NASHVILLE, TENN.— Music City finally is ready to show the NHL just how big a party this town can throw, and it's only fitting that Barry Trotz will be coaching in Nashville's first All-Star Game.
Trotz helped build hockey in Nashville, coaching the Predators from their expansion start in 1997, and he earned a trip to this All-Star Game thanks to the Washington Capitals. His star player, Alex Ovechkin, is staying home with a lower-body injury, but Trotz will be coaching the Metropolitan Division in Sunday's game.
The coach sees this weekend as personally fulfilling. He also knows Nashville will put on a "fantastic show."
"I was there from Day One, and I will tell you that they will probably put on the best All-Star Game the NHL has ever seen," he said. "That is an entertainment city. They know how to do it right. And they will do it out of the box."
Of course, Nashville tapped heavily into its lively music scene. Vince Gill is scheduled to handle the pre-game anthem and be a celebrity coach along with Dierks Bentley, while Jennifer Nettles will perform during intermission. Concerts scheduled through Sunday's game feature artists like Big and Rich, John Hiatt and MercyMe.
An open-air stage sits just outside Bridgestone Arena in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame. There's an outdoor ice rink and even fire pits with s'mores in what's been dubbed Winter Park.
All the honkytonks along Broadway stand ready to help when the hockey party spills out of the arena dubbed Smashville. Ronnie Whitfield, 58, the day manager at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge across the street, said with a laugh his staff will be busy this weekend.
"We're geared up for a party, but we're already ready for a party," Whitfield said.
The NHL has tried its best to rev up the excitement too, even though Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews joined Ovechkin in missing this weekend, withdrawing because of illness. That landed Nashville a fourth All-Star with Predators forward James Neal named Toews' replacement. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov replaced Ovechckin.
The league switched the format for this All-Star Game after a 92-shotarama last year in Columbus, Ohio, wound up with a 17-12 final score. The NHL hopes for an actual hockey display after borrowing its 3-on-3 overtime format, and divisions will be pitted in a pair of 20-minute semifinals before a final period with the winner splitting a $1 million prize.
And all eyes will be on John Scott, the 6-foot-8 enforcer fans voted as Pacific Division Captain before he was traded by Arizona to Montreal and sent to the minors. Scott wrote Thursday in a post on The Players Tribune the NHL tried to talk him out of taking part this weekend.
Less than 100 tickets for the weekend were available Thursday. That helped push the average resale price of $778.82 according to SeatGeek, putting Nashville on pace to be the NHL's priciest All-Star Game over the past five years.
"Oh, it's going to be special," said Predators captain Shea Weber, who will defend his hardest shot title won a year ago. "I think Nashville's been deserving of an All-Star game for a long time, and it's finally here so I think the show's going to be amazing and it's going to be special to have it here for our fans."
For a while, it looked like Trotz might miss this weekend. The Predators decided not to bring Trotz back as coach in April 2014 despite his 15 seasons when they missed the playoffs a second straight season.
Predators general manager David Poile said Thursday that Trotz did so much helping create this franchise's culture. Trotz even helped make decisions like picking out the carpet for the locker rooms.
"He's coming into town first-place in the National Hockey League, arguably the best team in the National Hockey League," Poile said. "Clearly a chance to win the Cup, couldn't be happier for him."