Sometimes in life, a set of unplanned circumstances come together in the perfect time and place to set in motion a series of events that completely change your life. Sometimes that leads to disaster but, just now and then, you get really lucky. My life as a hockey fan began in such a way.
The date was Saturday, December 27th, 2014. I was on a mini-vacation in Nashville, Tennessee. I had driven down from Indianapolis with my wife and daughter. We built the trip around a football game. Our beloved Colts were taking on their division rivals, the Tennessee Titans that Sunday and we had bought tickets to see our first Colts road game. We decided to make a nice long weekend out of the trip. We stayed at the Omni, just around the corner, walking distance, from the Country Music Hall of Fame and all the popular spots on Broadway. Right in between all of that sits Bridgestone Arena or, as I noticed on the sign outside, Smashville. I had no idea what that meant when I first saw it, but I would soon find out.
After taking in some of the popular sights, including the aforementioned CMHA, and walking up and down Broadway a time or two, Saturday evening was approaching. We had made no plans for the night so we were trying to figure out what to do. As we walked around that day, I had seen quite a lot of people walking around in gold, blue, and white hockey jerseys with a sabertooth tiger logo on the front. I thought they were pretty cool looking. I knew just enough about the NHL to vaguely recall that Nashville had a hockey team called the Predators, so I realized that was what the jerseys were. I was no hockey fan at that time. I’ll come back to that evening in Nashville in a minute, first, my hockey history.
I had tried to get into hockey a time or two in my past, but it never took. The first time was when I lived in Los Angeles in 1990. That was a pretty exciting time for hockey in LA because the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was a member of the Kings. The guys I was living with were all Kings fans, so I watched a lot of the games with them on TV. I didn’t get hockey at the time, but I did know enough about sports to be able to appreciate how good Gretsky was. His talent stood out even to an uninitiated basketball guy from Indiana, like me. When I left LA, I left hockey behind me.
The next time I attempted to get into hockey was the 2010 Winter Olympics. That was an exiting tournament and I enjoyed watching the competition, especially the U.S. and Canadian teams. Two players really caught my eye from those two teams, Johnathan Toews from the Canadian team and Patrick Kane from the U.S. As I watched, I looked up those two names and found that they played on the same NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks. So I decided I’d begin following the Blackhawks, which was perfect because, living in Indianapolis, we got quite a few of their games on our cable package. I watched some games here and there over the next year or two and casually followed the standings, but I could not honestly say that I became a real fan. It just didn’t grab me–I never felt fully connected. I never even got to the point were I fully understood simple rules like icing or offside. Finally, it wore off completely and I spent the next couple years never giving hockey a second thought.
Now back to Nashville in December of 2014…
After seeing all those Predators Jerseys and seeing the buzz of excitement starting to build around that arena they called Smashville, I asked my wife what she thought about checking to see if we could get tickets to watch our very first NHL game. To my surprise, she didn’t laugh off the idea. She asked if I thought we could get tickets at that late hour. I said I’d go check. I walked the two blocks from our hotel to the box office at the arena, which by that time was starting to form lines to get in. I asked the lady behind the glass if there were any tickets left. She said she only had two seats left that were together. They were really good seats, about ten rows off the ice. The price wasn’t all that outrageous for the quailty of the seats, but it was a lot more than I figured my wife would agree to since we weren’t even hockey fans. I called her on the cell and, to my surprise, she said to go ahead and get them. Our daugher was agreeable to staying back in the hotel room and watching movies. So I bought the tickets and waited there for my wife to walk over and join me. At that point, it dawned on me that I hadn’t even bothered to see who the Predators were playing that night. I checked the tickets and saw that the visiting team was the Philadelphia Flyers. Good to know, I guess.
When we walked into Bridgestone, I was impressed. It’s a great arena–really a bit of a strange layout with the seating bowls situated the way they are. When we found our seats, we were excited. We couldn’t believe how great they were. Pretty good for our first time at an NHL game! We sat and took in the sights. It was all so invigorating from the live band playing on one end, to the funny and creative videos poking fun at the city of Philadelphia being played on the big screen, to the chill in the air that comes with a hockey rink. The game itself is a bit of a blur, but I remember being blown away at the speed of the game and unbelievable athleticism and physicality of the players. I could not get over the fact that those men could do what they do on skates! It all goes to show that, no matter how high the definition or big the screen, you can’t truly appreciate NHL hockey to the fullest on television, not unless you’ve been there in person at least once. When Nashville scored its first goal, I was immediately taken in by the familiar Tim McGraw tune of “I like it, I love it, I want some more of it” and the raucus crowd reaction. Then a few seconds later I was taken by surprise by a very loud and well-synchronized chant that the enthusiastic crowd rained down upon the poor Flyer’s goalie, calling him out by name several times and making sure he knew that he “sucked” and that it was “all his fault.” My wife and I looked at each other like kindergartners who had just heard our first curse words and just giggled with glee. We would hear that deafening chant three more times that night in the Preds 4 to 1 victory. Each time, we marveled at it and wondered how the whole crowd seemed to know it word for word and timed it out so perfectly. That experience was unlike any other sporting event I had ever attended. I walked into Bridgestone Arena that night a football tourist and walked out a rabid Preds fan and full-fledged citizen of Smashville, baptized by ice.
In the weeks that followed, the closets in my house began to fill up with Predators jerseys, my man-cave started sporting Preds bobbleheads and other souvenirs, my truck wore a Preds license plate frame and a hitch cover, my work space flew a Predators flag as a window treatment, and my cable bill included the NHL Center Ice package so that I could catch every single game. Since that time, I’ve returned to Smashville for two more games and even travelled to Columbus to watch the Preds play a road game.
So it almost feels an unfair advantage that, in just my third season as a Preds fan, I get to enjoy the ride all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. I didn’t have to pay my dues through the lean years after expansion, but as a Colts and Pacers fan, I know the pain of lean years followed by the joy of success. So fair or not, here I am…and I couldn’t be more pumped. I hope to get to Smashville during the Stanley Cup Final. I don’t expect to get into the building, but I’m sure I’ll be in great company outside.
Smashville is a magical place. I want to be there when history happens, even if it’s only on the outside.
That’s my story of how Smashville caught this Predators fan.
Oh yeah, the Colts beat the Titans the next day…but that was to be expected.