I am twenty years old and grew up just south of Denver in Centennial. My dad, a hockey fan, had me watch Avalanche games when I was a little boy, and in the process I fell in love with the sport of hockey and the Colorado Avalanche. As the years went along, I would go to at least one Avs game each season with my dad, or on a couple occasions some friends.
As I was getting towards the end of my high school career, I decided I wanted to go out of state for college, and simultaneously my parents were tired of cold weather and snow, so it was inevitable all of us would be leaving Colorado sooner than later. I ended up choosing to attend Eastern Kentucky University, and my parents moved to upstate South Carolina, not far from Greenville.
My parents made said move in May of this year, and last year while I was a freshman in school, my parents were still in Denver. For Thanksgiving, I flew back to Denver for a few days, and we all went to the Avs game against the Dallas Stars the Saturday of that weekend, when Colorado won 5-2. While I was there, I was thinking to myself, "When am I next going to be able to watch these boys in person?"
Little did I know, just over a year later, I'd find myself in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena to witness the Avalanche take on the Predators of the Music City. I just finished my first semester of my sophomore year last week, the game fell on a Saturday, the timing was perfect, and I got to see my hometown Avalanche play away from my hometown, with my dad, the man who got me into hockey.
This was a lifetime goal of mine, to see one of my favorite Denver sports teams play away from Denver. I didn't necessarily expect the first experience to be in Nashville to see the Avs play the Predators, like I envisioned as an eight or nine year old, but that's just the way it works out sometimes. Speaking from experience, I've always had the fascination to know what other teams' stadiums or arenas are like, compared to that of Pepsi Center, Mile High Stadium, and Coors Field, so below is a breakdown of what you can expect to see if you ever find yourself in the Music City to watch a Predators game.
Let's start with the facility itself. Bridgestone was opened in 1996 and served as the Predators' home ice since their inaugural season in 1998. It is a beautiful arena. State of the art and extremely well maintained. I was a bit surprised at how similar it looked to Pepsi Center. Granted, I didn't know what to expect since I've never been to any other NHL arenas, but I thought The Can was unique for walking in and then going right up at least one escalator to get to your seat. Bridgestone does the same, and hey, maybe every arena does, but I found it interesting and a little surprising. Virtually the same exact concept, look, and feel as Pepsi Center. Better than Pespi Center? Wash.
Parking: I was amazed at how easily it is to park here. The Omni Hotel of Nashville is right next door, and my goodness, that building is beautiful. You can get lost just looking at it for a solid ten minutes. But anyways, I parked in that building's lot and there was an abundance of spaces in there both before and after the game, for a price of $15. Not bad, plus there's a roof over your car. Some lots further away from the arena were outdoors and charged $25 to park your vehicle there. Not much chaos amongst traffic when you leave either. It was much simpler than I imagined it would be and have dealt with at The Can. Better than Pepsi Center? Yup.
The surroundings: This was not a category I envisioned having on here, but I felt I had to after what I experienced before entering. The arena is situated right next to Broadway in Nashville, which is a street with lots happening and lots of people on it. Every conceivable restaurant, lots of outdoor music, a little bit of street entertainment, and good solid fun. Mind you, this is a sixty second walk away from the front doors of the arena. Great place to relax and enjoy life before the game. In terms of number of things to do and the proximity to the arena, this was an unexpected positive to the Bridgestone experience. Better than Pepsi Center? Yup.
Food: Small sample size here, but my eating at the arena consisted of a hot dog. Very adventurous, I know. Shame on me for not trying any Nashville BBQ or anything. Your typical juicy, mouth-watering stadium hot dog from Nathan's that leaves you satisfied. It cost $4.75. I can't remember what one at Pepsi Center is, but it's around the same ballpark. Wish I could offer more insight here, but... Better than Pepsi Center? Wash.
