It’s rivalry week here at SB Nation, and we’re getting the opportunity to talk about the teams we love to hate. I personally felt like this is a topic I'm well suited for, considering that rivalries are what got me into the sport in the first place. I hate many teams in the national hockey league with a startling fervor, but there are two that stand alone above the rest.
The first, the Pittsburgh Penguins, aren’t really a rival of the Predators, so I’ll table that discussion for another time (if I ever start writing about the Flyers for Broad Street Hockey, this will be discussed for sure). The second team would be the Blackhawks, who I loathe with passion. Let’s talk about why that is.
Baptism By Fire
My first vivid hockey memory came pretty late in my life, relative to when many people first get into the sport. It was 2010, and my family and our neighbors were staying in a rental in St. Augustine, Florida for a week or so. We didn’t usually come to this town, but thanks to the oil spills that year, our normal beach wasn’t a great place to visit. During this time, the Philadelphia Flyers, my father’s hometown team, started to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup for the first time in around a decade.
While the Flyers were in the Eastern Conference Final (unbeknownst to me), my brother and I found a dead starfish on the beach. When the Flyers clinched their first Final appearance since 1997, my dad and our New York fan neighbors made a bet. Our neighbors, Rangers and Predators fans, were rooting against Philly, while our family (including a blindly supportive nine-year-old me) were rooting for the orange and black. If the Flyers won, we would get to bring home “Stanley the Starfish” who was now dried out and hardened, where he would become a Christmas ornament and a memento of the championship. If not, our neighbors would take the prize.
Yes, folks, my hatred for Chicago started when we lost a bet about a dried starfish corpse. You read that correctly. It also didn’t help that subconsciously, this is the moment where I developed interest in the sport, only to watch my team lose in sickening fashion on one of the worst championship-clinching goals in history. I had no idea that the Predators had lost in the first round to Chicago in similarly awful circumstances, that they were a division rival, or that Patrick Kane was a massive douchecanoe at that point, but somewhere deep in my gut, the spark of hatred was born. It would only be amplified in the coming years.
Becoming a Fan
The loss to the Blackhawks was so disheartening to me that my slowly-forming interest in professional sports was set back by years. I was mad that my team lost and didn’t like how it felt, so I just didn’t watch. This was the case for Nashville with me until eighth grade, when I started to pay attention to the Predators seriously for the first time in my life, rather than just liking players because I thought their names were cool (see: Tomas Vokoun, whose hockey card I owned).
It was late 2015, and the Predators were yet again a pretty good team, finishing second in the division behind only the Blues. The Blackhawks and Preds met in the first round, and in the first hockey postseason that I was fully invested in, I watched Chicago deal the Predators two brutal overtime defeats en route to yet another Stanley Cup victory, this time over the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was my first experience as a new fan, and in the six-year gap not much had changed. The Blackhawks beat my team and won championships. Ugh.
Despite all of the above, the Blackhawks didn’t really give me much of a chance to mould that malice into true feelings of rivalry for a number of years. The Predators were more successful in the following postseason, something I was sure to point out to Chicago fans that I knew, but I was met with the easily-defensible “we have Cups” argument.
As I professed my love of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis in threads while disparaging Duncan Keith’s Norris Trophy win, nothing much happened on the ice besides some intense enough regular-season matchups. I wanted one thing above all else: a playoff matchup with Chicago where the Predators could absolutely crush them.
The happiest I’d ever been in my life (to that point) was the moment that Kevin Fiala scored the game winner in the first round of what became the best experience I’ve had as a hockey fan. While I was unable to attend any of the Blackhawks games in person, I had huge watch parties with my buddies and cheered on the team with my usual in-arena intensity. We all know how that run ended, but the start of it (and the ensuing reactions of Hawks fans on Twitter, which I had just recently joined) cemented my love for the rivalry and the deep satisfaction that crushing Chicago brought me.
While the Preds have been a far better team than Chicago in recent years, I still love watching every meeting between the two. I have memories of both love (Nick Bonino’s hat trick this year, which happened to be one of the first games my non-NHL fan roommate watched with me and my Preds-loving buddy) and hate (watching some drunk lady from Chicago curse and dump beer with a bunch of little kids right in front of her after a Preds victory in 2019).
I talk enormous amounts of crap to Blackhawks fans that I’ve met in college, and honestly invest a ridiculous amount of my emotional stability in the outcome of those games. While the Hawks on the ice don’t seem to share any special hatred for Nashville, the fans certainly do, and I think that’s why I love to hate Chicago so much.
An Original Six team with proud, arrogant fans touting championships and hall of fame players versus a supposedly ill-informed, “inbred” group of degenerates (as I’ve seen Nashville fans referred to) is already a nice yin-yang matchup, and it makes it all the more sweet when the supposed peasants of the hockey world pummel members of the so-called “hockey royalty.”
It’s “class” versus fun, offense versus defense, and an up-and-coming city versus and established one. There are too many more ways that I enjoy hating this team, but I feel like what I’ve said so far is a pretty good explanation of my personal integration into the Blackhawks - Predators rivalry.