Don’t Forget to Be a Fan

Hi. My name is Nick Morgan. I’m an O.G. Nashville Predators fan, a lover of a good hockey fight, a firm believer Scott Walker is the most underrated player in team history, and—for the past five seasons—a writer here at On The Forecheck.

That run is coming to an end.

It’s bittersweet. On The Forecheck, like so many of you, has been a central part of my Preds fandom since the very beginning. The words of Dirk Hoag, Aditya Thawardas, Chris Burton, Sam Page, and many others kept me entertained during whatever 8 A.M. lecture at Western Kentucky I had the displeasure of sitting through.

As the years went on, I came to love all of the variety of voices who lent their talents to OTF: Dan Bradley’s snark and quick wit, Caroline Davis’s keen eye for the finer points of the game, the storytelling prowess of Alex Daugherty, and Kate Rice’s ability to dissect complicated situations into eloquently-written pieces. It was truly an honor to see my work fall way short of their standards, but wind up on the site nonetheless.

As my time here ends, there’s one piece of advice I would like to leave you with—something I think bears importance as the Nashville Predators head into a cloudy, uncertain chapter of their existence.

Don’t forget to be a fan.

Now when I say be a fan, do I mean “shut up and cheer?” No. Am I telling you to blindly get on board with any decision—roster, front office, or otherwise—the franchise makes? Absolutely not. Am I telling you to stop posting your manifestos on how to rebuild the team? As much as I would like to answer “yes” to some of you, that’s not what I’m asking either.

Here’s a personal story on what I mean when I say “be a fan.”

Before I started writing for On The Forecheck, I had a career in what I guess you’d call the “professional” or “mainstream” sports journalism industry. On paper, it was my dream job. I spent my entire day going to practices, interviewing my lifelong sports idols, traveling the country to random events, and scoring credentials to any game I wanted.

But it was also a job that led to a lot of sports burnout. Editors and news managers demanded more than just your typical “here’s an awesome game that just happened” recaps; you had to over-analyze every minor detail to find a storyline you can enhance into a bigger piece. You had to present your stories in a way that would spark enough attention to stay tuned during a commercial break or click your article to read more, which often required some queasy “click-bait” or sensationalizing tactics. And, of course, there was the endless parade of editors and news managers stopping by with critiques: “Ooh you need to include this, I thought that was a big moment!” “Hmm, you thought that player did a good job? I don’t know, the Tweets I’ve seen say otherwise, maybe take that out.”

It sucked all the joy out of following sports.

Then a perspective-changing event happened: the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I wasn’t covering hockey at the time, so when the Preds got on a roll, it was a rare opportunity to sit back, relax, and watch a game I had no responsibility to cover. I didn’t have to break down and harp over every minor aspect of the game or pore through pages of analytics to validate my thoughts; I could enjoy the games purely as a fan.

I noticed some changes when I was able to put my “fan” hat back on. I started having fewer “thoughts” on games and more “feelings.” Feelings of anticipation, excitement, joy, anxiousness, hype, heartbreak, and sometimes pure fury followed me through every twist and turn from each game. I finished each game feeling like I had just done three hours of Crossfit, but man…was it ever a rush, especially when the Preds pulled out the win at the end of it.

That’s why we all started watching hockey to begin with, isn’t it? The way the game made us feel. When we look back on our first games, we can barely remember the scoring or penalty summary, but we always remember what it felt like walking into the arena for the first time, feeling that blast of cold air from the ice, and looking around at the building we’d only ever seen on TV. We don’t always remember the shot distribution or expected goals numbers, but we can remember what it felt like to cheer and scream for every highlight-reel save or feel your insides rattle when that booming goal horn sounded after each Preds goal. We don’t always remember how each game impacted the Preds in the standings or their chances in the draft lottery, but we can remember that adrenaline-fueled bounce in our steps we had walking out of Bridgestone Arena after a big win.

In my mind, “being a fan” means embracing those feelings that hockey gives us through every twist, turn, and unexpected storyline.

It’s sometimes difficult to do that in the modern hockey environment. It’s flooded with more metrics, fancy charts, and analytical-based “think piece” style journalism than ever before. All of those things have their place in hockey (and there are a ton of awesome people in the hockey community who do great work), but the downside is that there’s sometimes a pressure that you have to feel a certain way about a team, a player, a game, etc. because it’s the “logical” feeling to have.

But that’s the beauty of hockey: it’s not always logical. If it were, we wouldn’t have had the best statistical team in NHL history being swept in Round One by the last team in the playoff field. We wouldn’t have had a zamboni driver step into an NHL game as a goalie and stonewall one of the best offensive teams in the NHL. We wouldn’t have depth players become cult heroes thanks to a clutch Final goal or backup goalies willing their team to deep playoff runs with unbelievable performances.

Some of the best moments in Nashville Predators history fall into this category, and moving forward, some of the best future moments will as well. Hell, look at this team right now. Should this roster logically be in the dead middle of a playoff race? Nope! Is it equal parts fun and hilarious to see it happen? Absolutely! The analytical part of your brain might argue about “sustainable winning” or the importance of tanking for a higher draft pick, but the fan in you yells back “this is unexpected and awesome AF.”

So when I say “don’t forget to be a fan,” I mean don’t forget to embrace and celebrate those unexpected moments. Don’t stop sharing your thoughts, opinions, and analysis, but give yourself room to feel big feelings without worrying how others might perceive them. Go ahead and celebrate that out-of-nowhere playoff chase, that big win in a game in which your team was outshot 50 to 15, or that AHL call-up who randomly comes up with a big goal in the clutch. Cheer for the things that give you excitement as a fan and all the feelings that made you fall in love with hockey in the first place.

That’s what I’ll be doing.