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Homegrown Hockey: How Smashville's Youngest Fans are Finding the Game

by Faith Krogulecki / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators again had a big hand in the annual Music City Sports Festival, highlighted this year by the unveiling of the 2016 NHL® All-Star Logo.

In total, nearly 13,000 people came out to Music City Center in downtown Nashville on Saturday and Sunday to enjoy the reveal of the logo, a free children’s hockey clinic and a state-of-the-team address from Predators General Manager David Poile.

Before fans gathered to watch the highly anticipated release of the 2016 NHL® All-Star Weekend logo on Saturday afternoon, Preds TV color analyst Stu Grimson and former NHL defenseman Dan Keczmer, both Preds alumni, led a free street hockey clinic for young fans. The goal of the clinic was to teach children the fundamentals of the game while also having fun.

“These [youth development] camps really help to move the needle in terms of spreading interest and generating interest about our game,” Grimson said. “You’ve got a free, sign-up camp where you get to hang out with a couple of guys who have played in the NHL and learn more about the game.”

At these clinics, Grimson, Keczmer and members of the Nashville Predators youth hockey staff teach children simple fundamental skills such as holding a hockey stick, passing, shooting, stickhandling and most importantly, encourage them to have fun.

“The Predators are a primary reason for the growing interest in hockey in this area,” Drew Hawkins, father of Cam, 10, and Carlie, 8, said. “Just getting out and being active, that’s the focus, not sitting at home playing video games.”

Hawkins, a Day One Season-Ticket Holder, takes his children to Bridgestone Arena to watch the Predators any chance he can get. Hawkins said taking part in the activities the Preds offer and watching the team has led his son Cam to develop a passion for the game, a passion that has led him to play on an ice hockey travel team.

Grimson said the youth and adult clinics that the Preds host throughout the year at local rinks are very well-supported. Knowing the investment families make so their children can play hockey, the Predators offer several opportunities for kids to sign up for free camps and clinics, rent hockey equipment and have a chance to try the sport on-ice at no cost to see if they like it.

“These are all great opportunities for folks to get plugged in and turned onto our game,” Grimson said. “Folks identify with our broadcast, they identify with our players, they identify with everyone that’s a part of that, so it’s a welcomed opportunity to connect with the folks that really follow us in a feverish way.”

Tommy Sheed, a father of three, said past players like Grimson and their passion for the game and giving back to the community makes him want to continue signing his children up for these clinics.

“Whether it’s Stu Grimson or David Poile later on, my kids just love them and hang on every word they say,” Sheed said. “The most important thing is to have fun and to keep interest up in hockey for the kids. The atmosphere at a Predators event is just a great family environment.”

“My favorite part of today was meeting Stu Grimson,” Sheed’s son Zachary, 13, said. “I know him from watching the broadcasts, so getting to play with him is nice. I learned teamwork today because you get to play with all of these people you never met before; it just teaches you to cooperate with your teammates.”

Sheed began taking Zachary to hockey games and clinics as a two-year-old. Now 11 years later, Zachary watches all of the Preds games on television or listens to them on the radio.

“There’s a bigger interest for the kids and that’s why we have so many fans now,” Sheed said. “My kids are getting older, my oldest son being 17, so his kids will be hockey fans too.”

With emphasis on developing interest in the game of hockey, the Predators players and staff also value spending time in the community that gives so much to them.

“You can see it in [the kids'] eyes that it really sparks the interest in them,” Grimson said. “One, they want to play it, and two, they want to follow the game. So it’s well worth taking the time to stage a clinic like this.”

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