It’s one thing for a fan to watch their favorite hockey player from behind a pane of glass. But getting the chance to play against them in a game of air hockey or snap a photo from the penalty box? It doesn’t get much better.
That’s exactly what Nashville Predators season-ticket holders got to experience on Tuesday evening at Bridgestone Arena, as the club hosted its annual Meet the Team Party presented by Gary Force Acura.
Every Predators player, coach and broadcaster participated in the event, taking photos and signing autographs with fans, as well as engaging in some friendly games of air hockey and cornhole to boot.
“It’s great being out here,” Preds defenseman Victor Bartley said. “Just for the fact that these people come here and support us each and every night and we don’t always get to thank them, this is our way of saying thank you.”
Bartley, who was one of the players engaged in some hotly-contested air hockey matchups, was more than pleased to interact with the fans in a laidback atmosphere. And that feeling was mutual.
“It’s been great to see [the players] walk through the fans and nobody really bothers them, everybody’s really relaxed,” season-ticket holder Max Baldwin said. “We just treat them like people, not like they’re above us or anything.”
Max and his wife Heather, first-year STH’s, were impressed with the event and had their night made when they came face-to-face with their favorite players.
“I got to meet Seth Jones,” Heather said, beaming. “It was pretty great… I think that’s one thing I like about hockey is the players are so approachable.”
The Baldwins weren’t the only ones experiencing the event for the first time. Head Coach Peter Laviolette attended his first of such outings, remarking on the feeling of optimism emanating across the building.
“The one thing that is really strong throughout the arena is that everyone is excited to get going,” Laviolette said. “Not just from a team point of view, but all the fans here too can’t wait to get to Thursday night and drop the puck on a new season. The biggest thing that I pick up is that there’s a real sense of excitement here.”
Season-ticket holders Michael and Kim Hammonds are among those eager for puck drop. The pair remarked that once Nashville drafted Jones in 2013, they decided to purchase tickets. The Hammonds went to school with Jones’ father Popeye, while their nine-year-old son Gatlin has also been impacted by the Preds defenseman.
“He’s mostly the one who made me get into hockey,” Gatlin said of Jones. “I figured out that hockey was my sport.”
For Laviolette, interacting with the fans who are in the seats night after night never gets old.
“They’re so supportive of what we’re doing on the ice, so it’s nice to meet them, sign an autograph or whatever we can do for them,” Laviolette said. “It’s nice to give back the other way.”
Many of those fans no longer have to wonder what it’s like to meet the guys on the other side of the glass. And for the players, the impact from the most loyal of Preds supporters is crystal clear.
“Without their following and all their support, we’re just guys out there playing hockey for no reason,” Bartley said. “It’s great having the fans out here supporting us every day. We truly appreciate it.”
Click below to view a photo gallery of the event: