NASHVILLE -- George Plaster has been here from the start. Now he can't wait to show the hockey world what his city has built with the Nashville Predators.
Plaster, 58, a former sports talk radio personality, bought two Predators season tickets before they played their first season in 1998-99, among the class of inaugural season ticket holders.
He has waited ever since, at first patiently and then with more urgency, for the team to occupy the stage it has now: The Stanley Cup Final.
"I would be surprised if the fans don't bring the energy to a wow-factor level over the next three days and show the hockey world what we already know: that this is a great hockey town," Plaster said Friday on the eve of the first Stanley Cup Final game at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVA Sports). Game 4 is here Monday.
Pittsburgh has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, but that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm here for the arrival of the Stanley Cup Final.
Tickets for each of the games at Bridgestone Arena are scarce on the resale market and are going for more than five times the cost at face value during the season. Predators gold is everywhere downtown, worn by fans, hung as flags outside windows of honky-tonks on Broadway and in jerseys hung across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
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It's an evolution almost hard to imagine, considering the Predators' humble beginnings.
Plaster, who grew up in Nashville and went to Vanderbilt University, got on the bandwagon at the start, believing if he was going to have to stump during his radio show for fans to buy season tickets, he should do the same.
He ponied up for two seats in Section 304, a leap of faith after a friend said it would be a good vantage point from which to watch the game. He didn't know for sure because he knew virtually nothing about hockey.
Nineteen years later, Plaster, who now works for the athletic department at nearby Belmont University, can't think of many better decisions he has made.
"It's been a great investment for me," Plaster said, speaking of the financial and emotional capital spent on the tickets. "I can't imagine giving them up under any circumstances."
Saturday, he will be there, in the front row of his section, screaming at the top of his lungs and waving his golden towel, just like the fans around him, some of whom he likely recruited during his time on three different sports radio stations in Nashville. He will be a small part of making an atmosphere that even opposing players acknowledge as among the most special in the NHL.
He will be joined by Watson Brown, the former Vanderbilt football coach who texted Plaster as soon as Nashville qualified for the Final to secure the second ticket. At some point, Plaster will take time to reflect on the journey to this point for the Predators.
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He'll think of the uncertain early years: "Back then, I don't think a lot of people knew what to think. How does it compete with football? There were a lot of questions."
He'll think about the years that followed, when one step forward was met by a step, or maybe two, backward. When he was one of the voices in the community advocating for the Predators when they sought more solid footing.
And he'll think of the magic that has accompanied this season, almost from the beginning. The relief when the Predators became the last of the 16 teams to qualify for the postseason. The joy when the Predators swept their division rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Western Conference First Round. The unbridled enthusiasm when the Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues in the second round. The rapture, mixed with a bit of disbelief, when the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in the conference final to secure this date with history.
At some point before the yet-to-be-announced celebrity singer belts out the national anthem and the building gets louder than any other in the League, Plaster will reflect on what it means to be in Bridgestone Arena after everything that has happened in the past two decades. He knows the goose bumps will soon follow.
"The thing that gives me the biggest thrill is just listening to that arena," Plaster said. "That's when you realize that all the work was worth it because this is an amazing hockey town."