The support of the Seventh Man has always been present when the Nashville Predators take to the ice in Music City. This season’s 99.2 percent capacity mark when the Preds skate at Bridgestone Arena only backs up that claim.
That support culminated on Dec. 30 against St. Louis, when the franchise set a mark for the largest recorded capacity crowd in Predators history. 17,410 fans saw the Preds defeat the Blues that night, in one of Nashville’s 14 home wins.
The Predators are 14-2-1 at home on the campaign. No NHL club has fewer losses in their own barn this season.
Part of that success is undoubtedly courtesy of those behind the glass sporting Preds Gold, and in fact, one particular nuance may play into the club’s prosperity on Broadway more than anything else.
The standing ovations that Preds fans deliver during television timeouts are unmatched throughout the rest of the League, but the motivation it provides to those on the bench is evident in more ways than one.
“Our ‘Seventh Man’ standing ovation is more special than anything I’ve ever seen in any venue,” Predators President Sean Henry said. “I don’t know if everyone here realizes how unique it actually is. The standing ovation is supposed to happen after Pekka Rinne makes an incredible save or the Preds just kill off a 5-on-3 penalty or a game-winning goal or something like that. Our fans take it upon themselves to get in front of it and help create the environment that allows our players to attain incredible feats.”
First-year Head Coach Peter Laviolette has taken notice of the fan support throughout Smashville, especially during a television timeout. What stands out to Laviolette, who is experiencing the home-ice advantage in Nashville this season for the initial time, is that there isn’t necessarily a goal or big save or a fight to get the fans out of their seats. It just happens.
“There isn’t really a reason to make any noise and our fans get up with a standing ovation for the entire timeout, and our guys notice that,” Laviolette said. “It puts a great atmosphere in the building and it certainly gets our guys going. It’s a noticeable energy that’s there from our fans, and it’s unique because it’s not like that in every rink. We certainly appreciate that.”
People often wonder if the players notice that sort of thing. Athletes can be so dialed in to what’s happening on the ice that they may not always notice the atmosphere beyond the boards. But when over 17,000 get on their feet, Preds players tend to look up.
“It’s very moving, to be honest,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “When we’re in that game mode, you don’t really pay attention too much to what the fans are saying. You’re thinking about the game, but once it’s that loud and you realize what they’re cheering for and they’re appreciating how we’re playing, you get this feeling deep down that’s like, ‘Wow, we’re doing something special here this year.’”
“I think everybody on the team notices that, and it just gives you that extra boost,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “You want to finish the game well for those fans. It’s awesome if they get up and it gets loud; I don’t know if there’s a louder building in the NHL if they get up like that. It’s a great boost for us.”
That standing-room only crowd can do a lot for a hockey team, but it’s not just the Preds keeping the building busy as of late. Since the Justin Timberlake concert on Dec. 19, every event at Bridgestone Arena, which includes two hockey games, three concerts and a weekend of Monster Jam shows, have been sold out.
It’s all part of the continued success of one of the busiest arenas in North America, selling out both shows and hockey night after night.
And in the coming days and weeks, the Preds will continue to lay out plans to make sure that the home-ice advantage in Smashville is present for all 41 home games. Plus some potential extra outings in the springtime. There’s reason to believe that the record-breaking mark of 17,410 may not stand for much longer.
“There’s something special being built on what really was laid out by our fans years and years ago,” Henry said. “We owe it to our fans to allow them to enjoy that environment during every home game, no matter who we’re playing.”
The Preds have proven that it’s starting to not matter which opponent skates into Bridgestone Arena; what matters is that the Loyal Legion is exercising their vocal chords.
“We’re making people proud and we’re inspiring people around the building,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot of fun to play in front of them, and when they cheer like that, it’s a great feeling.”