The 2016 edition of the NHL All-Star Weekend is finally here, and it began in signature Nashville style.
Thursday morning, the ribbon was cut at NHL Fan Fair presented by Bridgestone, held at Music City Center, the League’s one-stop shop for all things hockey.
The festivities then continued into the evening as the grand opening ceremony at Bridgestone Winter Park officially kicked off the weekend, complete with a live concert from country music stars Big & Rich.
“It really marks the opening of a special weekend for the National Hockey League,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “It’s really a celebration of the game. Having the best players here, having a good time, and it’s really about the market as well. People are excited to be in Nashville. This was a great kick off to what I expect to be a lot of days of fun.”
Nashville Predators season-ticket holders took a sneak peek of Fan Fair on Thursday afternoon before the general public, and it didn’t matter if they had been members of the Loyal Legion for 15 years like Cathy Rader, or if they were a first-time member like Jonathan Chapman – the offerings of Fan Fair and the weekend in general made an impression.
“It’s awesome; you get to see the Stanley Cup up close, you get to meet players, and not just any players, but from your own team, it’s a neat experience,” Chapman, of Winchester, Tennessee said. “Just like anything with Smashville, you have to see it to believe it.”
The hockey world descending on Music City for the weekend also evokes a sense of pride for Preds season-ticket holders. They already know what the city and the organization are all about, and now they get to show it off.
“Nashville knows a thing or two about hockey,” Rader said. “We want to show that we love our hockey just as much as people who have been involved for years and years love their hockey.”
“Music City is not just some small-market team; it’s real, this is a hockey town and it’s neat to show the rest of hockey that this is the real deal,” Chapman said. “We’re passionate, we care about it and we love our team.”
Daly knows that to be true as well. Hired by the League in 1997, Nashville was one of the first spots Daly visited when he worked on the NHL’s expansion project at the time. Since then, he and the rest of the hockey world have seen the organization and the city evolve into something everyone wants to be a part of.
And like those who call Nashville home, Daly is equally excited to share what Smashville has to offer.
“That’s one of the great things, that our other clubs and organizations will get to experience the enthusiasm that these fans have for hockey in Nashville,” Daly said. “To see where the franchise has come and its standing within the community within the last 18, 19 years is amazing. It’s a testament to the ownership and management of the club and to the great fans in Nashville.”
For Predators General Manager David Poile, who has been with the franchise since the very beginning, the celebration of hockey in Nashville is like a big party, with all of your best friends coming over. Poile is confident that the guests will remember their experience for a while.
“We want our friends and family to have a good time, and we want them to be impressed with Nashville,” Poile said. “This is a big time for our franchise to show perhaps a lot of new people have never been to Nashville before how great of a city this is, and how good of a hockey town this is. I’m really excited.”