The ink had barely dried on his seven-year contract when Matt Duchene began to brainstorm.
After signing a deal with the Nashville Predators last summer, a place he would now be calling home for the next phase of his career, Duchene wanted to find a way to make a lasting impact with some Music City flair.
Ideas were discussed, plans drawn up, and at the start of the 2019-20 season, Duchene's Hockey Tonk was born.
Complete with a red goal light affixed to the ceiling, a makeshift hockey rink with sticks and pucks, and the Hockey Tonk's logo - the outline of a catfish in lights, Duchene's No. 95 right in the eye - the space is uniquely Nashville, and it's perfect to host some folks who need an escape for a night.
Duchene hosts a family with a child who is, or has been, battling congenital heart disease, but it's taken a step further than that. The siblings of that child share the spotlight too, a way to allow them to take a break from all the sacrifices a family in that situation has to make.
"The focus is actually on the siblings more than anybody, because whenever you have a brother or sister that's going through that, they're going to get most of the attention from the parents - and it needs to be that way because they're going through something - but it's too bad because those siblings suffer a lot of times," Duchene said. "I want to create a night where everybody's on the same level playing field, so the kid that's been through the hard times has a great night, and the siblings have the same great night, and the parents have the same great night. It's been awesome, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity to give back that way."
Video: Duchene's Hockey Tonk
And, of course, Duchene's Hockey Tonk wouldn't be complete without a nod to country music.
As an added element, Duchene invites one of his friends, who is an artist in the industry to join in the festivities for the night as a special guest to hang out with the family.
It all comes together for one unforgettable evening, as the Hooper family recently found out.
Meagan Hooper's 4-year-old son, Tyson, is a "CHD Warrior," who was in attendance in the Hockey Tonk two days after Christmas. Joining Tyson were his sisters, 7-year-old Ava Grace and 15-year-old Lily, as well as his mom and his father, Chris.
Country artist - and huge Predators fan - Ryan Hurd rounded out the group for the night, as the Hoopers watched all three of their children receive a much-needed chance to just be kids again.
"When a family experiences the critical illness of a child, everyone in the family lives the heartache and challenges of time apart, living in and around the hospital and the uncertainty and anxiety that go along with that illness," Meagan said. "Through our son's battle with congenital heart disease, all three of our children have had plenty of unique experiences of the negative, difficult and challenging variety. The girls have often had to take a backseat or had to miss out for the benefit of their brother's health. It was great for all three of our children to have a unique experience that was care-free, fun and made each of them feel so special and celebrated."
The Hoopers met with Duchene and Hurd prior to puck drop, and after the centerman departed to prepare for the evening on the ice, Hurd accompanied the family to the suite to play some hockey, chow down on cotton candy and enjoy each other's company for a few hours.
Postgame, it was back down to ice level to meet with Duchene once more, snap a few photos and fill up the memory banks with some good after a difficult journey no family deserves to endure.
"My family would love to thank Matt Duchene, Ryan Hurd and the Preds organization for a night we will never forget," Meagan said. "You graciously provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience that made all of us feel so special and celebrated after all that we have endured and overcome. And, as a bonus, you have made us lifelong hockey fans."
Duchene isn't doing this for the recognition, although it's well-deserved. As a professional hockey player, he is ultimately judged on what he does on the ice, and rightfully so.
But it's also what a player does off of it that shapes his image in the city he calls home. Duchene loves this town, and he wants to share that feeling with those who could use a good day.
"It just hurts my heart that families have to go through that and the poor kids have to go through that," Duchene said. "Life's all about the experiences you have. At the end of the day, when our life is coming to a close, I think that's what we'll all look back on and be thankful for. To be able to give back through these experiences, fun experiences, is pretty amazing. It's been special so far, and I can't wait to keep on taking it to the next level."