To use a term introduced to me by a roommate in college, I am a sports conservative.

The way things were is better than the way things could be. Tradition beats innovation. Call me a grump, the sports version of a cranky old man on his porch, but I get more excited seeing Notre Dame, Ohio State or Michigan with their classic uniforms in a big game than Oregon and its 916 combinations of bright green, brighter yellow and chrome. The NFL Films die-hard in me would much rather see a postseason with the Cowboys, 49ers and Steelers as conference favorites than the Seahawks, Falcons or Texans. I scoff when I’m reminded that Maryland is no longer in the ACC, Nebraska has left the Big 12 and that UConn, Syracuse and Pittsburgh ditched the Big East.

And yet, despite this background, I can’t help but get into the captivating march to a potential Stanley Cup championship that is going on these days in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’d be surprised if anyone watching didn’t feel the same way.

The Nashville Predators should be the antithesis to a sports conservative’s interests. And for years, they were. I hated the expansion team that served as a face for the National Hockey League’s new wave, ripping hockey away from Quebec City, Hartford and Winnipeg and giving it to the likes of Phoenix, Atlanta and Raleigh. I hated the mustard-colored jerseys with the hokey saber-toothed tiger head logo. I hated the name; “Nashville Predators” seemed conjured up by some 10-year-old using the EA Sports “Create a Team” function.

And I loved when it all kept amounting to playoff failures. Year after year, the generic factory team fell short, never even reaching the Western Conference finals.

This year, however, things changed. The Predators were the ones pulling the stunner, sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Nashville had our attention, and with wins over the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks to reach the Stanley Cup finals, they kept it.


Good thing, too. As it turns out, there is a lot to love about hockey in Nashville.

Start with the fans. I had Nashville pegged as one of those cities where hockey just didn’t belong, much like Miami, Phoenix and, years ago, Atlanta. What is hockey doing in Nashville, I thought. Country music and football fans don’t care about some game played on ice, I figured.

I was wrong. Nashville is obsessed with the Predators. Even before the Cinderella playoff run began, the honky-tonk hockey nuts were on board, selling out all 41 home games. The city has gained the nickname “Smashville,” and it’s well-deserved. The fans from one of the country’s loudest cities have turned the Bridgestone Arena into the game’s loudest rink. They go bonkers after goals and wild after wins, and the vibrant yellow of the shirts and hats they wear seems to add a decibel or two to the din. Most fans might celebrate after winning a championship; Predators fans flipped a car after winning a round.

The fans are noisy, but even better, they’re fun. I’ve never seen a sports environment that beat a college hockey crowd in terms of the all-out passion, energy and enthusiasm of the fans, and Nashville has brought that atmosphere to the NHL. Fans mock opposing goalies and participate in deafening chants. For Maine hockey fans longing for the chaotic clamor heard at Alfond Arena during Black Bear glory days, Bridgestone allows them to hear that familiar sound pouring from the television broadcast. The only thing missing is a fight song.

And then there’s the team, a mix of endearing blue-collar players and bright talents. Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies in the league, and he’s been carrying the Predators these playoffs at the age of 34. Defenseman P.K. Subban, perhaps an eternal villain for Bruins fans from his Canadiens days, is nonetheless an exciting talent with the puck on his stick. Filip Forsberg is a gifted young player and a fan favorite with a penchant for clutch goals. Ryan Ellis has a big beard and a bigger game. And unlike Predators teams of the past, which were slowed by the big moments, this is a bunch that ramps it up, led by a coach in Peter Laviolette whose fiery and intense approach has now taken three teams to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Predators will probably never fit in among hockey’s old guard. They’ll never ditch that shine to them that is so refreshingly absent from the likes of the Blackhawks and the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings and the Bruins. But everything else about them is straight out of old-school hockey. They’re tough, they’re exciting, and their city is crazy about them.


So go Predators. Bring home that Cup. You, and your fans, deserve it.

Now please, get off my lawn.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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