When you put an NHL team in the heart of Nashville, just a short walk from where legends like Hank, Johnny, Loretta, and Dolly cut their teeth at the Mother Church, you can expect music to be a central part of its DNA.
Such was the case in the early days of the Nashville Predators. Stars like Vince Gill, Amy Grant, and Barbara Mandrell were front-and-center in the team’s ad campaigns. Mindy McCready belted the inaugural national anthem. And Tim McGraw lent his voice to one of the league’s most recognizable goal songs.
Little did fans know that deep inside the Predators’ locker room, there was another cluster of musical talent.
Several players from the Predators inaugural team formed a cover band known as “OFFSIDES.” Sebastien Bordeleau, a forward for the Predators from 1998 to 2000, was the band’s lead singer.
“I always loved music,” Bordeleau tells us. “I think it started with my mom, who loves music as well.”
Bordeleau, who’s since returned to the team as forward development coach, says he grew up listening to bands like U2, Metallica, Depeche Mode, and The Tragically Hip.
“I was more of a rock and techno fan until I got to Nashville. Since my days in Nashville, I’ve been listening to mostly country music.”
During the Predators’ inaugural season, Bordeleau began rooming with defender Joel Bouchard, currently head coach of the AHL’s Laval Rocket, who—as it turns out—had a love for music of his own.
“It all started with [Bouchard] playing drums and [former Predators goaltender] Dominic Roussel playing the guitar. Both guys were annoying me everyday while they were practicing music upstairs.”
Eventually, however, Bordeleau joined in.
“One day they were playing some U2 songs, and I got in and started to sing,” Bordeleau recalls. “From that day on, Joel thought we had a band.”
As word spread, Bordeleau says other players wanted to join. Eventually, the full OFFSIDES line-up included Bordeleau, Bouchard on drums, and former Preds forwards Darren Turcotte and Denny Lambert on guitar. Early fan favorites Cliff Ronning, Patrick Cote, and Jan Vopat also lent their voices to the group as background vocalists. Former hockey coach Alec Watson (keyboards), former goalie Mark Prentice (bass), and Robert Chevrier (keyboards and backing vocals) also joined.
Another member of OFFSIDES was season-ticket holder Josh Leo, a guitarist and producer who has worked with some of the biggest acts in the industry, including Alabama, Jimmy Buffet, Reba McEntire, and LeAnn Rimes. Leo served as the group’s producer and a third guitarist. In the credits for “Check Please!”, the players thank Leo for helping to make them a “real band.”
“It was amazing,” Bordeleau says of OFFSIDES’s first few recording sessions. “I don’t think we were any good, but we sure had a blast.”
After the inaugural season, the Nashville Predators began work on a commemorative album, “Check Please! The Music of the Nashville Predators.” The album included a mix of audio highlights from the team’s inaugural season and songs that had become fixtures at the then-Gaylord Entertainment Center. OFFSIDES was tabbed to appear on the album as well, but for Bordeleau, the timing was inopportune.
“During CD rehearsal, I was recovering from my broken neck injury, so it was pretty demanding,” Bordeleau recalls. “I couldn’t enjoy it very much.”
But in true old-school hockey fashion, Bordeleau pushed through, and OFFSIDES recorded four covers for “Check Please!”: Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, The Georgia Satellites’s “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, and Semisonic’s “Closing Time”.
When looking back on hearing his work on a published album, Bordeleau says it’s “funny and surreal” at the same time. “We were just having fun killing some time off. But today, I can say that’s pretty cool to listen to ourselves from twenty years ago.”
The album itself has become somewhat of a collector’s item. The CDs are hard to find, and some owners have put their copies on Amazon for as much as $900.
Eventually, the hockey world would take precedent. Lambert was traded to Atlanta after the inaugural season. Bouchard was sent to Dallas the following trade deadline, Turcotte retired after the 1999-2000 season due to injuries, and Bordeleau himself was waived during the 2000-2001 season.
But the experience is still something Bordeleau looks fondly on today, calling it a nice glance at the music world.
“It was a whole new world for us to explore and learn,” Bordeleau says. “We were very lucky to work and meet very nice and successful people in the music industry.”