Mascot: The Predators have Gnash, who is some sort of animal, because of the team's lack of specificity, I guess it's a predator. Alright. Thanks for narrowing it down, guys. Before the Predators took the ice right before game time, Gnash repelled from the arena's ceiling, which was cool and got people fired up. He did a better job of it than Rocky of the Nuggets did that one time. http://deadspin.com/unconscious-nuggets-mascot-lowered-to-court-in-macabre-1457332643
There was one skit Gnash did in a commercial break during the second period. He was with a snowball wearing an Avalanche jersey, the PA announcer said Gnash was taking him to go somewhere fun, Gnash is giggling towards the camera while the stupid snowball has his back turned, walking to that fun place. They go behind a curtain, then a snow-blower sound effect plays and Gnash comes out with snow cones and a piece of paper saying "EXTREMELY fresh snow cones!" Oh ha ha. Very funny, Predators. Maybe if you spent enough time watching game tape as you did planning skits, you'd have won the game. Burned. Better than Pepsi Center? Wash. Bernie sucks.
Bathrooms: The most important thing, to me. I went to two bathrooms and both had four urinals and just one toilet. They were moderately clean but not as nice as Pepsi Center's. Not even close. There were fairly long lines during the intermissions to use them, and I don't remember there being that much issue to use the ones in Denver during the extended breaks, plus I've always thought the cans at The Can are pretty nice. Better than Pepsi Center? Nope.
Fan friendliness: I wore my Avalanche jersey and was confronted by no one for it. A couple of Predators fans actually asked if I could take pictures for them, which I was happy to do. There were a few hundred people wearing Colorado sweaters and I didn't see any of them getting any grief. I stood up and cheered each time the Avs got a goal. People glared at me, but that's only natural. I didn't expect Predators fans to be anything short of respectful, and they proved me right. Better than Pepsi Center? Wash.
Atmosphere: Here's what wowed me about Bridgestone Arena. I know a lot of people don't take Nashville as an NHL market seriously, and in the past there was some debate about whether Tennessee deserved to have a hockey team. They absolutely do. They are involved and knowledgeable fans, and really enjoy their chanting. When the PA announcer unveiled Colorado's starting lineup before the puck dropped, it went as follows:
PA guy: Starting at center, Nathan MacKinnon.
PA guy: Starting at right wing, Matt Duchene.
PA guy: Starting at left wing, Mikhail Grigorenko.
PA guy: Starting on defense, Francois Beauchemin.
PA guy: Also starting on defense, Erik Johnson.
PA guy: And starting at goaltender, Semyon Varlamov
Crowd: AND HE SUCKS TOO!
I had to laugh, even though none of those guys sucks. Had Nate Guenin started, I'd have joined them when they said "SUCKS!" after his name. During visiting team power plays, the PA guy goes, "And the Colorado Avalanche are on the... power... play." The crowd then chants in unison, "AND THEY STILL SUCK!" At the one minute left in the period warning, where after they hear that, they shout, "THANK YOU!" They also started serenading Semyon when the Preds tied the game at 2 early in the third, with a "Varlam-ov! Varlam-ov! YOU SUCK AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT." I was impressed they got that ringing in a regular season game in December. Usually that stuff is reserved for most teams until the postseason. Better than Pepsi Center? Yup.
In summary, they have a tremendous home-ice advantage and some extremely strong support from their fans. You don't usually hear Nashville being near the top of the list when it comes to tough places to play in the NHL, but I think they deserve to be in the conversation. When you factor in the surroundings and the overall quality of the building, this has to be one of the best places to watch a hockey game. I highly recommend for those of you that want to see the best of the best in NHL experiences, you make a trip to Nashville to see a Predators game. If it wasn't for the fact Pepsi Center hosts the team we all love, I would choose to see a game in Nashville before I would in Denver, to be perfectly honest.
Head to head count:
Bridgestone wins the breakdown with three factors better than that of Pepsi Center, four washes, and one factor worse than Pepsi Center.