NASHVILLE -- Former Nashville Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun finished a game on Jan. 15, 1999 with his first career shutout in a 2-0 win against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Predators fan Lee Binkley, and his daughter Kelsey, left that same game with Vokoun's water bottle and memories that would go far beyond the first shutout in Predators history.
"It was my daughter's first game, she was seven," Binkley said. "It was special to me and I wanted it to be special to her, so I thought we needed to get a puck or something. We weren't able to get a puck before the game warmups so we stayed after the game. We took her down to the ice to look at the arena, and as the equipment man was putting the nets up, I noticed the water bottle still on top of the net.
"My daughter was on my shoulders, and I got his attention and pointed at the water bottle and he threw the water bottle over the glass. We caught it, and she was very excited. It was a very special moment for her and me."
That night remains a special memory for Binkley and his daughter. The water bottle has been a memento for them for the past 18 years, marking a night where a father and his daughter got to experience the magic of an NHL hockey game together for the first time.
When Binkley heard Vokoun was going to make an appearance at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena in Nashville this weekend, he wanted to share his story with Vokoun. And he wanted to return the bottle back to its original owner.
Binkley got his chance to see Vokoun and tell him his story on Saturday at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena. It was the first time he had gotten to meet the goaltender, who played for the Predators from 1998-2007.
"It was bittersweet to see his career end, but it was very special to me, the fact that I held on to it for so long and what it meant to me and for my daughter," Binkley said. "That was her first game. It was very special to have the opportunity to meet him and talk to him and explain the story to him."
Vokoun was surprised to see that Binkley had kept the water bottle for so many years. He ultimately insisted that Binkley keep the water bottle, and he even signed it for him.
"I was a little bit shocked by it," Vokoun said of seeing the water bottle. "Those are special memories because it happened the first time for me and the first time for the franchise."
Vokoun was smiling the entire time while Binkley was telling him the story of the water bottle and how much it meant to him and his daughter, which made it all worth it for Binkley.
"I think he found it very neat," Binkley said. "It was neat for me to tell the story, and the opportunity to meet him was very special to me."
Binkley's story was the latest example of a great relationship between Vokoun and the fans of Nashville that has been there since the inaugural season of the Predators in 1998. That bond was strengthened at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena this weekend.
"When I come back here, I get a good feeling," Vokoun said. "Sometimes when you go back to places where you played, you kind of get nervous, but here I always feel like I'm coming almost home. There's nothing to pretend. You just enjoy when you are here, just the way people are. People are nice and very approachable. For me coming back here, it's always fun. I'm always excited to come."
Video: P.K. Subban takes a tour of the Centennial Fan Arena
Nashville celebrated the 100-year history of the NHL this weekend but also celebrated the evolution of the Predators franchise. Former players like Greg Johnson, who played for Nashville from 1998-2006, were impressed with how far the team and the city have come since the expansion days.
"The past 24 hours from the growth of the city to the vibe around the team, the fans, the excitement around here, it's amazing," Johnson said. "The city keeps growing. It's a special place with special fans. I was just grateful to be a part of it in those starting years, but it's amazing to see where it is now."