As Ford Ice Center prepares to crown multiple Nashville Predators Amateur Hockey Association champions over the next few days, General Manager Danny Butler says he continues to be in awe of the rapid growth of adult hockey in a single year at the twin-rink facility in Antioch, Tenn.
A component of a public-private partnership between the Predators and Metro Davidson County, Ford Ice Center has seen adult hockey involvement double and then double again during the three seasons hosted since the center open on Sept. 12, 2014. A focus on giving adults just getting into the game a robust set of programs has been a key part in that expansion according to Butler.
“It goes back to the reason we opened Ford Ice Center, to be the building that anybody can come and play, learn to love the game a little bit more and become Preds fans, no matter their age,” Butler said. “Adult league started last fall and we ran three seasons. The first season went really well, the second season we almost doubled our numbers and then from second season to third season we more than doubled our numbers. The biggest thing, we knew where we needed to start, just like youth hockey, we had to start from the bottom up.”
Taking down the barriers of entry to the sport caused Butler and his staff to pour their attention into first creating even-ability and well-refereed competition at the D and C-League levels. As word of the high-quality, “lower-level” hockey options spread to adults and children alike, enrollment numbers grew exponentially to now more than 600 adult and 400 youth players.
“We want people to learn it, we want people to love it and we want people to grow in the game,” Butler said. “To make it even better we have an adult hockey class that we run once or twice a week depending on what we have on the schedule, and it’s just a drop-in class that you come in, you work with [Ford Ice Center Hockey Coordinator] Zach Jackson, and we see people get better quickly.
“That in turn moves people up to the higher A/B or C Leagues and helps us to grow in all areas and move people who’ve never played before to be avid players.”
Playing the four adult leagues (A/B, C, D and Over 40) on primarily weekday nights in order to allow the five divisions of youth hockey (Termite, Mite, Squirt, Peewee and Bantam/Midget) to have weekend practices and games also proved to work best for the two house leagues according to Butler.
With NPAHA playoffs wrapping up over the next week to complete the Spring/Summer season, Ford Ice Center’s GM is eager to restart the three-season (Fall, Winter and Spring/Summer) process in year No. 2 and see how Preds fans and hockey enthusiasts respond to even more teams and newly created benefits.
For example, participants who register for a single season will receive two upper-level tickets to a Predators game, and those who sign up for multiple seasons will also get additional savings and a hockey bag.
“We really want to make it cheap and easy to play in a league that’s well managed,” Butler said. “You register for three seasons and it’s around $600; most leagues you’re probably paying $600 a season and not getting the same kind of benefits.
“But more than that, we want people to see that we’re doing the right things to see how we need to improve and keep making this better. We’re set to grow even more, and if we continue to focus on giving people the best hockey experience we can, then I know it’s just going to get even better.”
To learn more about adult hockey or to register ($235 for an individual season) for the fall season beginning at the end of August, click here.
Details on the various offerings for youth hockey players and registration options can be seen here.
Photo credit: Kristen Jerkins