Jerred Smithson used to help Garth Brooks raise money for his charity foundation in Nashville, also known as Music City, USA.
Brooks once put on an intimate private show for Smithson and the Nashville Predators, performing hits and telling stories for hours.
That’s the unique fellowship one finds in Tennessee’s biggest city where pro hockey is, for the first time since the franchise was granted expansion status in 1998, consuming everybody. They call the city Smashville because of the wild support in and around the yellow-clad Bridgestone Arena.
“It’s crazy to watch and great for the organization and the city and fans,” said Vernon’s Smithson, a face-off and shot-blocking specialist for seven seasons with the Preds. “The team used to fly under the radar but now everybody knows about the Roman Josis and Mattias Ekholms. The fans are hands-on the most passionate and loudest fans in the league. They love their hockey, and I’ve played in Edmonton and Toronto.”
The environment has always been unique. Smithson would take off his helmet and enjoy the national anthem sung by celebrities like Carrie Underwood (who’s married to Predators centre Mike Fisher), Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Vince Gill, Lady Antebellum and Trisha Yearwood.
Keith Urban, a resident of Nashville for the past 25 years who often visits Silver Star Mountain Resort in the winter, had never sung the anthem at a sporting event until Game 3 of the Ducks-Preds series. Urban’s wife, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, was also at the game. Urban and Kidman took in a Vernon Vipers game on one holiday. Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol Season 1 winner in 2002 and three-time Grammy winner, sang before Game 4.
Those same artists are in the building regardless of whose turn it is to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Also in the rink are members of the Tennessee Titans offensive line and quarterback Marcus Mariota. The TV cameras often focus on linebacker Quinton Spain because he attends the games half-naked.
Even politicians have hopped on the Predators bandwagon. Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and Nashville mayor Megan Barry are all tweeting after playoff victories.
Smithson has been sending texts to Nashville phenom goalie Pekka Rinne and forward and former roommate Vern Fiddler, a one-time Kelowna Rocket, who like Smithson, made the NHL despite never being drafted.
“I know all their phones are blowing up,” joked Smithson, who played 606 NHL games and learned all his minor hockey at Civic Arena.
“I’ve got a few Predator jerseys around and I gave my son Hunter (age four) one. He loves watching hockey but he’s a Penguins fan. He loves (Sidney) Crosby so he’s kind of torn.”
It will be an epic story if a small-market team like the Preds can win a Stanley Cup. Smithson is not surprised by their success.
“I was shocked by the Shea Weber-P.K. Subban trade but that has been a win-win for both teams. I questioned the Seth Jones trade for Ryan Johansen trade but they obviously know more than I do because Johansen is quite the centreman.”
Smithson, who also has a daughter, Keira, almost a year, loved his time in Nashville. I tried to convince his sister, Janelle, who has a beautiful voice, to extend a visit to Jerred and sing on one of the many amateur stages in Nashville.
One other sidenote to this Music City madness is that the Preds’ original coach – Barry Trotz – has called Vernon his summer home for several years. He is a gem of a man and I know he too is getting a charge out of all this playoff madness. Go Preds.