Just another voice in the crowd...
This is a personal observation, and in this, my inaugural blog on Hockeybuzz.com, please understand that I in no way speak for everyone. However in response to the listening, reading and observing I do on a daily basis, here's my take on the Nashville Predators' 2007-2008 season.
I've been a Predators season ticket holder since the 2000-2001 campaign. Although I was an enthusiastic supporter of the team since it's inclusion as an expansion entry in the fall of 1997, I, like many of those who compose the more-or-less blue-collar backbone of the Preds' local fan base, am not exactly made of money. I had to wait until the time was financially feasible for me to take the leap of being a full season ticket holder.
I mention this only to say that like the majority of the NHL Hockey fans in this town, I have grown along with this team. Prior to the Predators' arrival, there were no major pro sports teams here. Minor league baseball as well as minor league hockey had been thriving somewhat under the radar for years in Music City, but few locals had previous experience being season ticket holders for any sports team -- let alone major league hockey. We weren't bred to be fans of the sport from childhood like many from the traditional markets. Some of us had never even been on a pair of skates.
Joining the parallel universe of the NHL indeed required some indoctrination; it took more than a little getting used to. It was culture shock to be sure, yet once we stuck our fingers in that light socket, we never wanted to pull them out.
Nashville may not be your classic hockey town, but one thing we do have in common with those who hail from more established environs is that we love the game just as well. We may not have been brought up with it, but we've grown to appreciate it as much as anyone else.
We love hockey's athleticism, we love its strategy; we love the raw emotion that it elicits.
And, WE LOVE OUR TEAM!
Long before the Preds became the perennial playoff contender they've been these past four seasons, our hardcore group of season ticket holders didn't see a lot of pretty hockey -- unless of course they were watching those guys in the other jerseys.
And even though casual fan and band-wagon-jumping business community support waned steadily after the team's inaugural 1997-98 season, the core group of Predheads remained, cheering and waiting for the organizational plan of team building through the draft to come to fruition.
We liked the action, but I think more than that, we loved the work ethic. Still do -- now more than ever.
We love the Predators because they reflect this city in so many ways.
Nashville is an extremely family-oriented community. People work hard to provide an environment for their families in which hard work, integrity and loyalty are valued and embedded in its makeup. The Nashville Predators exude those qualities, both as a team on the ice and as an organization.
The tandem of General Manager David Poille and Head Coach Barry Trotz are a beacon of organizational excellence and consistency. They are the only men to occupy their respective positions with the team in its entire ten-year history. The philosophies underlying the Predators' way of doing business are readily apparent -- just ask anyone who's played here.
The Preds are indeed a family.
Is it any wonder then that we fans are so rabid? Is it any wonder that we were so appalled at the notion that some would-be suitor might swoop in and carry our team off to another place?
But then you ask, 'so why did that scenario present itself in the first place?' 'Why did it take almost losing the team to get people in the door?
The reasons (and my opinions about them) are far too detailed to address here. That's a discussion for another time. However suffice it to say that's a problem that isn't relevant at the moment. The causes of the Predators longstanding attendance issues are multi-faceted, but are being dealt with. But for now let's just say, "What a difference an ownership change can make."
It's a Family Affair
Nashvillians are a proud bunch. We like to keep it in the family so to speak (...and hey -- no 'kissin' cousin' jokes, aiight?). We bristled at the thought of someone else coming in to fix 'our team.'
Sometimes families can take each other for granted; communities can often suffer the same lapse in judgment. When the possibility that we could lose the team reared its ugly head last summer, this town woke up. We realized just how much there was to lose.
It wasn't about losing just a sports team, but one whose existence was integral with health of an entire sector of downtown business and entertainment establishments. It was about Nashville's reputation as a leading city in the eyes of the rest of the country if not the entire world. It was about being branded a failure -- which is a tag under which this town would not abide.
When former owner Craig Leipold abruptly placed the team on the auction block, it caught the community totally off-guard. But rather than sit by and watch it be snatched from under their noses, the community rose up. The grassroots effort to 'Save Our Team' rose awareness to a level that those with the means to do something about it did just that.
An investor group led by David Freeman indeed saved our team, not only from relocation, but also from its heretofore-alienated status with local business. The Predators, after ten years in which previous ownership more-or-less demanded local corporate support, are now getting it -- through relationship building rather than any assumption of entitlement.
Sometimes the 'good ol' boy network really is the way to go.
The point is, this 'family' is healing itself. This house is getting its affairs in order. The patient isn't out of the hospital just yet, but the Emergency Room is definitely in the rear-view mirror.
Most importantly, the prognosis for full recovery is excellent, no matter what those Canadian doctors try to tell you.
Nashvillians are a proud, resilient bunch; we don't like to admit to 'needing' to be like anyone else. However we're not perfect -- no one is. Sometimes a slap in the face isn't so much an insult as it is an appropriate wakeup call.
I've always been impressed with the people of this city for their resiliency and heart, though I did have my doubts at times last summer. Good thing I don't ever get tired of being wrong.
Just as impressive as the way the community they represent bent but did not break, the Predators journey throughout the 2007-08 season has been a tremendous story.
Stripped of five core players, directly as a result of its impending sale, the Predators could have easily folded their tents and believed the pundits who said they had no chance to make the playoffs in 2008. But quietly, consistently they've proved their critics wrong.
In a season of turmoil, though they were stretched to their limits through the aforementioned player attrition coupled with key injuries the last six weeks of the regular season, they didn't break. And again, after the excruciation of two hard-fought losses at the outset of this quarterfinal playoff series against the Detroit Redwings, they were once again poised to fall to an impossible 0-3 disadvantage. But just as they have done on innumerable occasions this year, they snapped back to capture games three and four to tie the series.
I like to call them 'The Rubber Band Gang.'
It's now a best-of-three series with a potential two more games in that traditional house of horrors for the franchise, Joe Louis Arena.
What happens over the next week is anyone's guess. The Wings are still the favorites -- and rightfully so; they should win this series. But while the Preds won't be satisfied with anything but ultimate victory, they have already given their fans much more to celebrate than anyone had a right to believe they'd receive -- because they never gave up; they never gave in.
They've made us believe that the battles we waged in their behalf for the hearts and minds of the community last summer were NOT in vain.
We too bent, but did not break.
To me, as a fan and season ticket-holder, that solidarity has made this very difficult season more than worth it -- no matter how far the Preds ultimately advance in the playoffs.
It really makes me proud to be a part of the 'Gang.'