Much has been said about the 1,000th game for the Nashville Predators this past Saturday. It is a day that some believed we would never see. It is a day that Coach Trotz can proudly remember coaching a team of expansion players and draft picks from Day 1. But most importantly, it is a day that many fans looked back as a mile marker for where the Predators came from and the direction in which they are headed. For the fans of Nashville, here is a remembrance of the 10 moments that I’ll cherish as a Predators fan.
10. What many do not realize is that I truly became a fan of the Predators not in its inaugural season but in 2001. I had followed hockey as far back as 1993 as a Boston Bruins fan, primarily because of my best friend who turned me on to watching hockey and with him being originally from Bangor, Maine, it was necessary in his household to champion Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Al Iafrate, and the great Adam Oates. 2001 marked the first Predators game I ever attended. It was against Ottawa and Nashville won 4-2. This sparked the obsession to which I am now driven to attend more and more each season.
9. 2004 was the first draft party I ever attended at Jillian’s in Opry Mills. I watched the Predators draft who would become one of my favorite players, Alexander Radulov. My good friend and fellow Predator enthusiast Jeff Leet invited me and I had to book it back to work straight after we drafted Radulov. I also got my first autographs from a Predator on that day, Adam Hall and Coach Petersen signed a puck provided by Jillian’s that still sits foremost amongst my Predators memorabilia.
8. November 8th, 2003. The Detroit Red Wings were in town and the first game I took my wife to see. She knew nothing about hockey and reluctantly went only because we got free tickets from my aforementioned friend since he was going out of town that day. She learned three very important things that day: 1) Red Wings SUCK!!! 2) The Nashville Predators are now her newest thing to cheer forever and 3) She wanted to sit in or close to Section 303 from now on. And much like a Lay’s potato chip, once you go to one Predator’s game you keep coming back for more
7. The first playoff series. I have not missed a playoff home game..ever. This series was tough and we fell in 6 games to the most hated Detroit Red Wings. But, we got into the playoffs and the sky’s the limit. Who would have known that we would eventually go to the playoffs in 5 out of the next 6 years?
6. The Lockout…..nothing can make you appreciate how awesome a sport is and how much you need that diversion from life than to not have the game you have been obsessing over for a few years now taken away. All you have left is football, which is not nearly as exciting as hockey, and basketball which I refuse to comment on for the sake of my sanity.
5. The summer the Predators got Paul Kariya. Once again my friend Jeff comes through with the phone call that brightened my day, week, month, season by shouting that the Predators had signed Paul Kariya. My heart jumped and I had a great feeling about that season…
4. The 2005-2006 season. The most successful regular season for the Nashville Predators ever. 106 points and home ice advantage in the playoffs…too bad the Predators ran into a brick wall called the San Jose Sharks who were catching fire at just the right moment to knock Nashville out in 5 games. Disappointing? Sure, but this was the first season I could look down the schedule and knew that the Predators could own teams…and most times I was right.
3. 2008-2009 The Predators survived a franchise relocation takeover by one Jim Balsillie and barely missed the playoffs even after the fire sale that saw franchise players such as Hartnell, Vokoun and Timonen gone. The team showed great resolve in the face of ultimate disaster and come away the stalwart troopers who “will not go quietly into the night.” Character and heart was built here and in the darkest of days, a city and fan-base rallied to save the team they loved.
2. The Music City Massacre: My wife and I got tickets to the Saturday showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and the Predators. February 8th, 2009 is a date that will live in infamy to all the “Pred-Wings” in attendance and hangs in hockey lore over the Red Wings franchise as the worst loss the team has ever succumbed. Our tickets were seven rows from the glass on the shoot twice side (thanks to my awesome Father-in-law). After the five goal first period onslaught, I kept pinching myself to make sure this was reality. When Arnott clenched his hat trick goal to go up 8-0, my faded St. Patrick’s Day cap that I had superstitiously worn for many games was one of the first to hit the ice much to my wife’s chagrin. Probably the best hockey game I have ever witnessed in person until…
1. 2011 Playoffs First Round. The fifth game against the Anaheim Ducks was a test of patience and the roof of my truck. While driving around to get food after work and listening to the game, the punches went flying upwards in the cab after Jason Blake’s goal gave the Ducks the lead with 5:44 to go in the third. I was pulling into my driveway with 3 minutes left in the game and I ran into the house hoping for a miracle. Shea Weber answered my prayer with a wrister at 19:24 of the third sending the game to overtime. While my wife and I sat nervously on the edge of the couch, the pass from Tootoo to Smithson breaking towards the goal went straight in and we jumped off the couch screaming our heads off. I reluctantly tackled my wife into the couch and screamed “WE DID IT!! THEY’RE COMING BACK TO NASHVILLE UP 3-2”….
Game six occurred on Sunday April 24, 2011. This is now considered the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed. It was an up and down game and just the type of game that Predators fans have grown accustomed. It’s all tied up going into the third and who would have guessed that the big contributor on the board that night would be Nick Spaling. As Lilja laid across the back of Ray Emery, Spaling puts a wrister just under the crossbar and the arena roof supports were tested to their maximum resistance.
It seemed the whole arena for the next 15 minutes of the game held their collective breath while the Predators faced down onslaught after onslaught of shots from the top heavy offense of the Ducks. With their goaltender pulled, Anaheim was challenging one last time to best Pekka Rinne, but the Predators would not relent. Instead, Legwand breaks out of the zone with the puck and just as he crosses over the center red line fires a wrist shot into the empty net to make it a 4-2 lead and the arena has never been louder.
Grown men and women weeping tears of joy (of which I was one), everyone around us hugging and cheering and high-fiving the family of fans that have come out over 43 games a year for 13 years prior and built something special; now being rewarded for their patience and grace with a trip to the second round of the playoffs. It was just another step for a franchise that has seen its fair share of derision, turmoil, financial missteps and personnel changes but the one thing that will never change is the full-out determination and devotion of each and every fan that shuffles into the arena.
Would love to see the comments from your favorite moments of Predators history and why?