After yesterday’s 6-3 win over Anaheim in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Nashville Predators are headed to their first Stanley Cup Finals. You might be thinking “So what?” or “Why should I care about some NHL team in Tennessee?” Those are fair questions, but unless you’ve loved a specific hockey team for more than 20 years, the Preds should be the preferred franchise of anyone living in Wisconsin who has even a passing interest in the NHL.
Think about it. It makes very little sense to make one exception to a deep-seeded rivalry and cheer for a team from Chicago. The Red Wings are like the Yankees of pro hockey, plus they’ve been pretty bad lately. The neighboring Minnesota Wild had a great season, but they’re an even younger expansion team than Nashville…not to mention the whole “being based in Minnesota” thing isn’t ideal.
Meanwhile, the Predators have a few direct connections to both Milwaukee and to Wisconsin as a whole. Plus, they’re good and they’re fun to watch. Before they face either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Finals next week, there’s still more than enough time to jump on the Predators bandwagon. Shit, judging by attendance figures over the past 18 seasons, it seems like people in Nashville have just starting to do the same. Figuring you need to make up for lost time, here’s some basic background, interesting tidbits, and fan-affirming talking points about your new favorite NHL team.
The Predators came to be in 1998, when an ownership group led by Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold—who made his fortune at Neenah-based Ameritel—requested an expansion team in Nashville. After name submissions from fans yielded stinkers like Fury, Attack, and Ice Tigers, Leipold just decided he’d go with Predators, a name he’d personally submitted. Leipold now owns the Minnesota Wild, but the Preds’ existence (even down to the name) will always have strong Wisconsin ties.
Since the Predators’ 1998 outset, the Milwaukee Admirals have been the team’s minor league affiliate. The agreement has resulted in dozens of players who skated for the storied AHL affiliate being promoted to the NHL parent club. Presently, 17 Predators players came to the team from Milwaukee. That list includes veteran Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne, leading scorer Viktor Arvidsson, and key contributors Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg. All six goals in Monday’s conference-clinching game (and 36 of the team’s 47 total postseason goals) were scored by Admirals alumnus.
New to winning
Like almost every expansion team, Nashville struggled to win early on. Following a few rough seasons in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the Preds started to be semi-regular playoff participants, though. Despite reaching the postseason in nine of the team’s 18 total seasons, Nashville hadn’t appeared in either the Western Conference Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals until this season. To get there, they swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, then beat the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks.
One person in the Predators locker room who isn’t a stranger to Stanley Cup proceedings is head coach Peter Laviolette. This will be the third Cup he’s coached in, including the one he won with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005. Prior to taking over for Barry Trotz—Nashville’s first and only other head coach—before the 2014-15 season, Laviolette coached the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers (who he led to an Eastern Conference championship). His lifetime record is 477-334-25.
Though he has zero affiliation with Milwaukee, defenceman P.K. Subban is one of the most likable players in the NHL. He oozes personality, and as far as pro athletes go, he’s hilarious. Prior to being traded to Nashville by the Canadiens last June, Subban donated $10M of his own money to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Oh, and he’s a frequent All-Star and he’s an Olympic gold medalist. His leadership, talent, and lighthearted attitude surely didn’t hurt Nashville during this long and arduous postseason run.
For reasons unknown, Predators fans throw catfish onto the ice after Nashville scores. It started in 2002, when the Preds were playing the Red Wings, who are known for tossing octopi on the ice after Detroit goals. A tradition was born. A gross, smelly, and morbid tradition. Is the catfish chucking original? No. Is it wasteful and unsanitary? Absolutely. Anyway, now that’s something you have to live the rest of your life knowing.