Six trips to the playoffs in a span of seven seasons puts the Nashville Predators among the NHL’s elite. But for the devoted fans of the Nashville Predators, this year it’s different.
A first round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks last season – after having the Hawks on the ropes – left the Predators and their fans disheartened and wanting more. With the memory lingering in their minds, there is an unmistakable determination in the air of Music City.
Justin Bradford, a partial season ticketholder, said last season’s disappointment has given the players and the fans a chip on their shoulder to play with this time around.
“The players are definitely playing with it, but the fans have it, too,” Bradford said. “We all have a chip on our shoulders from last year. There’s that kind of intensity where we expect it, we want it, and we know it’s going to happen.
“When you play with a chip on your shoulder, there’s a lot more intensity that is brought. When you see the team that is playing real playoff hockey and playing it like Martin Erat
– going down and losing four teeth and not missing a minute – it makes you that way.”
But it’s more than just a chip on the shoulder, this year, it’s not just the devoted fans waving rally towels and cheering on the Preds. This year, the entire city of Nashville has band together in support of their hockey team.
“It’s one of those things where you can tell there’s a different kind of spirit around the city,” Bradford said. “You’re seeing it on signs, and in bars and restaurants. There’s just that different feel that people know it is playoff time.
“There’s that intensity. People start talking hockey, and even people that don’t keep up with hockey much in the regular season now are all the sudden paying attention because they know that the Predators are Nashville’s team.”
The Predators hype has taken over the city. Jeremy Gover, operator of the Predators blog Section303.com, noticed the citywide support even before the Predators made it to the playoffs.
“The digital billboards on I-65, it always has ‘game tonight’ or ‘tickets available for Tuesday,’” Gover said. “It’s always current. It’s never behind. On top of that, I’ve literally driven by a Walgreens that had one of those white boards out front, and they were using that to promote the Predators and Red Wings game on April 2.”
But the support still extends beyond mere signs. Even Nashville landmarks have created a buzz about the team, something Bradford said is a true sign of support.
“It goes all the way all the way to the Musica statues on Music Row,” Bradford said. “When you get those statues dressed up, it means everyone is in the full spirit.”
The popular “naked statues” have been clothed in Preds attire, boasting the Stanley Cup trophy in the air. Woody Wood, co-host on 107.5 The River’s Woody and Jim in the Morning, said hopes of a different turn out this season has ignited this spark throughout the city.
“Everyone’s decked out,” Woody said. “We’ve got the naked statues on Music Row all decked out in Preds outfits, and there’s a certain electricity in the city as we have, I think, the best chance in a while to make it to the second round of the playoffs.”
But it’s not just the statues that are dressed up, Jim Chandler, Woody’s co-host, said it’s everywhere.
“The dressing up of the statues and people wearing their gear on Predators Pried Friday while walking through the office – it’s cool because you see it in places you normally don’t see,” Jim said. “Where you might just see people walking to the arena on a game night, you’re going to see it on a Tuesday afternoon at a car wash working in some Preds stuff. It just seems to be everywhere.”
Woody and Jim have played their own role in pulling Nashvillians on the Predators band wagon through non-sports media support with a parody of Cee-Lo Green’s song “Forget You” called “Ducks Lose.”
Jim, who wrote the song, said the song allows listeners to celebrate not only in a win, but a Ducks’ loss.
“Just getting ready for the playoffs and finding out our opponent, I thought ‘man, I want the Preds to win, but just as much, I just want the Ducks to lose,’” Jim said. “That’s when the song just kind of went through my head, and I was like ‘oh my gosh that’s like Cee-Lo.’
“It was one of those ‘Ah-Ha’ moments. I thought that was a fun song people can snap their fingers to a defeat at the hands of the Predators.”
One of the most downloaded songs on Woody and Jim’s website in quite some time, Woody said the song has received tons of support from listeners.
“They love it,” Woody said. We’ll have people text us and request, Facebook messages, and people have wanted to grab it as their ringtone. Its fun because its one of those thing where you get excited about your team winning, but you kind of get to rub it in the face of the other team.”
The song blew away Gover in its effort to reach the every-day Nashvillian.
“It’s interesting because 107.5 The River is, obviously, not the station that talks about sports, and it’s not the station that has the Preds games on it,” Gover said. “So, the fact they’re on board and that they’d do something like that for all the regular Nashvillians to hear that listen to Top-40 radio, that’s pretty impressive. I was blown away by that.”
But the unmatched support of the Predators can only be found on game night at Bridgestone Arena. Woody, who was at Game Three of the series on Sunday, April 17, said the atmosphere completely surpassed that of any regular season game.
“It was cool because a regular game is exciting, but the playoffs get extra loud,” Woody said. “Fans will dress up with props and all kinds of stuff. When we have the rally towels, we all kind of get behind that. Nashville has been the first arena to start the standing ovation, screaming and yelling during an entire TV timeout. It just pumps the team up and scares the other team. It’s pretty awesome to be a part of.”
The Bridgestone crowd’s now infamous standing ovation has, in Bradford’s opinion, created an ideal theme for the playoffs.
“It goes with the perfect theme for the playoffs this year,” Bradford said. “I’m glad the organization chose the theme of ‘Stand With Us.’ It goes right to that fact of what the fans do, which is we will the team to victory with the standing ovations, with the towel waving, with how loud we are.
“It’s one of those things we know the players respond to it. With the fans, it all the sudden happens – we don’t have to be cued to do it. We just get that feel when the team earns it and they deserve it; we cheer them on.”
With the series neck-and-neck, Jim and the rest of the Predators fans have a confidence in their team that this just might be the season.
“Over the course of the season, you’ve started to believe it doesn’t matter what they’re going to face or what’s going to come down the pike adversity-wise, they can handle it and still play well,” Jim said. “I think that gives us hope for the playoffs –that they can handle it no matter what comes along.”