The line stretched from the corner of the rink all the way down past the neutral zone, a slew of young hockey players eager to meet the figure stationed at the end.
"I've waited my entire life for this moment!" one of the participants was heard exclaiming as he inched closer. Appropriately, the man dishing out signatures to some of his newest fans felt the same way.
It's probably been a while since Matt Duchene shared the same sentiment as an 8-year-old, but he had plenty of reasons to feel like a kid again on Tuesday afternoon in Nashville.
It was one thing for the All-Star centerman to ink a seven-year, $56 million deal with the Predators, but to arrive in Tennessee and slip on a Gold jersey for the first time for a photo opportunity that seemed as if it was years in the making, that brought everything to life.
"This is a special moment for me," Duchene said while sporting his fresh attire during his introductory press conference at Ford Ice Center Antioch. "It's been no secret how much my family and I have wanted to be here for a long time… When we had the opportunity to choose where we wanted to be, this is the first place we thought of."
A week after the deal was made official, Duchene, his wife Ashley and his 6-month-old son Beau boarded a plane in Toronto and headed south, bound for a city the couple already knows well from many previous visits.
On Sunday night, Duchene posted a photo of the Nashville skyline from his downtown hotel room with the simple caption, "Home."
"It's kind of surreal," Duchene said of being in Nashville as a member of the Preds. "We talked for years [about], 'If we end up in Nashville…' that kind of thing over and over. Now we have, and it's like all those things we were talking about, kind of dreaming and fantasizing about, we actually get to do now. It's really cool for us, and obviously we're trying to put some roots down here. We've always thought it would be a great place to raise a family, and we're very excited at that prospect."
Predators Assistant General Manager Brian Poile and Nashville Mayor David Briley were also on hand for Tuesday's press conference to welcome Duchene to the organization and city, and shortly after presenting the country-music lover with his jersey and a Preds-themed guitar, the two spoke on their newest citizen's love for the locale.
"Folks who live here in Nashville understand we've got a secret sauce here, and people around the world are learning about it," Briley said. "It's really no surprise that Matt would want to come to Nashville, but the Preds are an important part of that. I think it's sort of a give-and-take; without the Preds, Nashville wouldn't be the special place that it is, so it's good to see us build one upon the other."
"Matt is equally passionate for hockey as he is for his family, and Nashville is a perfect fit," Poile said. "And not to toot our own horn, but even in the free-agency market when we talk to players, a lot of players would really like to play in Nashville. Certainly, Matt was our top priority, but there's a lot of players that want to play in Nashville, and it's really the best of both worlds in terms of a big city, small city feel, and it truly is a great place to raise your family."
Duchene plans on doing just that with Beau "and his figure siblings" in a place the 28-year-old plans on residing not just for the next seven years, but potentially for decades after his playing days are eventually over.
"This came up as a place we wanted to be, and while I was playing for other teams you never think about that stuff, but when it came time to make a choice, our hearts were here," Duchene said. "We've moved around so much - we have three shipments of different stuff in three different places - and it's going to be a crazy summer getting all that into one place. We actually still own our place in Denver, we're putting that on the market here shortly… and we're tying up all the loose ends as a family right now, but we're really happy to be putting down some roots here."
After the microphones and cameras were turned off, and every young skater at the Predators Hockey School had received an autograph, Duchene headed for the exit to journey downtown and snap some photos in his Gold threads - but before he left the rink, there was something he couldn't get over.
"Every kid was saying, 'Yes, sir,' to me," Duchene remarked. "That's awesome."
Southern Hospitality is a very real thing around these parts - and No. 95 is going to fit right in.