Buckle of the Bible Belt.
Nashville has been called many things, but one thing it’s never been accused of is being a hockey town. For those well acquainted, it has adopted the moniker “Smashville,” but is that just a clever marketing ploy, or a true reflection of the sport’s influence on this city?
I was at our community pool this past weekend trying to keep my “caucasian cocktail” of a body cool from the oppressive heat, and I overheard two guys talking about hockey. Upon further listening, they were talking about the Craig Smith deal. How they liked the signing, how they like he’s a Wisconsin guy and that he’s a consistent player and key piece moving forward. They went on to discuss other hockey topics such as head coach/GM moves and even to best NHL team logos. After I realized my borderline eavesdropping and neglecting of my family, something odd hit me: “Did I just overhear an intelligent hockey conversation not only about the Preds, but hockey in the south?”
This must just be an anomaly, right? Surely
Nashville Smashville isn’t a hockey town.
A few days later I was in Cleveland, Tennessee when a southern stereotype of an old man starting talking me up after seeing my Preds shirt I was wearing. He had as many teeth as the Preds have cups. “HOW MANY TEETH DO YOU HAVE?” I asked. No. That would be rude to point out, who would do that? Where was I, oh yes…
So he sees my shirt and begins telling me about his kids graduating from Vanderbilt, how great the Preds season was, how excited he was for their future, talking about other trades in the NHL such as the Kessel to Pittsburgh, etc. I was fairly certain, at first glance, that this gentleman had never used the internet. In my mind, he was a stereotype of what I thought a southern redneck was. Boy, was I wrong. His excitement for the team and knowledge of hockey in general blew me away.
I think that’s how most people around the league, other fans and many in the media see hockey here in Nashville. A stereotype that certainly couldn’t include a sport they hold sacred. Not in “that” part of the country.
Ok, I have a confession: I am from the north-ish (central Indiana), but I identify “southern” now. I’ve lived here for about 5 years. I moved here by choice. When I moved here, I had no real heart for hockey. I was a diehard football fan (Go Colts!) with a faint hockey background. Like any boy growing up in the 90’s, I loved the Mighty Ducks movies. We’d play roller hockey in our neighborhood, my dad would take us to the occasional Fort Wayne Komets games, an ECHL team. They now have the Indianapolis Fuel, another ECHL team. I know everyone loves teams named after liquids.
So while I was not brought up as a hockey diehard, it’s been stirring in the background since an early age. After moving to Nashville, I would casually attend a Preds game here and there. First, I was the stereotypical casual fan that only cared about wins when I was in attendance. Slowly, I started attending more and more games; following players like Ward, Erat, Tootoo, Suter. They would be a part of the team FOREVER, right?
Like Pringles, once you start hockey-ing, you cannot stop. It’s got you. I began making a point to attend Preds/Blackhawks games with my wife, which “that team” was ingrained in her having grown up north of Chicago. A rivalry in our family that now has been passed down to our 14-month old. No worries though, he will be my “golden” child. The only red he’ll be wearing in my presence is if his hair stays the same color.
Anywho, that turned into following the 2011-2012 season in which I watched every game that season and ended with me attending my first playoff game against the Coyotes after beating the Detroit Red Wings in round one. We all know how that series went, but that solidified my love of the game and the team. Since then, I have played in a D-League at Ford Ice Center, met many other passionate fans, and built great relationship around the sport and team we love.
As I drive to work each day, I see cars with the Predators logo on the windows, tire covers, flags, license plates and think: People are proud of this city. Proud of this organization. Maybe not for just the relative success in their limited time in the NHL, maybe not the star players, but that against all odds, we came together to make something work. Something that most people said wouldn’t. Something some would still say doesn’t. Something that almost didn’t.
A city is made of people. People can come from all kinds of backgrounds, places, ideals, beliefs and culture. There’s so much to divide us that I could write another blog on it, but we also all want to be a part of something. Something we can rally behind. A source of pride.
“Hockey doesn’t work in the south!” may be the common accusation. But at least for Smashville, it’s not just working. It’s thriving, and just like summer in this city, it’s just heating up.
Steven Lowry is the Digital Media Manager for Penalty Box Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @stevenlowry.