Bastian Baker used to dread being in the same building as Roman Josi.
Growing up in Switzerland a decade ago, Baker and Josi played hockey against one another as youths, and it turns out the Nashville Predators captain was quite good on the ice back then, too.
"We used to wish that he would not show up, so we'd have a chance to win," Baker humorously recalled. "We would be like, 'Hey, is Josi here tonight or not?' And then it would be, 'I think he's playing with the adults tonight,' and we're like, "Oh yeah, maybe we can beat them today.'"
My, how things have changed.
Although Baker hasn't made a career out of the sport like Josi did, he's still done quite well for himself, with a guitar in his hands as opposed to a hockey stick - well enough, in fact, that he'll be opening for country music legend Shania Twain when her "Now" tour hits Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.
Baker, who officially met Josi during a charity hockey game back home a few years ago, became fast friends with the Preds blueliner, and for good reason.
"He invited me to the charity game, and that's when I discovered he was a fan of my music," Baker said. "I was like, 'Oh, that's cool, I like your hockey playing, you like my music, we should be friends.' He came to pick me up at my hotel and he had the windows down, blasting one of my songs and singing out loud with his terrible voice, so it was pretty funny."
The two kept in touch from that first meeting, and Josi eventually convinced Baker to come to Nashville, not only to hang out, but as a chance to make some musical connections. After spending his prior time in the U.S. predominantly in New York and Los Angeles, it didn't take Baker long to fall hard for the Music City and all it has to offer.
Josi introduced Baker to Caleb Followill of the band Kings Of Leon on that first trip, and Baker has spent many visits writing songs and performing in various spots around the city, including Josi's home on a number of occasions.
Baker is also a frequent attendee of Predators games when he's in town to cheer on his fellow countrymen Kevin Fiala, Yannick Weber and Josi, of course. In fact, Baker says his mother back home in Switzerland wakes up at 2 a.m., puts on her Preds jersey and turns on the television to watch her favorite team.
"I won't lie, I just love going to the games," Baker said. "It's so much fun. I love the crowd, and I think they're the best crowd I've ever experienced at a hockey game… I really love it."
Just as Baker swells with pride watching his friend star on the ice, Josi is equally impressed with how Baker's career has recently bloomed, now to the point where the two will both be able to say they've played for a crowd of screaming fans in the same building.
"It's awesome to see the success he's had in such a short time," Josi said via phone from Switzerland. "I know how good of a musician he is, but it's great that he gets the recognition in the United States, too. It's awesome and it's really fun for me to see."
While Josi won't be able to attend the show in Nashville this weekend, he's confident the concertgoers in Nashville will be impressed with what they hear, and see, on stage - "The girls love him here," Josi says - and the two will undoubtedly reminisce the next time they're in the building together.
For a couple of guys who started out in Switzerland trying to make a name for themselves, it's Nashville, of all places, that has provided the opportunities most only dream about. And all those years ago when Baker was hoping he wouldn't have to deal with Josi? Funny how things change when he knows the words to all of your songs.
"You know when you have a good friend, but you also admire him as a person? That's what he is to me," Baker said of Josi. "He's made it, but he's just the most chill guy. It's just like Shania and just like him. I feel like hanging around people like them is really what makes you a good person because they're so successful, but very grounded and really awesome… I'm definitely really proud of him."