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Nashville is quickly becoming a hockey town, especially for Penguins fans | Penguins/NHL | timesonline.com pens hockey

Nashville is quickly becoming a hockey town, especially for Penguins fans By Carla Swank Fox For The Times Jun 4, 2017 0 Buy Now

Penguins fans packed Piranha's Bar and Grill on 3rd Avenue South in Nashville more than an hour before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

A crowd begins filling in prior to Alan Jackson's pregame concert before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in Nashville. Nashville Metro Police said Sunday that an estimated 50,000 people filled Lower Broadway to watch Game 3 on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

A crowd begins filling in prior to Alan Jackson's pregame concert before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

A crowd begins filling in prior to Alan Jackson's pregame concert before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

Hockey fans filed the balconies of Honky Tonk Central on the corner of 4th Avenue South and Broadway for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

Hockey fans filed the balconies of Honky Tonk Central on the corner of 4th Avenue South and Broadway for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

Penguins fans packed Piranha's Bar and Grill on 3rd Avenue South in Nashville more than an hour before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.

Carla Swank/For The Times Buy Now

Penguins fans packed Piranha's Bar and Grill on 3rd Avenue South in Nashville more than an hour before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.

Carla Swank/For The Times

NASHVILLE -- Downtown Nashville was a sea of gold on Saturday afternoon, but not the friendly gold that Pittsburgh fans are used to.

That didn’t stop Penguins fans, however, from joining the massive party prior to Game 3 on Lower Broadway.

Several thousand hockey fans flooded the primary tourist destination in Nashville with lawn chairs in tow to watch the game on a big screen, just outside of Bridgestone Arena.

Melanie and her husband, who recently moved to Nashville from Monaca, stopped to take a selfie in the back of the crowd in their Penguins attire.

“This is actually really good for the city of Nashville that everyone’s getting into hockey,” she said. “It’s an amazing atmosphere.”

She said it reminded her a lot of the atmosphere in Pittsburgh in 2008 and 2009 when the Pens reached back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.

“That was when the Pens were really coming into their own,” she said. “That’s what Nashville’s doing now. Look at it -- it’s wall-to-wall people.”

Melanie said that she hadn’t been bothered by the Nashville faithful for the most part, although she did get some strange looks on the train on her way into downtown. And as two of the luckier Pittsburgh natives to actually score tickets to the game, she and her husband were ready for Game 3.

“It’s going to be crazy and it’s going to be loud,” she said. “There’s maybe 10,000 people down here and it’s going to be electric inside. But we need a Penguin win.”

Serendipity and Southern hospitality

For Allie Quinn and Tony Summaria, call it a bit of serendipity.

The two had planned a trip from Pittsburgh to Nashville to celebrate Quinn’s birthday several months ago.

“It just all worked out,” Quinn said while walking just outside of Bridgestone Arena.

Quinn and Summaria were attempting to meet up with friends at an establishment on Lower Broadway to watch the game, but quickly decided that the crowd was going to be too much to contend with.

“It’s so crowded,” Quinn said. “So we retreated and now we’re going somewhere else to watch the game.”

While Quinn was talking, a group of Nashville fans walked by and asked the couple if they were from Pittsburgh. When they answered yes, the fans extended hands.

“When we went to St. Louis (for the Western Conference semifinal), it was really nasty,” one Nashville fan said. “So, welcome to Nashville. We hope you enjoy your stay here.”

Quinn and Summaria chatted with the group for a short while and they exchanged stories about the crowds in each city before going their separate ways.

“I just want more games,” the fan said to Quinn and Summaria as the Nashville contingency walked toward Broadway. “And I’m rooting for seven, no offense.”

‘Almost as good as Pittsburgh’

As temperatures climbed into the lower 90s, Linda Zima of Johnstown began to wish that her lucky Penguins attire wasn’t quite so warm.

“It’s too hot,” she said. “I have my Penguins socks on, but I have to wear them. I’ve worn them for every game.”

Zima’s niece, Beth Alt, lives in Nashville and is a Predators season ticket holder.

“I called her and said I’ll go to the game with you if I can get a ticket to fly down,” Zima said.

Zima flew in on Saturday morning, Alt picked her up at the airport and the pair headed straight for Bridgestone Arena.

“It’s a lot of fun and really nice,” Zima said of the scene. “Almost as good as Pittsburgh.”

World-wide appeal

Not everyone that wore the black and gold Saturday afternoon had ties to Pittsburgh.

Phillip and Laura Foster were sitting outside a nearby hotel in their Penguins jerseys, waiting for Bridgestone Arena to open. They’re from Huntsville, Ala., and have no connection to Western Pennsylvania.

“About 10 years ago, I started watching hockey and I really liked the Penguins and Sidney Crosby,” Phillip said. “So that’s how I started being a Penguins fan. We just went to our first game in Pittsburgh earlier this year. It was awesome.”

Brent Stratton and his family might not have ties to Pittsburgh per se, but they do have ties to one player in particular.

“We’re here to watch Sidney win the Cup and bring it home to Cole Harbour,” Stratton said.

Yes, the Strattons are from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia -- the hometown of Sidney Crosby.

Stratton said they’ve been following the Pens around this postseason.

“We went to Ottawa for Game 6 and came down here (to Nashville) for these two,” he said. “We’ve been to Pittsburgh before, so we thought we’d try Nashville.”

And his thoughts on the hockey scene in Nashville?

“The crowd is nuts,” he said. “We heard Alan Jackson, but we didn’t see him. It’s going to be insane (in Bridgestone Arena) tonight.”

Friendly confines

Meanwhile, on 3rd Avenue North, just a couple of blocks off of Broadway, the chants of “let’s go, Pens,” could be heard echoing from inside Piranha’s Bar and Grill, an establishment long known in Nashville as the primary hangout for both displaced and visiting Pittsburgh fans.

More than an hour before faceoff, the bar was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with Penguins loyalists.

And while the friendly faces were a welcome sight for Laurie, Sarah and Pam, they soon realized that their hopes of finding a place to sit down to eat dinner were slim.

Laurie and Sarah, from North Hills, and Pam, from Hopewell Township, traveled to Nashville in hopes of getting tickets for the game. Although those efforts failed, they did manage to watch some of the pregame concert from a rooftop bar before pushing through the crowd to make it to Piranha’s.

“It was crazy,” Laurie said. “We watched the concert from a rooftop and couldn’t get out of the bar because of all the people.”

“Just wall-to-wall humans,” Sarah added.

Gene, from Oakmont, found himself at Piranha’s after he too was unsuccessful in securing game tickets.

“We’ve been here for Steelers games before,” he said of Piranha’s, “but I’ve never seen it quite like this.”

Brittany, from West Mifflin, and Beka, from Cranberry Township, managed to find a slightly less crowded spot toward the back of the bar. They, too, were unsuccessful in getting game tickets.

“But we’re here in Nashville,” Beka said. “It doesn’t matter.”

And while they were enjoying the crowd at Piranha’s, they were uncommitted as to whether or not they were in it for the long haul.

“We’re here right now,” Beka joked. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. We’ll go wherever the Pens take us.”

Melanie from Monaca and those interviewed in Piranha’s Bar and Grill declined to give their last names.

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