I travel a lot for work, meeting new people everyday. The first thing most people ask when they see my Nashville Predators lanyard is, “Hockey, in the south?” How are you a hockey fan?
My love for hockey started when I was young. I’m originally from Michigan. I lived in the Southwest portion of the big mitten until I was 8 years old. I grew up with my Dad taking me to Kalamazoo K-Wing games. I thought those were the coolest things, ever. Maybe, it was just getting able to spend some quality time with my pops because he traveled for GM quite a bit. Then, one day he broke the news that he was taking a transfer with GM and we were moving to Tennessee.
I’ll never forget that first day in third grade. I walked into class wearing a Red Wings shirt, surrounded by people in camouflage and University of Tennessee orange shirts. What a culture shock. Plus I, ok maybe they, talked “funny.” Those kids were always great, and I made friends quickly. I remember talking about hockey all the time, and also remember the jokes about understanding that hockey was what came out of the rear end of a bull. I remember going to Nashville Knights and Huntsville Channel Cats games with my friends, and introducing them to the game. Those same friends, along with my brother and I, started playing “field hockey”, which consisted of us using Toy ‘R Us hockey sticks and a hockey ball.
I fell in love with the idea of playing goalie, so i found a Jason mask, a baseball glove, and taped some cardboard to my legs, and that was my first set of goalie pads. We would play out in the front yard, using wooden pallets as goals, with games always concluding with obligatory fights. We graduated up to roller blades, and even started renting the local roller skating rink on Friday’s after school to play.A few of us wore shin guards, a couple of us, gloves, but none of us ever wore much equipment….a terrifying thought now. I kept playing the game I loved, and my freshman year of high school, my parents had me setup with new goalie pads and I started playing roller hockey in Franklin, TN. It was “only” a two-hour round trip, twice a week, for games and practices, but I’ll be forever thankful to my Mom, Dad and little brother for those fond memories of playing high school roller hockey.
Hockey was a huge part of growing up. I never was a huge fan of other sports, so most of my memories growing up revolved around hockey. Be it playing NHL 94 with friends, watching National Hockey Night on ESPN 2 or passing the puck in the driveway, hockey has always held a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget where I was when the Wings won their Cup in 1997, or when I saw the legendary brawl between Detroit and Colorado, Vernon and Roy duking it out at
center ice, or Steve Yzerman handing the Cup off to Vladimir Konstantinov, or grinder Darren McCarty beating Flyers net minder Ron Hextall in the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.
The Predators came along in 1998, and being a Wings fan, I didn’t give Nashville much attention. I rememeber we went to the Predators season ticket party that was open to GM employees, dressed in our red and white.We would go to most Red Wings games when they came to town, and yes, I was THAT annoying fan that would spout off to everyone that would listen and explain why Detroit was a much better hockey town.
Well, times change and we grow older. I went off to flight school, and then moved to Houston for a couple of years, and kind of got away from hockey. I would watch the Red Wings occasionally on TV and go to a couple of now defunct Houston Aeros games. I even played in a roller hockey league, but I just wasn’t into it like I used to be.
We had our first child and decided it would be best to move back to Tennessee to be closer to family, as I travel quite a bit. I met a couple of guys at church that were Preds fans. We started going to games, and I started to follow the Predators a little bit closer.
I still wore my Red Wings stuff and still considered myself a die hard Wings fan, but the more I went to Preds games and started following them on local media, the more I fell in love with them. Games at Bridgestone Arena were an amazing atmosphere, almost college football-like, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be at games and to be able to be “wrapped up” in a team. I realized I was really starting to love the Preds when this rookie Pekka Rinne came around, and I was hooked. I knew this guy was going to be great. I’m a goalie, so I’ve always been partial to goalies. They’re the backbone of any successful team…but that’s for another blog.
Fast forward a few years and we have two beautiful daughters. We have taken the girls to several games since they were young, and nothing has made me happier than the girls pointing out players, specifically Pekka Rinne and saying “Daddy, there’s your favorite player, Pekka.”Now, they’ll sit and watch some of the games with me, and they will make comments on the SOG for each team or yell “Gnash” whenever they see their favorite mascot. I’m glad they enjoy it, albeit maybe not to the extreme that I do, but I’m glad they’re experiencing the things I love most about the game: the smell of the arena, the sound of skate blades cutting up the ice, the sounds of the puck being passed around stick to stick and the sound when the goalie makes a kick save. Not to forget the moment when you’re on the edge of your seat in anticipation of a goal, the goal light and spotlight come on and you jump for joy as 17,000 of your closest friends do the same.
This summer, my brother and I and a few friends starting playing hockey again. We had always heard about the Ford Ice Center, but had never played there. We started playing adult open hockey, and I was hooked. I found a team needing a tendy, and shortly thereafter found myself as the goaltender for the Mighty Drunks.
Hockey is continuing to grow in Nashville. In our “D” league alone, we have seen the number of teams double in the past year. As of now, there are 5 sheets of ice in the Nashville area, with plans for more facilities in the next 5-10 years (on a side note, hopefully, one of those sheets will land in Southern Middle TN to help reduce our 90 minute drive to FIC). Is Nashville a hockey town? It’s hard to compete with the Titans, Commodores, and Vols, but I think the next generation of hockey fan just might push it over the edge and make Nashville a Preds crazy city.
At this point in my life, I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll probably never be an NHL goalie, or coach, or the next Doc Emmerick, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep this great game a part of my life. On most Sunday nights, you’ll find me between the pipes at Ford Ice Center trying to backstop the Mighty Drunks to a win. You may also see my name from time to time on articles floating around Facebook or Twitter, but just remember to stick to what you love and don’t let a bunch of third graders try to take that away!