Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The evolution of hockey: Nashville style



With news coming out that the Nashville Predators are working on a documentary of the history of hockey in Nashville, I thought it would be cool to look at a little bit of the history myself. The roots of hockey in Nashville are much deeper than many people realize. While it hasn't been home to the game for as long as other markets, it has been growing dramatically during the past 50 years.

It all started with the Nashville Dixie Flyers. The Dixie Flyers were a minor league team in the Eastern Hockey League, and spent nine seasons in Nashville from 1962-1971. Throughout their time in Nashville, the Dixie Flyers posted a 336-267-44 record. As Richard in the comments section pointed out, the Dixie Flyers brought the only hockey championships that Nashville has seen thus far. They won back to back Walker Cups in the Eastern Hockey League in the 1965-66 season and 1966-67 season. In 1967, they actually swept the playoffs, going 11-0 throughout the postseason. That record still stands.

After the Dixie Flyers, it took ten years for Nashville to have another hockey team to call their own. The Nashville South Stars came in 1981. In the 1981-82 season, the South Stars were in the Central Hockey League with a respecatble 41-35-4 record. A season later, they were moved to the Atlantic Coast Hockey League, where they finished with an abysmal 11-43-4 record. The team was then moved to Virginia.

In 1989, the Nashville Knights came to town as part of the East Coast Hockey League. It was clear that minor league hockey drew a different audience than that of an NHL audience. Nashville resident Phillip Reid, who attended the majority of home games for the Knights while growing up, said "People weren't there to see skilled players dangle and make plays....they were there for the fights and blood."

The Knights played a pivotal role in the evolution of hockey in Nashville. "The Knights introduced me, and my generation, to hockey. My parents learned the game through the South Stars and Dixie Flyers, but as a kid growing up in the 80's and 90's, I had the Knights," Reid said. The Knights went 215-210-0-22-11(OT loss and Shootout loss) from 1989-1996, before they were moved to Pensacola. However, they left behind lasting memories for people like Phillip.

"I remember running around the messanine after goals. Every kid waited to be old enough that their parents would let them do that. And I certainly remember when I finally was able to run around with the flag crew!"

The next chapter of hockey in Nashville were the Nighthawks and Ice Flyers. The Nighthawks were awful, posting a 12-52-0-0-2 record in the 1996-97 season. A year later, the Ice Flyers posted a 41-19-0-0-10 record.

Of course, Nashville finally got an NHL franchise in the 1998-99 season. The Preds came to town and they've been here ever since. Since the Preds have been here, they've enjoyed moderate success on the ice, and an equal amount of success off of the ice.

Hockey programs at the Centennial Sportsplex and A-game in Franklin have grown tremendously since the Preds have gotten here. Brad Greenfield plays hockey in the Upper C division at Centennial Sportsplex for the Yazoo Brewers, and he has seen the growth firsthand.

"It's gotten to the point now where, with the four sheets of ice we have in the Nashville area, there's no more time. Some of our games during the fall, with the youth leagues and high school leagues going, are pushed all the way until about a midnight start time, so there's just really no more ice time," he said.

According to Greenfield, people actually have to be put on the waiting list because there's not enough spots. It's clear that with the Preds' recent success, the growth of the sport is going to continue in the Nashville area. Greenfield is very confident about the continued growth of hockey in Nashville.

"I think it's just going to take care of itself. It's just that natural progression. When a franchise is set up in a city, it's 10 or 12 years before it ever really gets going."

Nashville has had a long history of hockey. While it's not as high profile as other cities like Detroit and Chicago, it's slowly becoming more and more viable. The city of Nashville will continue to embrace hockey, and will continue to grow the sport. It looks like Nashville is a hockey town after all.

2 comments:

  1. Let me note, as the documentary's producer, that the great Dixie Flyers brought Nashville its first--and thus far, only--hockey championships. In the Slap Shot era, the Flyers won the EHL's Walker Cup back to back--and swept the second season's three playoff series 11-0. It's a record that still stands.

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  2. Very cool. I was unaware of that!

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