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Poile Relishing Success of Hockey in Nashville

City and Team Have Entered Special Bond as Predators Advance to First Stanley Cup Final

by John Glennon @glennonsports /

In the months after David Poile and the Washington Capitals parted ways some 20 years ago, he found himself with an interesting choice:

Should he accept an offer to become the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an Original Six hockey franchise - and winner of 13 Stanley Cups - that was trying to regain its once-proud stature?

Or should he try his luck in the middle of Tennessee, serving as the first GM of a Predators franchise that had yet to sign a single player?

There was no question what Poile's decision should be in the mind of his father, Bud Poile, who played on Toronto's 1947 Stanley Cup-winning team and was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But David Poile chose the road less traveled nonetheless.

"He didn't understand why I would be coming to Nashville, but I just felt that you only have one chance to start something from your own in terms of building a business," a smiling Poile said late Monday, wearing a Western Conference champions ball cap after the Predators downed Anaheim 6-3 to reach their first Stanley Cup Final.

"I'm really glad I did. I've never, ever regretted it. It hasn't been easy with all the highs and lows… But we're at the place I guess I envisioned 20 years ago now, a successful team on the ice and a successful team off the ice."

You'll notice Poile didn't use the word satisfied.

He and the Predators know their work is far from finished, a Stanley Cup matchup with either the Penguins or Senators on tap beginning Monday. But what a spectacle the Predators have already treated us to over the last six weeks, crafting memories for Nashville like nothing we've seen here in the past.

Inside Bridgestone Arena on Monday night, the show never seemed to stop:

Trisha Yearwood belted out the National Anthem, becoming the latest member of Music City's royalty to perform. Former Titans running back Eddie George whipped the 58th-straight sellout crowd into a pregame frenzy, raising the decibel level of a group that's already earned a reputation as the NHL's loudest. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and his offensive lineman made another playoff appearance, chugging beer in the stands while holding aloft monster catfish - the Preds' southern-fried answer to the Red Wings' playoff octopus.

Video: Predators defeat Ducks, advance to Stanley Cup Final

Outside the arena, an estimated 5,000 more fans filled the arena plaza and packed the aptly named Victory Park, watching the game on giant screens.

"I think that's when you know it's really caught on, when people just want to be a part of it any way they can," said Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.

"Even if they can't get in the building, they want to be a part of it. I give them props. I have a ticket on the inside and that was easy. But coming down without a ticket and being there for three hours or more? That's cool."

The spectacle, of course, at some point must take second place to the sport itself.

The Predators have delivered like never before in that regard this postseason - an eighth-seeded team that stung the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in a first-round sweep, outmuscled the St. Louis Blues in the second round, and finally won a brutal war of attrition against Anaheim in their first Western Conference Final. It made them just the third club seeded lowest in its conference to advance to the Stanley Cup Final since the League adopted the conference-based playoff format in 1994 (and first-ever 16th seeded team to reach the Final).

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Predators awarded Campbell Bowl

Monday's victory couldn't have been any more illustrative of the Predators' ability to overcome adversity this postseason. Nashville's used a total of 18 forwards through 16 playoff games, tying an NHL record.

Playing without injured top center Ryan Johansen - and captain Mike Fisher - the Preds turned to Colton Sissons, who only three months ago was a healthy scratch scratch for seven-straight games. All Sissons did was deliver a playoff hat trick, sinking Anaheim with the goal that put Nashville up 4-3 with six minutes remaining.

The Preds' capture of the Western Conference crown - and subsequent advance to the Stanley Cup Final - almost certainly ranks as the most significant sports accomplishment ever recorded in Nashville.

One could argue that the Titans' Music City Miracle of 2000 may have been more dramatic, but that contest - stunning as it was - only occurred in the wildcard round of the playoffs.

As for sports milestones recorded by a Nashville team - whether in Music City or not - only the Titans' AFC Championship win over Jacksonville in 2000 could compare to the Predators' playoff achievements this year.

While the NFL may have more national prestige than the NHL, the Titans needed just three postseason wins to reach the Super Bowl that year. The Predators, meanwhile, have slogged through three best-of-seven series to reach the Cup Final.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons has hat trick in clinching win

"I don't think there's any doubt that a Stanley Cup Final in Nashville would be the biggest sporting event we've ever witnessed here," Spyridon said. "It almost becomes one of those occurrences that's hard to put into words. Everybody has the fever. It's great for a community, something to rally around."

Which is just what Poile might have envisioned those many years ago when he chose Nashville over Toronto.

In the years since making that decision, he's built the franchise from the ground up, spearheaded it through lean times, and turned it into an NHL playoff regular that plays in front of 17,000-plus Gold-clad fanatics.

And in just a few days, Poile, who's served as an NHL GM for 35 seasons, will at long last celebrate his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"It's taken a long time to get here," Poile said outside a jubilant Preds locker room, "but it feels really good today."

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