First of all let me introduce myself. My name is Jason and I have been a Predators season ticket holder for 10 years. I'm 33 years old and grew up watching hockey in Nashville, TN. That's right, you read correctly, grew up watching hockey; not only on TV but also in person. I use to go to the old Nashville Knights ECHL games and fell in love with hockey at an early age. My mom is from Chicago and so my dad having lived there for a while was a big Blackhawks fan. While growing up I use to love to watch the Penguins and Mario Lemieux. Every time hockey was on TV I was glued to the TV watching it. Every time the Winter Olympics came along the only thing I wanted to do was watch the hockey games. Even though I have never played the sport there is nothing more entertaining to me than to watch a good ole hockey game! Needless to say I love the sport.
I say all of that to say I am a very knowledgeable fan of this game. I go to just about every Preds games; I check the stats from the game when I get home a lot of time. I listen to the post game shows and try to listen to and participate in any hockey talk that you can find in this town.
I write today to get a number of things off my chest! I am so frustrated with not only things I see happening in the NHL but more than that I am frustrated at how I see fellow NHL fans treat and talk to other NHL fans. Our greatest downfall as a league is the bickering between our own fan bases. Instead of focusing on the game of hockey that we all know and love we focus on the business side of things that, at the end of the day, leaves nothing but bitterness in the mouths of the true fans. Not to mention what it does to the casual fan.
Now I know all my Canadian readers hate the fact that there is hockey in the south. And I hate the fact that so many great hockey teams have left Canada as well as teams that have left their respectful cities in the US. And having almost lost my team here in Nashville I can understand why there is so much hatred towards newer teams in the league. However, bottom line is, is that there is nothing that can be done to change the past and if we want to grow the sport so that some of these cities can get teams back we need to support all the teams and encourage all the fan bases instead of acting like immature adults by wishing teams would leave or relocate. I would never wish that on anyone.
With all of that said I must defend my team and my city! Hockey is growing by leaps and bounds in Nashville. The youth hockey movement is bigger than it’s ever been and the number of people attending games is up over last year at this same time. Do we sell out every game or have a waiting list for season tickets? Absolutely not but given what this team has been through we are doing pretty damn good at growing this sport and the tradition of hockey in Nashville.
For those of you that only get your Nashville Predators headlines from the Tennessean let me tell you what this team has been through in it’s 11years of existence. In 1998 when the Predators joined the league this was a very excited fan base. I’ll never forget going to the Ice Breaker bash at the then Nashville Arena. Tickets sold and this was a fan base on fire. Unfortunately for me I was not able to attend the October 10 sold out inaugural game against the Florida Panthers due to a conflict but I was able to watch Nashville capture its first victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on October 13. That year this team finished 28-47-7. The years following that were tough fan years. You knew as a fan that you were not one of the elite teams in the league but all you asked for every night was that your team come out and compete and compete they did. They may have lost but they went down fighting. Finally in the 2003-2004 season things were looking good and this team made its first tangible acquisition in Steve Sullivan. The Predators made the playoffs for the first time and gave the Detroit Red Wings a 6 game series that they would not soon forget. After that season this city and team had all kinds of support and momentum that would surely solidify this team and this city has a true hockey market.
Unfortunately the following season was the lock out year. Something this team or city did not need. A year without hockey killed any momentum that this franchise had going for them. Out of site, out of mind! Things were done around Nashville to keep hockey on the minds of the people however, unless you were a die hard fan, none of that mattered. The causal fan saw millionaires arguing over millions. It turned a lot of people off and away from hockey as we all know and it definitely turned a growing and maturing fan base and franchise into one that had to figure out something to do to keep the momentum going it had gained from a year full of memories that had begun to fade.
As luck would have that following summer the Predators management was able to make a huge splash in the free agent market by signing NHL veteran and All Star Paul Kariya. The Preds needed to make a big impression to this fan base and did they ever. Again the Preds made it to the playoffs and lost in the first round to a much better San Jose team.
That following off season the Preds once again made splashes in the free agent market by signing Jason Arnott and J.P Dumont. The team was primed for another playoff run when as luck would have it the Preds grabbed future hall of famer Peter Forsberg at the trade deadline from Philly. The Preds went on to the playoffs once again with great expectations only to face another very good San Jose team and once again went down in the first round. This playoff lost was deflating on all accounts. Only at the time the fans had no idea what this loss meant to this team.
It was announced over the summer that plans were being made to sell the team to a Canadian business man whose name I will not speak. Tickets started to be sold in another city for our team and fans here were left wondering what to do. The core of the team including Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg and the franchise goalie Tomas Vokoun were shipped off to other cities or signed else where due to the uncertainty which surrounded this team. Also don’t forget that this team lost Steve Sullivan for what turned out to be a 2 year absence.
As we all know that initial sale fell through and the local ownership group headed up by David Freeman stepped in and was able to buy the team. Unfortunately this whole process took its toll on a fan base that felt betrayed and beat up by its former owner. Once the new ownership took control, the team and this city fought to make the playoffs once again. With a depleted roster and a re-energized fan base the team went into the playoffs against the eventual Stanly Cup Champion Red Wings and lost in 5. But hockey was back in Nashville and here to stay.
This past off season was uneventful as far as the free agent market goes. The team has struggled to score and oh by the way the minority owner, not part of the local group, has been indicted for fraud. Compound that with the state of the economy and you have the makings for a tough situation for a franchise still trying to recover from the fire sell of the previous owner.
With that said though attendance is up and all though the season is not going as I had hoped Nashville is growing as a market!
I know this is a long first blog but my hope is that everyone that reads this outside of the Nashville market will understand a little better what this town and team has been through and in some cases still going through. We have an 11 year history in this league and by all accounts we can be a strong market given the time and patience that it takes to build a non-traditional market. But we need your help. We need your help by not bashing us for something we did not do. We need your help by supporting us through the tough times that all franchises have been through. We need your help by being a hockey fan first and foremost and not blaming us for the fact that your city does not have a team. We want you to have a team. We want Canada to have more teams. We want to see the sport grow in the non traditional markets as well as the traditional markets because that means more people will get to know and love the sport that we all do. However, we don’t want you to do that with our team. This is our team, Nashville’s team! Get to know us, love us, and help us grow this wonderful sport!
Thanks for reading!