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What the NHL might learn from College Hockey

It seems like the Preds did pretty well over the weekend while I was away, earning 3 points in 2 games against St. Louis and Minnesota.  Tonight brings a home game against the banged-up Edmonton Oilers (minus Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff), as J.P. Dumont is expected back in the lineup after missing two games due to illness.  With Jordin Tootoo having returned as well, the Preds are getting healthier during a critical part of their schedule.  But before resuming my focus on the NHL, it's worth reflecting for a moment on my weekend trip up to Ann Arbor...
Saturday night's Michigan/Lake Superior State game reminded me of everything that's great about college hockey; you had a packed house, a hard-fought win over a tough opponent (although the biggest loss may be an injury to senior winger Chad Kolarik), and a sampling of all the great traditions that have grown up around U-M hockey over the last 15 or so years.  We had seats near the Michigan Hockey Pep Band, and they kept things lively all night long at Yost Ice Arena.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again; if you live within a few hours' drive and haven't been to a game at Yost, you're missing out on a great hockey experience.
Now in Nashville, Predators' games have more of this kind of atmosphere than other NHL arenas I've been to, with Cell Block 303 and the assorted chants they bring into the mix at various points of the game.  But I think the Predators might be wise to take a look at what's happening in Ann Arbor, and perhaps glean a few more ideas to help make the in-game experience more inviting to both the casual and hard-core hockey fan.
1.  Having an actual pep band is so much more energetic than canned "Make Noise" instructions from the scoreboard.  Considering how popular college sports are in Middle Tennessee, the Predators could identify certain nights on the schedule and invite in a pep band from a local university.  You could have a Vanderbilt night, Belmont night, etc.  Granted, it would take some coordination and planning to figure out how to work a live pep band into the presentation of the game, but it would be a unique offering that would surely draw attention.
2.  Yost Arena hosts recreational leagues and hockey camps, and while the schedule of the Sommet Center probably rules out blocking out extra dates for such activities, recognizing both youth and adult hockey players from around the community is always a good idea.  You could have a mini-game during intermission, or as has been done with the Centennial Sportsplex rec leagues, host an All-Star game after the conclusion of the Preds game.
3.  As noted earlier, Cell Block 303 does a great job of bringing the noise, but for new folks coming into the building, it can be confusing trying to figure out what they're up to.  Working with the 303 to get the word out more easily to casual fans would only help to bring them into the experience.  Something simple like flyers handed out as fans enter the arena might do the trick.
Just a few thoughts on how to perhaps bring some more of that college hockey vibe to the NHL experience, take them for what they're worth, and enjoy that Preds/Oilers game tonight.

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