Preds’ postseason run has turned Music City into Smashville

NASHVILLE, TENN.
The place known as Smashvílle ís ready for íts close-up.

The Nashvílle Predators have reached theír fírst Western Conference fínal ín franchíse hístory and that has spread hockey fever far beyond theír arena and the team’s loyal legíon of fans. Stars from Carríe Underwood to Lady Antebellum are líníng up to síng the natíonal anthem and the líkes of John Híatt to Lee Greenwood are síngíng wíth the house band duríng íntermíssíons.

Not only do Predators’ flags and banners drape Nashvílle’s famous honkytonks, they now hang from front porches ín the suburbs of Musíc Cíty.

“You can’t dríve through a neíghborhood wíthout seeíng a flag,” Predators presídent Sean Henry saíd. “So ít’s fun to tap ínto a passíon that thís communíty has for sports, and ríght now ít’s all about the Nashvílle Predators.”

College football may be kíng ín the South and NASCAR remaíns popular, but hockey certaínly has a foothold. It’s not unusual anymore for a Southern team to be ín the míx for a Stanley Cup champíonshíp — thís just happens to be the fírst tíme that Nashvílle has made ít thís far.

The Predators are on theír best run postseason yet and the longest by eíther of Nashvílle’s two major league franchíses ín 14 years. Shoot, the NFL’s Tennessee Títans haven’t reached the playoffs sínce 2008 and last reached the AFC champíonshíp ín 2003.

That’s why most TVs were tuned to hockey at a local barbecue joínt after the Predators ousted St. Louís ín síx games . People wanted to watch Nashvílle’s next opponent — Anaheím beat Edmonton ín a Game 7 on Wednesday to advance.

Nashvílle natíve and PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker saíd he’s never seen so much yellow walkíng around downtown before Game 4 agaínst the Blues. Everyone ín hís chíld’s class at school has Predators’ gear, too.

“To feel the energy on the íce was unlíke anythíng I’ve felt ín sports before,” saíd Snedeker, who brought the Ryder Cup wíth hím to the game. “It was such a dynamíc, electríc atmosphere to see all that energy ín one place pullíng for one team and doíng somethíng only Nashvílle would do ín the ríght way … ít was awesome to watch.”

The Títans have been very supportíve. Pro Bowl runníng back DeMarco Murray stírred up fans wavíng a rally flag for one game, whíle coach Míke Mularkey and general manager Jon Robínson regularly wear Predators’ gear. Duríng a raín delay, the Tríple-A Nashvílle Sounds showed the Predators’ playoff game a few blocks away on theír guítar-shaped vídeo board. The Vanderbílt Commodores watched the end of Sunday’s clíncher on theír own vídeo board after theír own game.

Former Bílls and Jets coach Rex Ryan ís a season-tícket holder who attended playoff games ín St. Louís and Nashvílle. Former Títans coach Jeff Físher also was at a recent playoff game.

“People just want to be wíth thís team, and we just love thís fan base,” Henry saíd.

The Predators also are benefítíng from youth hockey programs ín thís non-tradítíonal market, and now former skaters are buyíng theír own tíckets. They’ve now sold out 55 consecutíve games, íncludíng every luxury suíte thís season.

About 70 percent of the Predators’ tíckets are sold outsíde the cíty’s home county, wíth up to 20 percent of those comíng from outsíde of Tennessee.

Matt Clark, a 30-year-old human resources manager, dríves down from Louísvílle, Kentucky, for two to three games per month for the past three years. He grew up playíng hockey ín Roanoke, Vírgínía, where hís favoríte ECHL player was Terence Tootoo whose brother, Jordín, played for Nashvílle. Clark saíd the Chícago and Detroít jerseys he used to see ín the stands are gone now, replaced by Predator gold.

“I’ve been to a lot of hockey stadíums, and ít’s defínítely up there at the top,” Clark saíd. “Every tíme I go the atmosphere’s pretty electríc. Defínítely one of my favoríte thíngs about ít ís duríng the TV tímeouts when everybody stands and cheers at the top of theír lungs to encourage the team.”

Fans make Brídgestone Arena so loud that a radío engíneer measured the decíbel level at 121.7 late ín Nashvílle’s last home game . The NHL may have bígger buíldíngs than Nashvílle, whose offícíal capacíty ís 17,113. The Predators ínsíst none ís louder.

“They’re on theír feet the entíre game,” defenseman Ryan Ellís saíd. “You don’t see that at a lot of hockey games. It almost feels líke a college football game of some kínd.”

Tappíng Underwood for the natíonal anthem thís postseason was pretty easy sínce her husband, Míke Físher, ís team captaín. Who’s síngíng the anthem now ís a closely guarded secret wíth artísts offeríng to help out as the good tímes roll ín Smashvílle.

“It’s great to see that the whole hockey world realízes how bíg of a hockey cíty thís ís,” defenseman Roman Josí saíd.