Take a walk down Broadway, and you'll see it. A simple glance at one of Nashville's most popular streets, and it's hard to miss the flashes of Predators Gold - the flags hanging outside the honky tonks, fans wearing Winter Classic sweaters and so much more.
Years ago, the prospect of having such an infectious hockey culture in Nashville was a foreign concept. These days, it's just the norm.
Thanks in large part to the Predators, Smashville has evolved into one of the nation's most reputable hockey towns since its NHL inception in 1998. Over the past few months, the organization sought to take that a step further.
In an effort to mold the next generation of hockey players, the Predators distributed nearly 3,000 street hockey sets to youth hockey participants.
"The street hockey sets are awesome, and they're going to grow the game in places we haven't yet touched as an organization," Predators Director of Amateur and Youth Hockey Mike Skeats said. "There's only three public ice hockey facilities in Nashville, so this really allows kids to play the game in the comfort of their own driveway. They'll have it at their disposal and can play whenever they'd like, which is something that many people would've never expected to happen in Nashville."
All participants of the Preds 1-on-1 shootout competition, girls hockey launch and grand opening events at Ford Ice Center Bellevue received a set. Additionally, the organization gave sets to Metro Nashville Public Schools Physical Education programs, Rutherford County Schools and children who completed the Nashville Public Library's Summer Reading Challenge.
"Nashville hockey has grown tremendously," Skeats said. "And the opening of Ford Ice Center Bellevue in October really shows that hockey is growing to the point where we're really pretty much completely sold out of all of our programs and operating 17 hours a day from 6 a.m. to midnight with four sheets of ice."
Upon receiving their own hockey set, every child was ecstatic. Now, they'll be able to channel their inner Roman Josi or Pekka Rinne whenever they want.
"They were super excited, and honestly, that made giving the sets out so enjoyable," Skeats said. "They realized that they can continue to practice their skills while they're not in the rink, which can really help them moving forward. It's really an awesome initiative taking place at the right time this holiday season."
Each set includes a net and two sticks, allowing children in Middle Tennessee to expose themselves to hockey at a young age - and in an area like this, that's just the way they're raised these days.
"If they invite one neighbor, who might not be familiar with the Predators or with hockey in general, you can get that one kid hooked just by the infectious love of the game," Skeats said. "The growth in the past few years has been unbelievable, and we're excited to watch this growth continue."