Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Life of a Fan in a Non-Traditional Market

The Nashville Predators are about to launch their sixth campaign in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yet, many hockey fans are still in the dark when it comes to all things hockey in Nashville. And that's about to change once you read the following guest column from one of the Predators most passionate fans...

by Marie Miesel

As I look out my apartment window, I can see a magnolia tree. Not in bloom but will be in a month or two. I am a Nashville Predators fan and this about what it’s like to live in a non-traditional market.

I actually got into hockey because I had a massive crush on guy who was a Blackhawks fan. This was back in the 80s and ESPN was carrying games. I got to see Wayne Gretzky and company work their magic. I was also friends with guys who were fans of the Bruins, Rangers and North Stars. I got away from hockey when I moved to South Carolina for graduate school and bounced around after that. Fast forward to 2006. I had gotten a day job had a little extra money and decided to rekindle my love of this great game. I ended up going to 20+ games and the playoffs by the time that season was done. The summer of 2007 was gut wrenching with the Balsille affair and all that surrounded it. I got a full season ticket after the team was saved. The standing ovation at our last home game against St. Louis that season was a thing of beauty and power. All the pain, tears, and uncertainty came pouring out in one spontaneous roar.

Fans in Nashville are always getting ragged on because we didn’t grow up with hockey, we don’t get snow or ice (false by the way, we had over 10 inches of snow this winter), and we don’t care like our brethren north of the border do. Bull. We may be small in number but we are big on heart. You see southern hospitality is not just a phrase, we live it. We say hi in the grocery line, we help when there is a need (May floods and We Are Nashville) and we respect people’s privacy.

Many country music stars make their homes here year round. You learn very quickly to treat them with courtesy and let them go about their business. We treat our hockey team the same way. Steve Sullivan, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter etc don’t have to worry about being harassed by an angry fan when they are just trying to have a family dinner. More over, these guys are family. They are our brothers, sons, cousins etc. We take them into our hearts and embrace them as our own. Steve Sullivan plans on retiring here and JP Dumont and his family stay here year round. Retired Predators, Wade Belak and Stu Grimson, also are now full time residents of Music City. We have no state income tax and the guys have plenty of opportunities to work on their golf game because of our mild climate.

The flip side of course is that this is football country and the Predators often get the short shrift in the mainstream media. However, the Predators have been very forward in promoting social media, credentialing bloggers and allowing them access. We grow new fans by breeding them or introducing them to the game by taking them to one. We are building a tradition here. Youth hockey participation has tripled since the predators were founded and we have even been able to draft one of our own, Blake Geoffrion.

On most nights our barn is loud. The Canadian media and fans love to point out all our empty seats, forgetting the empty seats in the United Center and other places when those more traditional teams were not so successful. Opposing fans, however, are amazed at how much our fans really get into the games. No sitting on hands in our house. We have a repertory of chants usually led by Cellblock 303. Woe to an opposing goalie when we score, a ref who makes an egregious error, or just a player who’s universally disliked. And our newest tradition, the standing O during a TV time out. No megatron, no music, just 17k fans screaming, whistling and clapping for their boys.

Amazingly enough this little team that the pundits look down on, has made it to the post season 6 out of the last 7 years. We have yet to win a playoff series but hope springs eternal in the land of dogwoods and azeleas. And I will be there with my fellow citizens of Pred Nation when the puck drops for Game 3 on April 17th.

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