In light of the events of this week, Friday afternoon I returned my season tickets. Words fail to describe how I feel about this latest setback in the negotiations. I feel for the front office staff at the Preds and the other clubs as it will be people like them who have to respond to the ticket holders, all the while (I would suspect) wondering if and when lay-offs will begin. I cannot, however, in good conscience return my tickets without also giving the club some parting thoughts.
I am a native Nashvillian and, despite living in Pittsburgh from 1995-2000, have supported this club from its inception. Even while I was in Pittsburgh, my parents attended various events at the arena in support of getting the team, told me what a wonderful man Mr. Leipold was, and sent me assorted merchandise (my favorite is a hat with the logo and pre-dates the unveiling of the team name as the hat reads “Nashville NHL”). In 1998 I drove from Pittsburgh to Buffalo to attend the expansion and entry drafts. Mr. Leipold and I shared a trolley car ride after the Expansion Draft during which he noticed my Preds gear, asked about me and my family and where my interest in the team came from, and gave me a Preds lapel pin as we parted. I think it is safe to say that on Entry Draft Day I was the only one in the building other than David Legwand who was proudly wearing a Preds jersey.
Fast forward to Opening Night 1998, and I was able to secure a ticket from a friend in Nashville. Flying down from Pittsburgh I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. On game night, I had occasion to shake Mr. Leipold’s hand and, despite being what I’m sure was the highlight of his professional life and without prompting, he remembered me from our brief in encounter in Buffalo and remembered that I lived in Pittsburgh; again, a demonstration that the Preds were a class act that cared about its fans. For the next season or two, we would take in a game when in town, and I still have on my desk a photo of Gnash holding our then four-year-old daughter with me happily looking on.
Returning to Nashville, I shared season tickets with several friends for a few years until family schedule conflicts made it impossible to commit to games so far in advance. Still, I could attend a few games a year and have some wonderful memories, chief among them attending every New Year’s Day home game that the club has ever played, Steve Sullivan’s first game and hat trick against San Jose and the first home playoff game against Detroit.
As our daughters got older, they each developed their own passion for the club. Last year, our four-year-old turned high school junior and I attended more than a dozen games together and watched countless more on television. She and I spent more than a few Saturday mornings in line with other devoted fans who were frustrated to see scalpers using children to secure their spots in line. After complaining, the club responded with the lottery system which at least leveled the playing field; yet another example of the club trying to do the right thing. Just before Christmas I surprised our daughter with a visit to Jordin Tootoo’s radio show, and the tears on her face knowing she would get to meet her favorite player were real. I had no doubt that our younger was going to follow in her big sister's footsteps as a passionate Preds supporter.
As she is now a high school senior and soon to leave home for college, my daughter and I committed to buying a 13-game package this season, knowing that this would be our last time to have quality father-daughter time sharing in a mutual passion for Predators hockey. Events since September 15, however, have made certain that isn’t going to happen. Oh, we’ll still take in the occasional game as part of our last opportunity for father-daughter bonding before college. Only for us it will be minor league, college and high school hockey from here on. We already have plans to take in the Vanderbilt-UT doubleheader here in January as well as at least one out-of-state game..
Whatever fond memories I have of our family’s interactions with the Preds are just that: memories. The inability of the NHL ownership, management and players to put the interests of the fans ahead of their own interests has become the thing that I will remember the Preds for. That is sad, because even in the midst of the lockout the club has tried to do the right thing by its fans. Unfortunately, the Preds are part of a dysfunctional league overrun by greedy, short-sighted, scorched earth mentality owners and players.
Congratulations, gentlemen, you have guaranteed that our family is done with the NHL and the Predators for good.