After doing so almost daily during the course of an NHL career that spanned 785 games and 12 seasons, Greg Johnson hadn't laced them up in a while.
So when the former Nashville Predators captain sported his skates and hit the ice last weekend for what Johnson estimates was the first time in close to seven years, the memories came flooding back. Add that to the fact he was doing so outdoors, in Nashville, across from the building he called home for seven of those 12 seasons, and he couldn't help but hear the goal horn and the roar of the fans after that goal against Detroit in the 2004 postseason.
"I remember the building exploding," Johnson said. "That was one that stands out forever for me."
Along with former goaltender Tomas Vokoun, Johnson made the trip back to Music City on Feb. 11 to join in the festivities as the NHL Centennial Fan Arena made its stop in Nashville to celebrate 100 years of hockey.
Skating for Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago and with the Preds during his NHL career, Johnson considers himself a Nashville Predator, and for most alums who circle back through Middle Tennessee from time to time, the growth of not only the franchise, but the city itself, is something to behold.
"From the growth of the city to the vibe around the team, the fans, the excitement out here, it's amazing," Johnson said. "This organization keeps growing, this city keeps growing; it's a special place with special fans and I was just grateful to be a part of it for those starting years. It's amazing to see where it is now."
Vokoun, who made a name for himself with the Preds and appeared for eight seasons in Nashville, also remarked at the difference from that first puck drop in 1998 to the present day.
"It's not just the franchise, I think the whole town is changed so much and it's great to see," Vokoun said. "It's great to see how the city's developing, team is doing well, huge fan base, they grew substantially in the youth hockey programs, so it looks like they're doing the right things."
Both Johnson and Vokoun enjoyed what were statically their best NHL seasons with the Predators, including 36 wins in 2005-06 for Vokoun and 50 points in 1998-99 for Johnson. And for what they did on the ice, they're remembered equally for what they did off the ice to help grow the sport in a market that so many doubted could sustain an NHL franchise.
Thanks to people like them, that's no longer a question.
"I'm proud of this team," Vokoun said. "There were times when people were doubting hockey in Nashville and all that and it's doing great… Seeing how it's changed and how many youth hockey players were here in the beginning of the 2000s and how many there are now, it's great to see. I'm proud of that."
"I was an average player, I was never anything special, but the best years of my life were here with the Predators," Johnson said. "To have a young family [at the time], amazing city, these were without a doubt the best years of my life. I'll never be anything special, but in my heart, I'm a Predator and a big Predators fan."