Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Music City

Excellent stuff here that needs to go on the front page. - Dirk

"You don't go to anyplace where the building is louder than our building-rooting for our team-anyplace."

So says Tom Cigarran, chairman of the Predators' ownership group.

And after Saturday's stirring 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues in raucous Bridgestone Arena, the Preds' Brian McGrattan tweeted: "best fans I have seen in 10 years of pro hockey at tonight's game! #predsfansrock"

Tomorrow evening FS TN (SD 28/HD 1675) will debut a documentary dedicated to Nashville's hockey community. It's titled Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Music City.

Yes, our "non traditional market" has hosted hockey for a full half century! And as the documentary's producer I sought out fans like Larry Tanner who remember when the Nashville Dixie Flyers first skated out onto the ice at brand new Municipal Auditorium back in 1962.

Larry took the Flyers' broken sticks after they'd been tossed behind the bench, taped and glued them back together, and pushed pucks around frozen ponds and parking lots in West Nashville. Thus did hockey make its first strides in Nashville.

In '65 the Dixie Flyers captured the first of three straight championships in the rugged Slap Shot-era Eastern Hockey League. (In fact Slap Shot's Dr. Hook, Tim McCracken, is the movie version of the Flyers' Ted McCaskill.) The South Stars, the Knights, the Nighthawks and the Ice Flyers followed the Dixie Flyers into Municipal Auditorium.

Over the years the hockey community grew as Nashville, despite its carefully cultivated "slick hick" image, grew into a Top Thirty market and became headquarters for several Fortune 500 companies.

And the Seventh Man sealed the deal to bring an NHL team to Nashville. In January, 1997, league governors stepped out after touring the city's new arena to find some 3,000 screaming fans. Most were wearing hockey sweaters. As Predators founder Craig Leipold put it, "It was like stepping into another world-hockey heaven!"

When the Predators appeared the next year, veteran fans like Mark Hollingsworth sang out the same bawdy choruses with which they'd serenaded the old Nashville Knights under the tin dome of Municipal Auditorium. Only the sound was louder. The group's new name was Cellblock 303.

The Predators remained in Nashville nine years later thanks in part to 7,500 hockey fans who rallied to spur ticket sales to prevent a move. Picking up a piece of cardboard, Jeremy K. Gover scribbled "Keep Your Damn Hands Off My Team." Then-Governor Phil Bredeson held the sign aloft. The NHL got the message. So did Jim Balsillie, who'd been taking season ticket deposits for the Hamilton, Ontario, Predators.

Now the Nashville Predators are once again in the playoff hunt and management is beaming at a potential record number of sold-out houses. Coach Trotz says this year's team may be something special. And the fans? St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock says, "You're not going to beat Nashville in Nashville on Saturday night. This is like the Coliseum in Rome, coming into this place on Saturday night."

"There's one thing about hockey," says Phillip Reid, who started watching the Dixie Flyers as a kid and now stands at the Predators bench at every home game. "Once you see it, you're hooked. You'll never leave it."

So here's to the fans who agreed to appear in Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Music City, with a stick tap to readers of On the Forecheck who lent their presence.

And a special nod to that pretty Vanderbilt coed I was seeing who had a suggestion one Saturday night long ago: "Let's go see the Dixie Flyers." Becky and I have been married for 44 years now.

We'll be at the Vancouver game tomorrow night but we've set the DVR for the documentary.

--Scott Osborne

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