Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Uniqueness of Smashville

Smashville. It’s not your ordinary hockeytown. But it is a hockeytown.

The city has caught Preds Fever. This is what a playoff run does. It’s what it’s supposed to do. This is what this city has been waiting for.

Walk around downtown and you’ll notice a change in the sports interest. Titans apparel has been replaced by Preds jerseys, shirts and hats.

Listen to local sports talk radio and you’ll hear a change in tone towards the Preds. They’re no longer conducting rallies to keep the team or sell tickets. They’re no longer devoting just an hour block every other day to discuss hockey. Instead, they can’t stop talking about the city’s NHL team.

Water cooler conversations have gone from ‘Should the Titans keep Vince Young?’ to ‘Did you see that save Pekka Rinne made last night?’

This spring, Smashville has taken a life of its own. The population of 17,113 has generated a lot of positive attention over the last two weeks. No more is it a talk (from a national level) of whether the team can stay in town. The discussion and scuttlebutt has turned into what every Preds fan already knew: it’s a great atmosphere in Music City and arguably the loudest arena in the NHL.

It’s not your ordinary hockeytown. But it is a hockeytown.

There are things that make the atmosphere at Preds games extra unique, other than the noticeable Southern drawl around the arena.

Ever since April of 2008, TV timeout ovations have been a staple to Smashville. Their intent is to push the team to a goal or victory. In the last few years, they were rare – practically saved for big games against Detroit or in the playoffs. Since midseason, the spontaneous ovations have made regular appearances. It is 90 seconds of deafening noise while the ice crew cleans the playing surface and the players take a breather. It’s something you can’t find in other NHL arenas.

Every arena has its rowdy section. None can match Cellblock 303. Whether it’s the post-goal taunts to get under the opposing goalie’s skin, or the clever chants that may go unheard throughout the building, the college-like atmosphere in the Cellblock gets Smashville going and is the backbone to the crowd at Bridgestone.

The TV timeout ovations and Cellblock 303 contribute to making Bridgestone Arena one of the loudest in the NHL. National media, including TSN’s Pierre McGuire, have praised the noise level in Smashville during these playoffs. Game 6 against Anaheim was an incredible atmosphere; the fans in the lower bowl stood for most of the third period. The final minutes were deafening as the Preds won their first ever playoff series.

Some crowds around the NHL will wait for something to happen to get rowdy. It doesn't take Preds fans long at all to engage in the action. Before the puck even drops, the crowd is loud and tries to give a boost to the team.

Subtleties also make the experience in Smashville unique. The Tootoo whistle, welcoming Jordin Tootoo to the ice; the intermission band stage, which has featured the likes of Carrie Underwood and Alice Cooper; the new ritual of throwing a catfish onto the ice; the festive pregame party plaza; ‘Big Ben’ showing off his painted belly.

It’s not your ordinary hockeytown. But it is a hockeytown.

With the series shifting from Vancouver to Music City, the Preds are set to expand on the uniqueness of Smashville. A ‘gold out’, reportedly pushed by the players, will make an appearance for the first time. The fans will receive gold shirts as they walk through the turnstiles, which will hopefully make for a cool visual -- a sea of gold, if you will -- inside the arena.

The affect of Smashville goes beyond its limits in downtown. A couple hundred fans greeted the team at the airport as they arrived home from Vancouver. Judging by how things are going these days, you can just picture this catching on to more fans if the Preds keep winning.

Now that the Preds have broken through the barrier to get to the second round, casual sports fans are flocking to 501 Broadway to soak in the experience. They come away hooked to the Predators, seeking  tickets for the next game. That’s what Smashville does; it stays with you, no matter what your level of hockey interest was prior to attending a game.

And after a decade of playing second-fiddle to the football team across the river, Smashville is now the place to be when it comes to pro sports in this town (just ask David Climer and Joe Biddle).

It’s not your ordinary hockeytown. But it is a hockeytown.

Ryan Porth for Preds On The Glass


Anonymous said...

Love it. We welcome all the hold-outs who are just now catching Preds fever. (Although I can do without the belly!!)

Hockey Hillbilly said...

This really does capture of the Bridge and the denizen within. Well done, Mr. Porth