By Ashlan Williams
The Nashville Predators’ loyal fans make Smashville one of the hardest places in the NHL to play, and the players have paid them back with another successful year on home ice.
The sound can seem almost deafening – 17,113 fans giving a standing ovation through an entire TV timeout as the end of the third period looms, giving their team a needed boost.
That’s who Predators fans are.
|A word of special thanks from the Predators themselves |
|Pekka Rinne: |
“I don’t know what would be enough, but thank you a thousand times, and just keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Thank you. Keep it going, and hopefully, we can give you guys something to cheer even louder for. You’re part of our team. Seventh Man banner, it’s true here, and we need you. Just keep cheering for us, and, hopefully, we can continue to give you stuff to cheer for.”
“Thanks for all the support. We appreciate all you do for us, and without you, we wouldn’t have the game.”
“Plain and simple, thank you for just being there. It’s like the fans are like a good friend. You don’t have to call them, but they come and support you. A good friend no matter what happens – I have certain friends that if something ever happened I could pick up the phone and not even tell them what it is but just say I need you here right away and they would come. That’s what the fans are. They’re that good friend, when you need them, they’re there.”
“During those timeouts, when everyone gets up and cheers really loud, it just gets us going,” forward Blake Geoffrion said. “Sometimes there are momentum swings in the game. When we’re down and there’s a TV timeout, everyone starts cheering, and it kind of gives us our momentum back to us. That’s huge.”
Predators fans have given this standing ovation numerous times throughout the playoff push. Head Coach Barry Trotz said the boost from their fans has often given the team the needed adrenaline to pull out a win on several occasions.
“It’s been huge,” Trotz said. “When it’s late in the game, you’re tired and you’ve played a lot of minutes as a player, that just gives you a little bit of an adrenaline rush, and sometimes that’s all it is – that little adrenaline rush that they can give you to get you over the top.
“Sometimes, you’re clinging on to a little bit of a cliff, and you’re trying to hang on. You don’t realize how close you are to the goal, and if you just hang on that second extra, you’ll reach that goal. A lot of times the fans are that extra second – that extra adrenaline rush that gets you over the top.”
Not only do Preds fans know how to give the team a spark, but defenseman Shane O’Brien said the fans know exactly when they need it.
“When they do that, they know the right time to do it,” O’Brien said. “It’s in the third period when we need that little extra push and need to dig a little deeper to get the job done. They’re huge for us, and we love it. We’re going to need them down the stretch.”
Citizens of Smashville have boasted intensity and consistency throughout the season, and it has earned Bridgestone Arena the reputation as a feared place for opponents to step foot in, and rightly so.
The Preds are 23-9-8 on home ice this season and 9-2-1 in their last 11 home games. The only team to post at least 23 home wins in each season since 2005-06, Trotz said the Preds owe much of their home success to their fans.
“You just look at our home record,” Trotz said. “We’ve had tremendous energy in the building, and it’s just gotten better and better. It started really well back in October, and it’s just been consistent. You notice that your home ice and your fans are affecting the game when other teams are mentioning how hard this rink is to come into and play.
“That’s what home-ice advantage is. Home-ice advantage is the fans. As a coach, when you get home ice advantage, you get the last change, a couple of those tactical things, but really the advantage is the fans, the atmosphere, the energy they can bring to the team and also the effect they can have on the other team.”
The atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena is simply unlike any other in the National Hockey League. Part of it is the thrill of Music City is the bandstage – it has featured musicians like Alice Cooper, Vince Gill and the Oak Ridge Boys this season – but the real reason is the fans.
This season, the Predators have had the most sellouts (15) and highest average attendance (16,119) since 1999-2000, the franchise’s second season.
Nashville may be a relatively new market, but the fans have embraced the sport and the Predators in a special way, and O’Brien thinks they don’t get enough credit for it.
“Coming here from Vancouver and the Canadian market – and I’ve played in Nashville on the road, but you don’t pay as much attention on the road – but coming here you see how passionate they are,” O’Brien said. “They have a lot of knowledge too. I don’t think they get nearly enough credit for how much they know about the game, how passionate they are.”
As the Predators skate on the ice for their final regular season game of the year, playoffs are at the forefront of their mind. But there is one thing they know will help them get there, and captain Shea Weber
said that’s the team’s loyal followers.
“I think we’ve got some of the best fans in the league, if not the best,” Weber said. “They support us no matter what. It obviously helps us get momentum and play well at home. It’s been huge, especially this time of year. We’re in a playoff battle, battling for a playoff position, and just to know that they’re behind you, giving you a boost late in games, it definitely helps.”
The fans may never know the impact they have on the team’s success in Bridgestone Arena, but as the organization celebrates Fan Appreciation Night, the Predators want to share their gratitude to their devoted fans.