The ironies are just too delicious.
As the Nashville Predators continue their Western Conference semi-final series against the Vancouver Canucks, we may be witnessing the rooting of a long-plagued franchise in a town where, 13 years after the NHL sprouted, the sport remains niche. The Predators, who trailed the Canucks 2-1 entering Game 4 Thursday, know the value of promotion more than most, because selling tickets and maintaining the team's viability in a non-traditional market has proved difficult, and their efforts are being rewarded with sold-out arenas and terrific local television ratings.
And yet, despite a deep recognition of the power of publicity, two hockey ambassadors are being persecuted.
Vancouver's Green Men, the two British Columbians who have shot to cult stardom thanks to their lime green skin suits and crowd-pleasing antics, were warned last week that their act no longer sits well with the powers that be. A Rogers Arena official, on behalf of the NHL, told the duo, who go by the names Force and Sully, that they were no longer permitted to antagonize Predators players in the visitors' penalty box by touching the glass.
"We thought it was a little bit goofy - we haven't done anything wrong," said Adam Forsythe, a 22-year-old from Surrey, B.C. "We weren't offered an explanation why, and our request to talk to the league was denied."
The Green Men say the missive sends a mixed message to fans, who pay good money to watch NHL hockey and enjoy themselves in the arena. They consider it an unreasonable limit, arguing that their show hurts no one and isn't in poor taste.
Nashville head coach Barry Trotz denied that he spoke to the NHL about the Green Men, but two sources say that Predators general manager David Poile initiated the complaint. And yet, ironically, Sully and Force have proved as popular as country music in Poile's town.
They were big hits at pregame festivities Tuesday outside Bridgestone Arena, in advance of Nashville's first home game in the second round of the playoffs. Ryan Sullivan, a 24-year-old from North Vancouver, estimates that he and his partner have posed for nearly 300 photographs since arriving in Music City earlier this week. They say they have been greeted with southern hospitality and politeness, and that their appeal cuts across team allegiance.
"We didn't really know what to expect in terms of a reception, but it's been awesome," Sully said. "The fans here are passionate, and they've told us, 'Thanks for coming, and thanks for your business.'"
More ironic than the league's attempt to sterilize two of its better promotional tools, however, was the reception the Green Men received from the Predators' game-day operations staff. They were approached by a manager and told that they could use his office to change into their suits, and given his cell number should they require security or have special needs.
"They get it," Sully said of the team's business operations. "It's about the entertainment."