Back in 2004, I was attending MTSU and finishing up my summer studies when a good friend of mine invited me to attend the draft party at Gillian’s for the Nashville Predators. I got to meet Adam Hall and Coach Peterson and it was a great day had by all, including the Predators acknowledging the draft party on live T.V. and then picking up the now enigmatic Russian Alexander Radulov.
Since being at MTSU kept me far away from the friendly confines of Gaylord Entertainment Center (now Bridgestone Arena), my finger was far from the pulse of what was actually going on in the NHL and the looming labor strike that would blank out an entire season. It was that season that redefined me as a fan of the Nashville Predators.
Long ago, probably around 1992-1993 I got my first tastes of NHL action watching games and playing NHL ’94 with my best friend who originally hails from Bangor, Maine. He was Killer B’s to the bone and idolized Ray Bourque, Adam Oates, Al Iafrate and Cam Neely so in turn I ended up idolizing the same. This cycle went on for many years until 1997 when Nashville was awarded it’s first NHL franchise. My friend and I were so excited that real NHL action was finally only a 30 minute car ride away. He was ecstatic to have a chance to see his beloved Bruins in person, I however, was excited to have my own franchise to cheer. So in 1998, I began to follow the Predators even though it was in a more casual affair.
Fast forward a few years to 2004 and I am following the Predators from a distance. I still went to the occasional game but being in college and working full-time left little time to go anywhere, much less downtown to catch a game. I even had to switch shifts on the weekend so I could attend the draft party at Gillian’s. After that day and meeting Adam Hall and feeling the camaraderie of the Predator fans in attendance, I became a little more fervent in my support of the team…..then the unthinkable happened.
On September 15th 2004, Gary Bettman announced that there was going to be a lock-out of the NHL season. Within 10 years of the last work-stoppage, the NHL was going to suffer the loss of games because of labor disputes and this time it would cost the fans a whole season.
I was crushed.
I had such high hopes at that draft party and my friend who brought me was a season ticket holder that would sometimes get extra tickets so I could go to the games. I was going to start attending more games since my college work load was smaller that year, but it was all for naught and instead there was no hockey.
You never know how much you take something for granted when it is taken away and the loss of hockey for that year stung. Not just me but many a fan of the Predators and around the league in every NHL city suffered greatly from September 2004 to the summer of 2005.
My friend stayed true to the Predators and kept his season ticket money with them through the lockout and this is immortalized in the arena with a Gold-stamped puck (that they unfortunately misspelled his last name) on display on the main concourse near where the Day One Season Ticket Holders names are highlighted.
I remained a touch bitter about the setback but classes were harder than I thought they would be that semester so it kept my mind off the lack of hockey. The funny thing is…the lockout actually boosted my interest in the Nashville Predators and I became a fervent supporter after the 2004-2005 debacle.
They say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and that was true in my case. But I know many an NHL fan didn’t perceive it that way as the league is only now within the last 3 years seeing the type of profit and viability since before the lockout of 2004. So that brings us to the most important question:
Can the league survive another lock-out?
Maybe survive isn’t the appropriate word because there will always be hockey at some point, but in a world of so many distractions and other entertainment options can the NHL truly survive another lockout in terms of fan support and revenue? What about the teetering teams that have difficulty filling the stands as of right now and have to have league support to get them through the season?
From the Nashville perspective, I personally think the fans will come back but it would be a long hard road especially with the ever-competing Tennessee Titans just across the river. It has been said that the better the Titans are, the more the Predators suffer as far as attendance and vice versa. If a lock-out occurs and the Titans start to get better, say, going deep into the playoffs and playing for an AFC title, would people be that interested in coming back to Predator games or would that money go to buying more Titans tickets and merchandise while Nashville’s first original professional sports team gets left behind as an afterthought.
The Predators are coming off of two seasons where they have done the best since their inception. It was unfortunate that the Predators didn’t make it to the Western Conference finals when so much was speculated about how they have all the pieces to make a deep run this season, but this momentum would come to a screeching halt if the NHL and the NHLPA can’t come to an agreement. Even the loss of a few games at the beginning of the season could spell doom for the Nashville Predators attendance figures with the Titans grabbing the sports entertainment foothold ever firmer.
It’ll be an interesting season regardless of what happens with the loss of Suter and Tootoo but the re-signing of Weber, Gill and Gaustad may help to counter balance the equation. But the reality of the situation is that the NHL and NHLPA need to do everything in their power to come to terms with a quickness. The fans of the NHL and many from the smaller market teams can ill afford to lose out on another season and the casual fan will succumb to other flights of fancy rather than stick it out like a Hard-Core fan would.
Are you a Hard-Core fan? Are you a casual observer? What impact would a lock-out have on you? We want to hear from you. Feel free to post comments below and be sure to follow us on Twitter @ThePredatorial and @Preducated.