In October of 2009, the highly-touted, third-overall draft pick was primed to make his much-anticipated NHL debut.
Nestled beneath the Rocky Mountains in downtown Denver lay the Pepsi Center, where 19-year-old Matt Duchene first laced up his skates for the Colorado Avalanche.
Duchene was still in his youth. He was inexperienced. The rookie - who, 10 years later, has now notched his first preseason goal as a member of the Nashville Predators - was in need of guidance.
And he was in luck. Along came his host of two years: two-time Stanley Cup champion, team captain, and 17-year NHL veteran Adam Foote.
"Foote clearly understood what was going on, and to be able to live with him meant the world to a young guy like me," Duchene recalled. "There's lots of stuff you have no clue about when you're a young player. Of course, a lot of the things he taught me I didn't understand at the time. In fact, I wasn't even sure if I needed to live with a host family. But later on, even to this day, I have these moments where I just think to myself, 'Well, I guess that's what he was talking about.'"
Foote took Duchene under his wing. In the process, he gave the Ontario native a nest to call home. As naïve as he may have been, Duchene was far from the most adolescent figure in the Foote household.
"I remember having my now wife over when we first met, and we'd be downstairs watching a movie and hanging out," Duchene said with an ear-to-ear smile. "And I'll never forget the image of 8-year-old Nolan, quietly standing at the top of the stairs. He didn't think we had a clue he was there, and he would just try to subtly peak around the corner because he was so little."
Nolan and Callan Foote were just 8 and 10 years old, respectively. The sons of the NHL journeyman looked up to their new big brother. They challenged Duchene to endless games of mini sticks, competing for hours on end in the basement of the house.
"We had a blast out there," Duchene said. "It was a lot of fun, and we've kept in touch with the boys. They were even at our wedding many years later."
Living with the Foote family helped Duchene grow, both as a person and a player. He went on to play in 81 games as a rookie and tally his first points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A decade has passed since that season, but the new Nashvillian continues to develop, mature and succeed in ways he couldn't have imagined.
Little did he know, Nolan and Callan Foote would reach the NHL too.
In their second week of preseason play, the Predators split a home-and-home series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. This mere preseason series, however, was perhaps the most meaningful of Duchene's NHL career, as he competed against Nolan and Callan for the first time since their days playing mini sticks.
Only this time, there was nothing mini about Nolan and Callan. The brothers, now 18 and 20 years old, were both selected in the first round of recent NHL Drafts by the Lightning. Surely, Duchene didn't expect this to happen just 10 years after living with the Footes, but it also hasn't shocked the NHL star either.
"Back then, if you told me we'd end up playing against one another, I would've had a lot of emotions," Duchene said. "I would've been excited as can be, but it wouldn't have come as the slightest bit of a surprise. Truth is, they've been gifted their whole lives. I watched them play in minor hockey and they were just elite. I think bloodlines are huge. These guys have the bloodlines and when they were little, they were around pros all the time. Also, the lessons from their dad - the ones I didn't quite grasp until he taught me at age 19 - they've had since they were children. Having a father play in the League can be so crucial."
On Saturday night in Nashville, as they sat on opposite benches, Duchene couldn't help but think back to those days in Denver - and sure enough, the big brother found the back of the net to tie the game with a mere 3.8 seconds remaining.
The clutch goal - scored in his preseason debut with his new club - catalyzed a 5-4 win for the home team. The achievement was not to be taken lightly, but it wasn't the only highlight of Duchene's evening.
"I called Cal the morning of the game," Duchene said. "Before, during, and after the game I was just like, 'Holy cow, this is nuts that we're playing against each other.' I told him that I'd get a picture set up of us [to be taken after warmups]… Overall, it was just an incredibly fun, hilarious and wild experience. I'm going to get that picture framed and sent out to them. I have the one of us standing on the back of the blue line from my first year framed at home, so it would be cool to get that one too."