It was just a few months ago when the National Women's Hockey League chose Nashville to host their 2019 All-Star Weekend.
By now, it's well known Music City is capable of hosting just about any event imaginable, but there was something different about the top female hockey players in the world skating on Bridgestone Arena ice back in February.
The faces on the other side of the glass - the young girls, sporting Predators and other youth hockey jerseys from programs around the country - cheering for their idols in that setting was unlike anything most of them had ever experienced.
The sport of hockey as a whole has grown exponentially throughout Middle Tennessee in recent years, and women and girls have played a significant part in that movement.
So, it was hardly a surprise - but still a welcome sight - as the Predators and Ford Ice Center Antioch hosted their first-ever, girls-only, Get Out and Learn, or G.O.A.L!, session - presented by Erie Insurance - on May 4. In total, 43 girls, ages 4-9, tried hockey with their first foray into the sport.
"Growing up playing girls hockey myself, it's important that young girls have that option," Predators Amateur Hockey and Fan Development Coordinator Jennifer Boniecki said. "Some girls find it intimidating to try something new, especially in a male-dominated sport such as hockey, so having 40 other girls in the same position is comforting. But girls also need to know that hockey is a legitimate option for them, a lot of families just don't know that girl's hockey at the youth level is available and is one of the fastest growing sports in the world."
"We've hosted plenty of G.O.A.L! sessions in the past, but this one was special," Predators Senior Manager of Amateur Hockey Mike Skeats said. "It was a huge success to have more than 40 young girls on the ice trying hockey for the first time, and we hope this is just the start for many of them to grow up playing the sport."
Equipment was provided for the session, and each participant went home with their G.O.A.L! jersey and stick after learning the fundamentals of the game from Ford Ice Center coaches, including Predators alum Cody Hodgson, as they went through basic skating and puck drills.
In the United States alone, girl's hockey is growing faster than it ever has before, with women and girl's registration numbers at around 79,000 during the 2017-18 season - and those figures are more than likely to grow in Nashville.
With Ford Ice Center Bellevue set to open this fall, the Preds are looking to make the facility their home for girls' hockey with a plan to host girls-only sessions of all on-ice programming, including G.O.A.L!, Little Preds, PREDecessor and youth leagues throughout the upcoming season.
"As many female athletes have said, girls can't be what they don't see," Boniecki said. "Having the NWHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville or watching Team USA win Gold at the Olympics is showing girls that they can be hockey players, so now it's on us to give them that opportunity with our programming."
A handful of the girls who participated back on May 4 have already enrolled in a girls-only Little Preds session, and others have signed up for Learn to Skate classes with the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy with the plan to transition to hockey in the fall.
Is there a young girl in your life who wants to get on the ice? Sign up for the Girls Only Little Preds Learn to Play program, which begins May 27 at Ford Ice Center. Classes are 45 minutes long and focus on the fundamentals of skating and hockey. Each registration includes a full set of NHL branded gear to keep, including skates and a Nashville Predators Kids Club Rookie Membership
For more information or to sign up, visit NashvillePredators.com/LittlePreds. To learn more about all of the youth hockey options and other programming at Ford Ice Center, visit FordIceCenter.com.