by Lisa McRitchie on 06/10/12 at 12:00 PM ET
Hockey and Nashville doesn’t exactly have the same ring as peanut butter and jelly, but just the same, it seems to be working. After the starting years, the reports of poor ticket sales and rumours of the team being moved, Nashville has had its most successful ticket sales and attendance rates ever and in fact sold out a record 25 games this season. Surprisingly Nashville surpassed teams such as New Jersey, Colorado and Dallas with its 97.5% attendance crowds for the season as a whole. While this may give hope to some for Phoenix, Nashville is a different city.
Attendance and the remarkable popularity transformation are only a small piece of Nashville’s story though. And so after years of trying to make it to Nashville for a game, that’s just what I did in March of 2012. I crossed Nashville off of my list of NHL arenas making it #15 but following no particular rhyme, reason or order save for perhaps the time of year and the NHL schedule itself. But it may just be a city I travel to again.
I knew that Nashville was a music city, even if that meant country music, a genre that isn’t on any of my playlists. I also knew that the people of Tennessee love sports, but otherwise I went in not know what to expect.
I quickly learned that there are subtle differences between the southern states in their slangs and sayings. For example, did you know that in Oklahoma they are usually “fixin” to go or do something, but in Tennessee they are usually “fittna” go or do something. It’s these slight differences that make a girl from Edmonton giggle just the same, no one talks like that at home and so it’s like you’ve stepped into a movie. Basically, I knew that this was going to be a great trip from the very start.
The city itself offers some stunning landscapes and picturesque settings. The parks, walkways and fountains have increased in size since the city’s Mayor Karl Dean has taken office. And evidence of the sidewalk initiative was directly evident; a stark difference from some other American cities I’ve visited in the south. All of this combined with the good eats and easily accessible live entertainment should make this an attractive tourist destination, especially if you would like to take in a hockey game after a 30 degree day. (I make no apologies of using the metric system; it will be a glorious day with the USA makes the switch. Which does look like never.)
The arena itself is situated on a busy corner and while it doesn’t stand out the way that some arenas to by being taller than its surroundings, or much brighter as in the case of Staples Centre, it would still be hard to miss.
The sitauaiton of the arena isn’t at all conducive to tail gating as there are only smaller parking lots near the arena, but that just means that fans interact more as they mingle in front of the building. On my visit there was a children’s jump rope competition/showing in front of the main doors as well as various stations set up for kids to burn some energy before sitting down for a few hours.
The same feeling of interaction continues as you walk into the building. Along the main concourse are a penalty box and play size rink; a fabulous way to teach young new fans about hockey.
The front portion of the arena features high ceilings and a large amount of natural light. As you round the corner, you enter into the darker concrete sections that are typical of so many NHL arenas. Some of concourse corners don’t seem very wide, but with multiple access points for the upper levels this arena has a better traffic flow than Calgary and Edmonton enjoy.
Between the friendly and welcoming ushers and arena staff are signs of the city’s biggest passios; music and apparently Carrie Underwood/Fisher. Even the jerseys themselves pay homage to the city’s “Music City” name. The inside collar of the official jerseys are piano keys and on the numbers the thin blue lines are actually guitar strings. After receiving that explanation the loud yellow jerseys worn at home by the Predators suddenly seem far more charming.
The arena ushers are a common site, as are their ear to ear grins, but so are stir fry stations. While I expected this to be another arena that smells of barbeque sauce I am surprised to report it actually smells like hot oil and fresh vegetables. Otherwise, the menu selection was your typical standard arena fare which means that as a celiac it’s water and popcorn as my safest bets.
Once I found my seat and began my conversations with the fans, their passion for winning was apparent. The fans this March were convinced that this post season their team would be tough to be beat. And it turns out that they were right. While the excitement for this particular game was not what I had hoped for, the fans were still eager for another Tennessee win. I had hoped that the young stars Edmonton boasts, Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins would be players that the fans enjoyed watching, but learned that it really didn’t matter who came in, it was more important that a Tennessee team won.
The game didn’t turn out the way that the home crowd would have liked, with Ales Hemsky scoring his first NHL hat trick and the Oilers walking away with a 6-3 win but maybe this will make more fans take notice of the Oilers a team that we hope will finally begin to gel the way that we think it should.
It will be interesting to see how ticket sales respond should the team hit hard times in terms of finding wins, but until that becomes an issue, hockey tonking is the thing to do in Nashville.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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