NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators’ bandwagon has grown exponentially in the last few years. Tens of thousands of fans are expected both in and around the arena for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Interest in the team has spread throughout the state and beyond, as sports bars as far as Alabama are getting jammed with Predators jerseys on game nights.
But in many ways, there’s still a delightful small-town vibe to that support. There’s an approachability to the players in the community. It’s a colligate atmosphere inside the arena, matched by the kind of community support one might otherwise expect for a college sports team – signs in business windows, car flags and the like.
And then there are the letters.
“I had one yesterday in my mailbox. Just from a random fan, just thanking us,” said captain Mike Fisher.
Several Predators players said they’ve had fans stuffing their home mailboxes with letters of support, cards of inspiration and other items.
“It’s incredible,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis. “My neighbors leave letters in our mailboxes, different things. From a non-traditional market, as they say, it’s really special to know we have that kind of support, not only with people on our streets or wherever that might be, but in the entire city.”
Ellis said many of the letters in his mailbox contain children’s drawings. “I’ll send them hockey cards back. We’ll play mailbox tag,” he said. “It’s just little stuff like that. It makes it feel like home. Like the city is united for the ultimate goal.”
As Saturday night’s Game 3 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins is the first Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history, the players are anticipating an even more raucous crowd than in previous rounds, if that’s audibly possible.
“The loudest building in the NHL. You’ll hear that tonight. Bring your earplugs,” said Fisher.
He’s been with the Predators since 2011. He’s seen firsthand the fan mania grow around this team, culminating in the party expected for Game 3. “It just seems every year it’s grown and grown. Last year we got a little taste of it. This year has been unbelievable, with the support from the city, everything that’s going on,” he said.
That goes for the thousands of fans crowding the streets for Game 3, and ones who quietly slip letters of support into players’ mailboxes.
“As a player, it’s one of the proudest things to be a part of this, and see this city become the hockey market it’s become,” said Fisher.
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