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Opening Night Is Sweet Music for Nashville

Predators: Newest NHL franchise has grand plans for first game.

October 10, 1998|From Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The "Ice Age" finally has arrived in Music City.

Seventeen months after the NHL awarded Nashville the first of four expansion franchises, the Predators play their first regular-season game tonight against the Florida Panthers at sold-out Nashville Arena.

"The opening night is going to be absolutely a lot of fun," owner Craig Leipold said. "It's going to be the night."

It is definitely the night he has been waiting for since June 1997. He and the Predators' staff were so determined to make a big splash on opening night that they sent the team on the road for all nine of their exhibition games.

The Predators' players weren't sure about the strategy at first, but they are now.

"Their plan is to make that first game as big an event as possible and get everybody hyped up for that," center Darren Turcotte said.

The chance to see an NHL game in person is exciting enough for any hockey fan in Nashville, located about 250 miles from the next nearest NHL city of St. Louis. But the Predators have plenty lined up to make the first game even more memorable.

The players will be driven to the arena entrance in convertibles and walk in on a red carpet through Styrofoam blocks spelling out the words "Ice Age." The team's new mascot, whose costume arrived Wednesday, will be introduced between the first and second periods, with a blimp in the shape of a tiger flying inside between the second and third periods.

Fireworks and professional cheerleaders wandering the stands also will help stoke the crowd of 17,500. And blues musician Delbert McClinton, who taught John Lennon how to play the harmonica, will sing the Predators' theme song.

To help explain hockey to a city where football is king, the Predators will make available headphones so fans can listen to a description of the game in layman's terms.

"We don't want them to be intimidated by this game," Leipold said.

Construction workers have been busy the last few weeks finishing luxury suites, a club level restaurant and the press box. The dust that has coated the arena for months is being cleaned up.

The team that hits the ice is equally new, with the final cuts made this week.

Whatever the Predators look like in their inaugural season, president Jack Diller is confident they will attract fans.

"Wherever we go . . . there are just those people that come from the North and have been exposed to the NHL before that can't get enough of it," he said. "I feel very confident we're going to get that same connection."

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