In the 13 years since the Predators arrived in Nashville, the team has slowly converted a pigskin town into a legion of loyal puckheads. One such fan is country superstar Dierks Bentley, a chart topping, award-winning artist who counts hockey amongst his great passions. Whenever he gets a chance, the Feel That Fire singer puts down his guitar, laces up, and hits the ice with his local men's hockey league, the Nashville IceHoles.
We caught up with the 35-year-old Arizona native, who compares his game to Nashville's Jordin Tootoo and explains how a concert for him is essentially like a hockey game.
How did your passion for hockey start?
Dierks Bentley: The Predators moved to town (in the late 90s) and I just remember going to a game and immediately falling in love with the sport. I played some rollerblade hockey before that, but being down in Tennessee it's hard to find some ice; all I could think about was playing hockey. A buddy of mine from Toronto gave me some gear and I went down and signed up for a men's league. I kind of had to see it live to get into it.
So the Preds coming to Nashville had a big effect on you becoming a hockey fan?
Yeah, it's had a huge effect on Nashville in general. When I first signed up for hockey, I signed up for a B league and I barely knew how to skate and hold a stick at the same time. Now, I'm still in that league and I'm a lot better than I was a few years back. The men's league has really developed because of the Predators.
How many Predators games do you get to attend or watch during the year?
It's tough because I'm on the road so much. I get off the road and I have a choice with my free time to either watch or play hockey, and I usually choose to play. I try to make six or seven Preds game a year. It's not as much as I'd like, but being married and having two kids makes it kind of tougher.
I hear you have your own term for The Fourth Period?
For us, it means going to a bar after the game and finishing the game at the bar â€“ the fourth period. We've got some guys that are pretty good for the first three periods, but their strongest period is always the fourth period. They may not be able to pull their weight on the ice for three periods, but they do a fine job in the fourth! It's half the reason why they're on the team (laughs)!
Talk about the team and league you play in. I hear you have a clever team name?
Yeah, our team name is the Nashville IceHoles... great team! What I love about the IceHoles is we only have 10 guys; I can't stand being on a team with more than 10 players because every three shifts wouldn't be enough ice-time. I want to walk off the ice just completely drained.
In your 10 years of playing, what's the best game you've had?
I had a great game the other night. We were playing with seven guys against a much better team with 15. It came down to the third period and we were down 4-2, and I had the tying goal which was a deflection. In our league, to be able to plan that out and have it intentionally deflected and have it go in, that's more impressive than a slapshot or a wrist shot. I pulled that off and I angled my stick just right to get it over the goaltender's shoulder.
What position and style do you play?
I play center if I can because it's my favorite position, and also left wing because I'm right-handed and it's a lot easier for me to come down the left side and shoot. I play pretty aggressively â€“ the more comfortable you are on skates, the more aggressive you can be. It's a non-check league, but there's a ton of checking going on. What I lack in talent, I make up for in hustle. When I come off the ice, I'm rocking back and forth like a heroin addict and everybody's like "Are you okay?" and I'm just like "Yeah, I can't breathe." It makes the beer in the fourth period taste that much sweeter!
So would you compare your game to anyone on the Preds? Maybe Jordin Tootoo?
(Laughs) I do love Toots. He's one of my good friends. What I love about Tootoo is that some around the league can't stand him, thinking he's out there just looking for hits and cheap shots. When I see Tootoo, I love the hustle that he plays with.
What does your family think about you playing?
They love it. I think they are more worried about me getting hurt, but I've gotten more injuries on stage than I've gotten on the ice. I've torn my ACL jumping off a stage riser, I've chipped my teeth on the microphone, got some stitches in my knee for sliding across the deck on a slippery night. Knock on wood I've never been hurt in hockey. I've taken some pucks to the shin and couple whacks with a stick, but nothing has ever broken.
Would you compare concerts for singers to hockey games for players?
For me, it is a hockey game. When I go out on stage, I tape my boots just like I'd lace my skates up â€“ I tape 'em up with duct tape really tight. There are six of us in my band on stage just like there are six of us on the ice. I really approach it with the same energy. You get on stage and have that adrenaline rush. On stage, I'm the center and bring my bass players up on my left (wing), my guitar boys up on my right (wing)... and the drummer's the goalie, making sure nothing gets past us!How did your music career get started?
I moved to Nashville when I was 19 and spent a long time playing in bars and clubs all over Nashville and downtown. Eventually I got a publishing deal and that led to a record deal. It took me about eight years to get things going.
Have you ever been approached by the Predators to do the goal song?
(Laughs) They have a great song right now, they've got Tim McGraw's I Like It, I Love It. It's a great tune, but it's time for a new tune. I've got to find the right song for them because I'd love to have that song up there.
If you weren't singing country music, what would you be doing?
It's too late to be a hockey player, but I don't know what else I'd be doing. I love hockey and grew up around go-carts so I love racing, too. I just feel blessed to be able to do this and not worry about a plan b. Until that time comes, I'll keep (singing).