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The Man Behind the Goal Horn

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

As Head Coach Peter Laviolette watches the Nashville Predators orchestrate his system on the ice, another coach of sorts, a few hundred feet above in the same building, is managing a game plan of his own.

Brian Campbell, Director of Event Presentation for the Preds, helps coordinate a seamless dance of in-game entertainment that ranges from a well-timed movie clip showing on the Megatron to bringing up a referee’s microphone for a penalty to be called.

Oh, and he harnesses the power of the goal horn too.

“We try to respond to the mood and feel of the game whenever we can,” Campbell said. “What we do in-game here might not work in say, Toronto or Montreal, because from the very beginning we were built on entertainment. As an expansion team, we were in a market that didn’t know a lot about hockey in 1998, so we wanted to make sure the new fans would be entertained and see hockey. That sort of morphed into what we have today.”

An employee of the Predators since Day One, Campbell has worked his way up to his current role that he says focuses on making sure a game experience brings entertainment no matter what.

“I kind of fell into this job; I was a psychology major in college who wanted to be a guidance counselor,” Campbell said. “But I started as a member of the Puck Patrol [promotions team] in 1998 and worked my way up from there. I was a stage manager at one point and continued on up the building to where I am now.”

A Truly Potent...Button:

As the action works from one end of the ice to the other, Campbell prepares his crew by reminding them of the plan at the next whistle. All the while, he’s just a bit distracted, knowing that at nearly any moment, even the best laid intentions might have to be scrapped in a second.

When the Preds enter the offensive zone, without taking his eyes from the ice, Campbell moves his hand to align in a “firing” position on what appears to be a cross between a microphone cable and the throttle of a motor bike. What it does, is something not too far from that.

The contraption is the gateway to firing the goal horn after a Predators score — arguably the most powerful button in the arena at any given point in time.

“I do have a lot of power in my thumb,” Campbell said of ‘the button.’ “You do have to pay attention constantly. You never know when a play may turn and go the other way, but one of my responsibilities is blowing the goal horn.”

Like a player fanning on a one-timer, however, Campbell admits with a laugh that he has misfired before and the jitters never seem to dissipate.

“It still is nerve wracking,” Campbell said. “Anytime we have the puck in the offensive zone, I hold the button and my thumb sometimes gets a little itchy; but knock on wood, I’ve only had once in the past three years where I accidentally bumped it…It is still nerve wracking, and I pride myself on not hitting it, but I did hit it once and I was very angry with myself.”

Still, you can’t fault him for letting emotion take over in the moment. Although just one blast of the horn after a Preds tally is typical, Campbell says that certain circumstances may call for an extra push.

“It’s really based on my excitement level,” Campbell said. “We normally hit it once, but for example, Roman Josi had the two goals [in less than one minute on March 17] and with the crowd reaction and my reaction, I ended up hitting it twice after his second goal. It just felt right, and with the crowd reacting the way it did, it required me to hit the goal horn twice.”

A Day in the Life:

Preparation for a game begins several days before opening faceoff for the event presentation crew. With a wide-reaching selection of inputs, such as corporate sponsors, ticket promotions and even birthday greetings needing their place to shine during a contest, Campbell and his team take a couple of days to create a several-inch thick binder filled with notes and scripts for each game.

At noon, on a game day with a 7 p.m. start time, Campbell’s focus shifts from assembling and organizing a matchup’s content to practicing to execute the selected game plan.

A few hours before the arena doors open for fans, he meets with all of the talent that will play a role in the show being put on that night. For example, Campbell talks with Public Address Announcer Paul McCann to review the reads written for the game and reviews the set list with Team Organist Kyle Hankins.

“We have a lot of group events, themed nights and special guests so that takes a lot of organizing,” Campbell said. “At noon we start to load in the graphics and video and hand out the scripts to all the different positions. We’ll do sound checks with the anthem singers and the intermission band. I’ll sit down with each position and review what their role will be and make any last-minute changes we might need. We then do a quick 5 p.m. meeting to review and make sure we’re on the same page.

Once Campbell’s “game” starts (6 p.m. for him), the fluidity and need to adapt sets in. He and Video Click Operator Ron Zolkower, who is in charge of selecting and cueing up videos to play on the Megatron, get into a rhythm of cutting from clip to graphic to PA read to mascot appearance. But again, the most challenging part is that what would be described as the main act has a mind of its own, and the game ops crew must be ready to respond.

Action and quick decision-making that’s not too unlike the production of a live TV broadcast.

“We plan virtually every stoppage and TV timeout, but we always say that it’s a three-hour live TV event that we really have no control over,” Campbell said. “We can’t control the number of goals or how many penalties and icings there are, so that makes it pretty different from game to game. We say that it’s a large puzzle we have to put together on the fly. Plus, we’re taking care of sponsors, community relations and contests, all while entertaining the crowd.”

Campbell says it’s the unpredictability of what will happen next that makes the combination of emotion and entertainment work so well. And for this coach, that’s the exact system he wants to run.

“There are two moments that stick out the most to me,” Campbell said. “The first is when the building was the loudest I’ve ever heard it, and that was J-P Dumont’s goal against San Jose in the playoffs.”

“Another big moment for me was something that started out as nothing and really became something for me, Paul McCann and community relations. We had a boy named Chase Donnell whose wish was to sit on the bench for game. But while the NHL was still approving it, he ended up passing away, so we put his jersey on the bench and brought his family out to honor them. It was really emotional for all of us, and I think we brought some joy to his family in a tough time.

“Those are the moments, you wouldn’t think you’d get from a job like this, that I will never forget.”

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