Predators Win The Hearts Of Fans By Giving Them Hockey With Nashville Flair

May 18, 2017

Two hours before a playoff game against the Anaheim Ducks, and the party is already under way on the plaza outside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

This is "Smashville," and Predators fans are kicking things off by taking a sledgehammer to a junked sedan, painted over with the Ducks logo and color scheme.

Jay Mayfield is one of the people working out his aggression. He lives in Chattanooga, and says he's been a Preds' fan since the team's inception in the late 1990s.

"When I tell friends who are from up north that I'm a big hockey fan and I live in Tennessee, none of them really believe me or process that it's true," he says.

They have some grounds for skepticism. Mayfield's experience as a hockey player — let's just say it's a little lacking.

"I can't skate to save my life," he admits.

But this is hockey with Nashville flair, and Mayfield loves it. The fans spewing out of the honky-tonks just across the street. Stars like Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood singing the National Anthem. Pro wrestlers leading the cheers.

"The entire experience is very distinctly Tennessee. It's not something you're going to see in D.C. or Pittsburgh or Cleveland or anywhere else."

This spectacle is a major reason why the Predators have sold out every one of their home games this season.

Which is a big deal. A decade ago, attendance was so poor, the team stood on the verge of relocating — either to Canada or Kansas City.

Now, some experts say the Preds are the best show in the NHL.

Their fans are among the loudest.

And at home, the team is practically unbeatable.

Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

"They thoroughly believe that when they make that noise and that chant, that it boosts them. And they're dead on right," says Terry Crisp, a former NHL player and coach.

"When you're sitting on the bench, and you just finished a shift, or you're going to go on for a shift and they start that uproar and they start that noise coming, the hair on the back of your neck rises. You get goosebumps everywhere, and they definitely pick you up."

Crisp has been a broadcaster for the Predators since their inaugural season in 1998. Back then, Crisp had to tutor fans on the rules of hockey. Now, he says, they know the game as well as followers in the North.

"You know what? I can tell you how good they are — when they stand up and boo the referee at the right time."

The Predators have worked to spread the game by sponsoring youth hockey and, with the city's help, building rinks in Antioch and soon Bellevue. They now have a generation of lifelong fans.

But the Preds' real edge is the party atmosphere on Lower Broadway. Team officials say they try to bring that energy inside Bridgestone.

"The party doesn't start when the puck drops," says Danny Shalkan, the Predators vice president of marketing and communications. "The party starts three hours earlier."

For Game 3 against the Ducks, the Predators put players from the Tennessee Titans on center stage to get the crowd riled up. As fans watched on the video monitors, a lineman stripped his shirt and shotgunned a beer. Another brandished an enormous catfish — a country twist on an old hockey tradition.

Predators fans cheer after the team's Game 3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

The game itself was tight, with the score tied at one goal apiece late in the third period. Then the Predators amped up the pressure.

Play-by-play man Pete Weber with ESPN 102.5 The Game made the call.

"Fifty seconds left and the puck is knocked down. Josi scores!"

The crowd erupted. Another home victory in the books. For the Nashville Predators and their growing cadre of zealous fans.

It was the tenth consecutive playoff game at home won by the Predators. That's the longest such streak in the NHL in two decades.