The biggest star of the first ever NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville was Nashville itself.
Attendees from all over the world left town Monday blown away by the festivities. Nashville didn’t just provide an arena to host an All-Star Game; it provided an experience to remember.
“The city’s hard work turned a great dream into an outstanding reality,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at Thursday’s Opening Ceremony.
By weekend’s end, the reality was that Music City had set a new bar for the NHL and future All-Star Games.
“What an amazing weekend,” tweeted Sharks All-Star Brent Burns. “Everything about it, hockey, the fans, and the entertainment. Unbelievable.”
Nashville had every angle covered.
The All-Star game itself was one of the best in recent memory, boosted by the switch to a 3-on-3 tournament format and the inspiring performance of journeyman turned MVP John Scott.
The Skills competition saw 19-year-old Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin break a Fastest Skate record that’s older than he is and home favorite Shea Weber repeat as Hardest Shot champion with a blast of 108.1 MPH.
Bridgestone Arena provided a playoff-like level of excitement each night, not to mention the crowds of people 10 and 20 deep surrounding the player’s Red Carpet arrivals on Saturday afternoon.
And, oh yes, the entertainment.
Nashville does that as well as anyone.
But what was so cool about this weekend, especially to visitors, was how accessible the entertainment was.
From an incredible lineup of free concerts in the shadow of the Country Music Hall of Fame – that featured stars like Big and Rich, Kelsea Ballerini and Dierks Bentley – to the activities of Winter Park and the constant buzz that is lower Broadway. It was one big party.
A party the hockey world won’t soon forget.
It is hard to believe that just seven or eight years ago there were questions about the future of hockey in Nashville, and whether this city could support the Predators long term.
There is no question anymore.
Everyone knows that Nashville is Music City, but this weekend proved to the world it is also a hockey city.
“We always believed the NHL and Nashville belonged together,” Bettman told me Friday.
The Predators have become part of the fabric of the city, enjoying one of the best home environments in the league.
Now that Bettman and the NHL have had a taste of it, they should be looking to come back.
The return of the NHL Draft, another All-Star Game and even the highly coveted Winter Classic would all be big hits in Nashville.
It took 18 years for Smashville to attract one of hockey’s showcase events, but judging by reaction this weekend, it won’t need 18 more years to bring one back.