USA Hockey Magazine

January 2018

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"Now, it's totally different. People are call- ing us wanting to know why a certain per- son is not on the power play. They 're quite advanced and knowledgeable fans." David Poile has seen it all since accepting the position as the general manager of an expansion franchise after a successful run with the Washington Capitals. He credits solid leadership at the top and an unswerving plan as the core components to developing a winning tradition. "We treaded water for a number of years, but the last seven have been the best, with new ownership—predominantly a local own- ership that are all Nashvillians—whose main purpose in purchasing the club was to keep [the team] here and make it as strong as pos- sible," Poile said. In the past decade, the Preds have missed the playoffs just three times, and that on-ice success has translated to the box office where the Predators sold out every home game last season, a first in franchise history. "The team has been built consistently over the last decade at being a consistent play- off team and changing the whole look and feel of the Predators with big trades," says Geoffrion, who is now the assistant general manager of the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters. One of those trades was the 2016 block- buster deal that brought flamboyant defen- seman P.K. Subban to town in return for fan favorite Shea Weber. The trade "was shocking to everybody, and it took our team a little while to adjust," Poile says. "But during the playoffs, you saw our team at our best and P.K. at his best." The Preds' playoff run helped kick the team's already solid growth plans into high gear and bring added exposure to a game that still remains foreign to many around the state. When the Predators first arrived, amateur hockey participation in Tennessee was min- imal—only 1,176 players. To get more kids participating, they created the GOAL (Get Out And Learn) program, a free four-week entry level program for kids aged 4 to 8 to learn how to skate and play the game. Harden says that there are always waiting lists for the program, and participation in the last five years is up 44 percent. "That's a good sign because these kids will be playing all the way through," he says. The next logical step in the progression is the Little Preds Program, a slightly more in-depth learn to play program for kids (ages 4 to 9), which covers each participant head- to-toe in new hockey equipment at a low-cost. The results have been significant as ama- teur participation in the state jumped from 2,002 players during the 2000-01 season to more than 4,100 players last year. Harden says that one of the team's challeng- es is getting more ice in the community. Plans are in the works to open two new sheets of ice in Bellevue, west Nashville, which will raise the number of ice sheets in the area to seven. " We're actively working with different municipalities to increase that number over time because we believe that the more kids that play hockey, the more fans there will be," he says. Not only are more people playing hockey in Tennessee, but amateur teams are making a mark on the national stage as well by winning championships. The Nashville Jr. Predators won the 2012 Youth Tier II 12 & Under 1A title, and the Knoxville Ice Bears won the 2014 Youth Tier II 18 & Under 1A title. KJ Voorhees was the coach of the Ice Bears' championship team and is also the hockey director at Cool Sports in Knoxville. He points out that the Predators have been over- whelming in their support of youth hockey, not only in Nashville, but in other cities like Knoxville and Memphis. "Right now, we're selling out all the Preds' learn to play programs," he says. "Before, our program used to bring in 15-20 kids, now we have almost 50. It's all because of the ability to market with the Predators." This season Voorhees and his organization have looked to use the momentum of the Preds' Stanley Cup run to bolster their ranks. And thanks to more dynamic deals struck by Poile, Broadway could once again be packed with hockey fans come springtime. "Right now, we're at the best place that we've ever been—both on and off the ice— and will do everything we can to continue to grow the sport in Nashville and outlying areas, through youth hockey, adult hockey and the building of arenas to get the word out there," Poile says. "So, I think the future is very bright for hockey in Nashville, Tennessee." P Debra Rughoo is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 26 // JANUARY 2018 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM 2001 2,002 players Nashville's Little Preds Program has more than doubled in player participation since 2001. Big Little Growth 2018 4,100+ players MUSIC TO THEIR EARS The Nashville Predators continue to expose more local youngsters to the game in hopes of finding the next Blake Geoffrion (pictured on previous page).

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