Monday, June 05, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 473: Nashville Cats

Like most Canadians, I'm an unrepentant hockey fan. And as this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs progressed and Canadian teams fell by the wayside, I hesitated to embrace any of the survivors as my -- or as the media chose to label them -- "Canada's team".

That's because I was hoping the dark horse of the season, the last team to claim a playoff spot, might make it to the final round -- The Nashville Predators.

The Predators and I go back to the day the team won its franchise in 1997. I was working in Nashville, staying in a quiet little hotel with a small diner where I had breakfast and read the morning newspaper. On the day the NHL granted the city a professional team, the short order cook spotted me and came out of the kitchen.

Cook: You're from Canada, aren't you?

Me: Uh-huh.

Cook: (gestures to the newspaper) This here "Hockey". It's that game they played in that movie, ain't it?

Me: What movie?

Cook: "Rollerball".

Me: (long pause) Yes. Yes it is.

While most people (and certainly the Canadian media) didn't think hockey could possibly catch on in Nashville, a city with no hockey traditions, little knowledge of the game and no major professional teams in any sport.

But those people simply didn't understand the kind of folks who live in Nashville. 

Almost immediately, the stars of Country Music were enlisted to sell the game, appearing in newspaper ads and on billboards with their front teeth blacked out.

But the initial crowds were small and the franchise was soon in trouble. A Canadian Tech Millionaire tried to move the team to Hamilton and might've succeeded except for his own smug hubris and a proud and independent community that decided it wasn't losing something else to anybody fighting for the North. 

They dug deep and saved their team.

Being at any hockey game is fun. It's particularly joyous when it's a do-or-die playoff game. But last night Nashville kicked the euphoria level up another notch. They had 17,000 fans inside the arena and 40,000 on the streets outside. They had special cheers. They had original songs and committed chants.

My favorite can be found around the 4 minute mark of the video below as the Pittsburgh Penguins are introduced, each player's name appended with "Sucks" -- with a special addition for the head coach.

Whatever happens during the remaining 4 games of the series, one thing is certain. Hockey has taken root in Nashville, embraced with a passion you'll never see in the Platinum seats of Toronto's Air Canada Centre -- or maybe any other Canadian hockey hotbed.

This is a fan base that comes to have a good time, win or lose. And that's something the rest of us should embrace.

I've got a feeling that this year, Nashville will become Canada's team.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

And the highlights from the first Stanley Cup Final played in Tennessee...

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