NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Ford Ice Center in Bellevue opened up its doors just a short time ago, peaking interest from players all over the world. There is one specific tournament that has made Nashville a regular stop on its jam-packed schedule.

“We’re finding hockey hotbeds. You meet someone, they are from somewhere and say they have a great hockey community and we go check it out,” said Draft Tournament coordinator Kyle Gregory.

Gregory and Mike Winkel made a trip to Tennessee this past weekend, playing and and coordinating the “Draft Tournament,” a concept that was created back in 2010 by a group of Canadians and since then, has evolved into a worldwide competition that anyone can participate in.

Winkel said, “We came up with the idea, lets have people sign up as free agents because not everyone gets to tournaments. It allowed for growth of the Draft Tournament over the years with anybody and everybody to come play from all aspects of life.”

This is the fifth time the tournament has made its way to Nashville, but the first since the pandemic shutdown play in 2020. And with the new Ford Ice Center recently opening up in Bellevue, it made sense to make it their first stop on the schedule.

“The Ford Ice Center here in Bellevue is a beautiful facility. That is what makes these tournaments so special because we get the opportunity to go play at some of the best rinks in the country, and Nashville has a beautiful rink,” added Winkel.

But it’s not just the new ice that is making Nashville a hot destination year in and year out, the game is growing in the South and so is tournament participation.

“We have a tremendous amount of local participation here and in the surrounding communities. We have players from Memphis, along with a huge showing from Arkansas and Alabama this year,” said Winkel.

The Predators certainly sparked interest in hockey in Middle Tennessee, but it’s tournaments like this one that help the game continue to grow.

Gregory said, “Hockey is a life sport. You get on the ice for the first time and we’ve had people fall in love with it.”

And while Nashville might be considered a “non-traditional” market, Winkel said it’s becoming a tradition to make a stop here every year.

“It’s a consensus top-3 town every year that we go to. We love here, coming to the rink, hitting up broadway, going up to all the activities so we couldn’t ask for a better place,” added Winkel.

For information on how you can play in the Draft Tournament, click here.