What transpired in Nashville over the past few days wasn’t something that just spontaneously happened after the NHL selected Music City, USA to host the NHL-All Star Weekend.
No, our story starts way back on a hot summer day in 2007 when thousands of hockey fans showed up in support of a franchise on the ropes.
Predators’ underdog origins
Jim Balsillie, a Canadian billionaire, and then Predator’s owner Craig Leopold had reached a stalemate after Balsillie had been suspected of using some underhanded tactics to ruin the relationship between the Predators and the city of Nashville. It doesn’t help Balsillie also tried to sell season tickets before he even purchased the team.
The fans hoped the Save the Predators rally would generate enough season ticket sales to keep the team in Nashville.
An underdog group of almost thirty businessmen (and one crook, but that’s a different story, kids) banded together and made a proposal to purchase the team after the success of the Save the Predators rally in August. They finalized the transaction on November 29th.
Disappointed, the Nashville doubters said the purchase just delayed the inevitable.
In many ways, this was the moment the franchise changed from an expansion team that had talent on it to a scrappy underdog with a prohibitively tight internal budget. Under Barry Trotz leadership, a collection of sub-optimal players with minimal top end talent was able to surprise the hockey world when they continued to remain competitive for almost half a decade. The rag-tag bunch of champions won their first playoff series in 2010-2011 against the Anaheim Ducks. They even toppled their hated divisional rivals the Detroit Red Wings the following year, earning the respect of a team with a championship pedigree.
Those teams won through teamwork and will, not through talent. It was David vs. Goliath almost every evening.
Not dissimilar to the team’s mentality was the iron will the Predators loyal fan base exhibited as they stuck with the team through thick and thin. We lost count of how many times a negative article appeared online about the possibility of the team moving, or a post on a hockey forum cropped up about Nashville’s fans (sometimes in the singular form, you know, to remind us how few of us there were). It was maddening.
Then came the 2012 off-season where Ryan Suter parted ways with the organization and took his talents to Minnesota. Meanwhile, Shea Weber signed an amazing deal with the Flyers many thought too daunting for the Predators to match.
“No way they can afford that!” they said smugly. Once again, the naysayers were disappointed when the Predators’ ownership stepped up to the plate and paid their franchise defenseman.
The talk of relocation quieted down over the course of the next three years, as the team began turning profits despite expanding the budget. Paid attendance continued to grow. Stability, it seemed, had finally been reached for the organization. Despite the new found success, there was still a lingering feeling in the hockey community that Nashville was “small time” and couldn’t be taken seriously as an NHL city.
That’s great Chris, thanks for the history lesson. What does that have to do with the All-Star Weekend?
This year’s All-Star game wasn’t just about hosting an amazing event or about John Scott. This was about showing the hockey world Nashville has officially become Smashville, a true hockey market and home to some of the league’s most passionate fans. We wanted to show the world growing the game in untraditional markets isn’t a crazy idea at all.
We wanted to show we belonged.
Nashville will never be the biggest or most cosmopolitan city in the country. We will probably never be North America’s largest hockey market. Heck, we will probably never even have our own style of pizza we can get in Twitter arguments over with Chicago or New York.
You know what this city does have? A knowledge and deep appreciation of four very important things: the correct way to cook chicken, community, live music and blue-collar underdogs.
I can’t tell you how many people from out of town I heard or talked to during the weekend that were floored by Nashville’s enthusiasm for hockey and our passion for life. From Montreal to Phoenix, I did not hear one bad word about our fans, our city or our team. They were amazed. They were humbled. They were inspired.
In fact, even the mainstream hockey media had rave reviews for the entire experience, going as far to suggest that Nashville host the event every year. Given the huge success of the event, there has even been some nudges by national correspondents to get the league to consider having an outdoor game in Nashville.
The pinnacle moment of emotion for me occurred when I stood at corner of Demonbreun and 8th Ave. and saw the crowd of people extending as far as the eye could see all the way up to the stage in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
For all of us that stood together almost a decade ago at the Save the Predators rally, this weekend was the validation we’ve been searching for all these years. The emotion for this team and this town was palpable for everyone there, even if it was your first time in Nashville.
And I’ve never been prouder of my city.
John Scott, NHL All-Star Game MVP
It would be a great oversight not mention NHL All-Star MVP John Scott.
The intensity and passion this city showed that man may have been surprising for out of towners and for the folks in the media, but this humble blogger was not all that surprised. As I have said before, Nashville is a city that has a deep appreciation for the blue-collar man.
When Scott’s Player’s Tribune article exploded all over social media the day before the All-Star festivities began and detailed the tribulations he went through to get into the NHL and how the league tried to keep him out of the All-Star Game even though the fans voted him in, it was obvious this city was going to rally behind him.
For a guy who had a lot of reasons to be bitter about the circus surrounding his selection and the outright disrespect the NHL and the media showed him, Scott instead chose to act with humility and courage, making him even more endearing to fans. Scott, in our eyes, was the same scrappy nobody we had been cheering for in Music City for almost two decades. His story resonated with us in ways many could relate to but few could truly empathize with as a whole community.
John Scott became a fan favorite, getting hardy cheers every time his face was on the jumbotron at Bridge Stone Arena. When he scored his first goal, the crowd roared with the same passion they had when James Neal potted his first goal of the tournament, even though the enforcer scored against Predators’ netminder, Pekka Rinne.
When Scott scored his second on a beautiful break away, I could barely control the lump in my throat. Here was John Scott, just an average guy fulfilling a dream he’s had for years. It was the same dream every hockey fan has: playing alongside of the world’s best players and earning the mutual respect of your peers.
He wanted to show he belonged.
On that January 31st evening, not only did Scott prove he belonged; he shone as brightly as any of the NHL’s biggest stars.
One final thought on the NHL All-Star Game
I’ll leave you with one final thought before I allow you to get back to your regularly scheduled Preds content: I bought a Tennessean newspaper for the first time in years on Monday. I threw almost all of it away without reading it (sorry, Glenn), but I did keep the front page of the sport section. I currently have it pinned to my cubicle wall. It’s actually the only decoration I have in my workspace.
The headline by Adam Vingan reads, “Great Scott!” with the tag line, “Enforcer surprises to win MVP award” with the now iconic image of Scott being hoisted onto his teammates’ shoulders, waiving to the adoring crowd with the kind of smile that gives you goosebumps.
The column by Jessica Bliss on the left side of the page is titled “Nashville shines like all-star on big weekend.”
I can’t help but look at these two headlines and the accompanying picture and not imagine the city of Nashville, the market no one believed in, being raised up by hockey enthusiasts across the world.
You see, dear reader, this will always serve as a reminder for me that anything is possible. Perseverance and attitude are everything in life; it’s what makes all-star caliber people and communities. It’s what makes dreams come true.
John Scott’s dream came true during an All-Star weekend in Nashville.
So did the dreams of thousands of Predators fans.