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Predators slowly molding Nashville into hockey town

City creating 'unbelievable environment' for fans through culture, atmosphere

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators are in danger of letting the hockey world in on one of the best-kept secrets in the NHL.

Simply, this Southern city is as good a market as there is in North America.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette already knows it.

It didn't take him long to find out how special the city, and its hockey fan base, were. He was won over days after arriving in 2014.

Now, his appreciation continues to grow.

"It's probably hard to put in words," Laviolette said when asked about the experience of coaching in Nashville. "You have to come down to Bridgestone [Arena] and see what it is all about."

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues vs. Predators series coverage]

 

That's no longer easy. It's extremely hard to get into Bridgestone Arena to experience one of the best atmospheres in the League. The Predators have sold every ticket to each of the past 53 home games. Success has led to the fan base growing by leaps and bounds. In a region known for county music and football, hockey has become one of the hottest tickets in town.

Those that can't get into the building are tuning in on TV in larger and larger numbers.

The Predators' 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round on Sunday was the most watched game in the Nashville area, according to WTVF-5 programming and research director Mark Binda.

Video: Smashville is rockin' as the Predators eye the Cup

The game, aired nationally on NBC, drew a 9.4 rating. The previous record, a 7.2 rating, had come in Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

Nashville leads the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

The Predators fans will be out in full force again, clad in gold, screaming their lungs out, delivering standing ovations during every television timeout for Game 4, holding down their part of the covenant with the team.

"They have been awesome, they never disappoint," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "They give us energy. They really are the seventh man out there."

Defenseman P.K. Subban arrived in Nashville on June 29, part of a trade that sent former captain Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens, who play in one of the most fervent hockey cities in the world.

Subban spent the first six full seasons of his NHL career in Montreal. He, perhaps more than anyone, can judge how high the bar has been set here.

"Nashville is second to no one in terms of the game entertainment and presentation on the ice," Subban said. "This organization, in terms of how they do business; it's been first class. I'm just really excited to be a part of it."

The Predators have capitalized on the city's position as one of the biggest music hubs in the world, as well as on the college sports culture so prevalent throughout the South, to fashion a unique game experience.

Famous musicians sing "The Star-Spangled Banner:" Carrie Underwood in Game 3 of the first round, Luke Bryan in Game 4 of the first round and Little Big Town in Game 3 on Sunday. 

The Predators use other celebrities and local athletes to fire up the crowd before games. Sunday, it was Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray. Last season, Titans tight end Delanie Walker and defensive end Jurrell Casey served as hype men.

The Predators are the only NHL team to feature live music during intermissions. The house bands often are joined by famous musicians. Last round, John Hiatt sat in for a set. Sunday, Lee Greenwood joined, bringing the house down with his signature song, "God Bless the USA."

The fans have a series of chants they use throughout the game, just as fans do at Vanderbilt University and University of Tennessee football games. They thank PA announcer Paul McCann each time he announces the last minute of the period. Each time the Predators score a goal, the fans, in unison, make sure the opposing goalie knows it was all his fault.

"Our fans are great," said defenseman Roman Josi, who has called Nashville home since joining the NHL for the 2011-12 season. "I think it is loudest building in the League. Especially in the playoffs, they are unbelievable from start to finish. They give us that extra boost. It's great now that the whole hockey world is seeing how big of a hockey city this is."

Subban believes it will grow even more as the Predators continue to experience success on the ice.

This is all new territory for Nashville. This is only the fourth time the Predators have reached the second round of the playoffs since joining the League for the 1998-99 season. They have never led in a second-round series until Sunday. Two more wins and they reach the Western Conference Final for the first time.  

Video: Predators tally on long shift in Blues' zone

"As we continue to progress, I'm sure we will gain more fans and more recognition internationally and in the League and that is great," Subban said. "But, there is a tremendous fan base here. The No. 1 thing to do to have success in an organization, and in a city, is to win. As long as we continue to win, everything will take care of itself.

"We have a tremendous group of guys in here, personality guys that have fun and enjoy the game. We enjoy the energy here in Nashville and we feed off it. It's great, the players complement the city really, really well."

It has all combined to make a vibrant, unique, loud game-day experience that is among the most memorable in the League.

"It's an unbelievable environment," Laviolette said. "It's loud, there is energy; it's crazy." 

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