Fan Fair provides perfect start to All-Star Weekend

Thursday, 01.28.2016 / 2:24 PM
Shawn Roarke  - Director, Editorial

NASHVILLE -- The 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend started Thursday with the opening of the 2016 NHL Fan Fair presented by Bridgestone at the Music City Center, a state-of-the-art exhibit hall across the street from Bridgestone Arena, the site of the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Fan Fair is a 250,000-square-foot festival of all things hockey. It features dozens of attractions, exhibits, activities and experiences that appeal to fans of all ages and will run from Thursday to Sunday.

"For us it is more than the weekend," Predators president and CEO Sean Henry said. "The celebration started when we announced the game 18 months ago and really picked up when we opened the outdoor rink [across the street]. And now, today, we really begin to have the fun."

The first to experience the festival, the biggest in the history of Fan Fair, were hundreds of children from schools throughout the area. They streamed into the exhibit area after NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly cut the ribbon to officially open Fan Fair.

Daly said that the first wave of children carried with them the excitement everyone has about the four days of hockey celebration to follow.

"I think a number of factors make it extremely exciting," Daly said. "People are very excited about this weekend. The team and the progression of the team and the franchise over the course of time. And to see where this market has come since my first year at the League, which was the year we went through the expansion process and I visited this market with the expansion committee.

"To see what they have been able to accomplish over the last 18 or 19 years, it's very impressive. I think there is extra excitement around the market itself. I think people are excited to come and experience Nashville. It's an exciting and fun market. I also think the format change of the game has led to a lot of excitement. People want to see what a 3-on-3 tournament looks like. It's a real change of what we have done traditionally. I think all of those factors combine for a high level of excitement."

This year the League moved away from a traditional game of 5-on-5 with teams representing the Eastern and Western conferences to a four-team, division-based format that will feature three games of 3-on-3 to crown a champion. Each team will have 11 players and the games will last 20 minutes.

But for many the game is a long way away. There is much to do in the interim. And Fan Fair was a perfect starting point.

Dalton Woods, 13, spent the morning taking advantage of the many shooting exhibits among the attractions at Fan Fair.

"I've had a lot of fun," said Woods, who wore a T-shirt that honored Nashville Predators defenseman and Central Division All-Star Shea Weber. "It's been a really good experience. The best part has been getting out of school for the day."

Woods attends Winfree Bryant Middle School in Lebanon, Tenn. His father is a Predators season-ticket holder, and Dalton said he has been a hockey fan for as long as he can remember.

Tyjuan Brown, 15, was another member of the 30-strong traveling party from Winfree Bryant. He said he has been to one Predators game but was enjoying himself Thursday. His interest in hockey has grown after visiting Fan Fair and learning about other facets of the sport through classroom work as part of Future Goals, an initiative by the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association that provides students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education opportunities.

The students had to complete the Future Goals program with proficiency in order to be able to attend Fan Fair, according to their computer sciences teacher, Cheryl Lane.

Henry said seeing so many smiling students be among the first to enjoy what the hockey community in the city created at the Music City Center was the perfect start to what will be a busy four days.

"We love all our fans," he said. "But when the fans are under 15, those are the ones that are more passionate. Everything is more magical for them and they bring the life to our game and our building. The space that we have in this new building is pretty dynamic. It'll be fun for everybody, whether you are a hockey fan, a casual fan or this is all new to you. You can come out here and have a good time and ideally fall in love with the game. That was our goal, to touch the people in our community that aren't as engaged as we would like and this might put them over the edge."

A full schedule of events and performances at Fan Fair is available at NHL.com/FanFair.

Back to top