem lineup, the post-goal celebration song voiced by Tim McGraw, and the embracing of catfish fans heave onto the ice make Bridgestone Arena the ideal hockey experience for fans of all types.

It’s important to note that as the Predators encouraged their fans, the fans have grown with them. Today, true Predators fans are no longer people ignorant to the rules of the game just looking to have a good time. They love their hockey just as much as the beer, country music, and yelling that goes along with it. Calling a Nashville Predators fan “just a dumb redneck” (which is what now renowned Stanley Cup Finals Game 1 catfish thrower Jacob Waddell jokingly referred to himself as following the incident) is both insulting and ignorant.

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While they now understand and appreciate the game of hockey as much as any fan that boringly wears a suit and tie to a game in Canada or a “traditional” U.S. hockey market, Predators fans had to be helped along. The Nashville Predators have done just that, and they’ve done it superbly.