I distinctly remember going to my first Nashville Predators game in early 1999.
I didn’t know a lot about hockey (okay any), but that didn’t distract me from the thrill of taking in professional sports for the first time in “my” city. Watching the players skate around and trying to figure out what in the world a power play was, the predominant sense I got watching the game was one of exciting validation.
The fact that Music City, USA, had become one of those special places to be granted the high honor of owning a sports team was something I found very impressive - even at the age of eight. A buzz could be felt in the stands that night, as it seemed fans were still shocked they had the chance to take in a sport at its highest level, in Middle Tennessee of all places.
The excitement surrounding the birth of “our” franchise lasted for the next several years. We watched as what felt like a member of our family took its first steps.
A record over .500. Hosting the 2003 NHL Draft. The first home playoff game against Detroit. Being chosen by forward Paul Kariya in free agency. Eliminating the Ducks from the playoffs.
We started being told that Nashville was an awesome place to watch a game and stick around in for a few days too. Finally, after we heard it enough times, we started to realize it was true.
In the summer of 2007, however, we were reminded of just what we’d been given when it seemed like the Preds might be taken away from us.
We grew up quickly those next few months. Maybe in 1997 we felt like we’d been accidentally invited to the cool kids table, but a decade later we knew we belonged as a professional sports town. Besides, the Nashville Predators belong to us, and no one was going to take them away.
After that I’ve watched in amazement - as I would guess you have too - as our city has grown by leaps and bounds these past few years. Apparently the people that had a good time at our hockey games didn’t keep their mouths shut.
Reflecting on all these memories is what makes today’s news so special.
Being selected as the host city of the NHL All-Star game brings back some of those feelings we first felt in the late 90s. If we’re being honest, it feels like we’ve been told how great we are, and we’re still not sure we deserve it. But if I have to be the first one to you tell you we’re ready for this, then let me be the one.
Nashville is ready for the All-Star Weekend in 2016.
We’re ready for the spotlight. We’re ready for the fanfare that comes with hosting one of the biggest events in sports. We were given our shot nearly 20 years ago, and we ran with it.
Those who’ve raved about the perfect mix of Southern hospitality and hockey you can find at Bridgestone Arena were right. That many people can’t be wrong.
So here’s to looking forward to that special weekend in late January. No doubt an eight-year-old will attend Music City’s version of the All-Star game in 2016 and have a blast, and that’s where his or her memories of Nashville as a sports town will start.
I just can’t wait to see where we are 15 years from then.