Brad Hunt never missed a practice, morning skate, lifting session or anything else that comes along with being a member of the Nashville Predators. He's had a spot in the locker room for more than two months now, right between goaltender Pekka Rinne and fellow defenseman P.K. Subban.
Hunt was always positive, never lacking a word of encouragement for his teammates, and the same was true in reverse. But since being plucked off the waiver wire from St. Louis on Jan. 17, Hunt hadn't gotten his chance in the Preds lineup.
That changed on Tuesday night.
"The first couple of shifts, I was probably running on adrenaline a bit, but it was fun to get back in there and get in there in the battles with the guys again," Hunt said Wednesday before the team's flight to Dallas. "The guys were great, they kept me calm throughout the game."
It wasn't that Hunt wasn't good enough or wasn't working hard enough - there was simply a string of luck and health on the Nashville blue line. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia, native was claimed because injuries on the blue line were hitting Nashville hard earlier in the season, and as any NHL general manager will say, a club can never have enough trustworthy defensemen.
Hunt became the eighth d-man on the depth chart, and with the group relatively healthy over the past two months, the opportunity never came. But once the Predators clinched a postseason berth over the weekend, that assurance offered Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff a chance to give some different faces a chance, and the 28-year-old was at the top of the list.
"This is a kid who has worked hard every day for a few months now, just waiting for a game, waiting to get his number called and he did tonight," Laviolette said after Tuesday's contest. "It was great to see him, because it was our first look at him inside of the game. He's a really good skater, a good puck-mover, and I think just getting him out on the ice and getting eyes on him was important as we move forward to the postseason."
It was also a chance for winger Miikka Salomaki to get a shot after missing all but two games this season due to various injuries. Laviolette knows what he's getting when the rugged Finn is on the ice, and Tuesday's outing reintroduced coach and player.
"Not knowing what to expect from a guy that's been out that long, I thought he was physical and I thought he did a good job of puck-battles," Laviolette said of Salomaki. "He's a guy that's a bull in a china shop. He can hit, he can plow through things, plow through people, and we wanted to see what he looked like as we move toward the playoffs. You never know what might come up."
Hunt doesn't know when his number might get called next, but getting a chance before the postseason sent his confidence skyward. For a guy who could've complained for all the time spent in the press box in a suit and tie, the exact opposite couldn't be more true.
If those negative thoughts ever crept in on the off days, all Hunt had to do was take a look around him - the skates on his feet, the hockey stick in his hands.
"It all comes down to positivity," Hunt said. "As soon as you start to be negative with yourself, it's a slippery slope. You get to come in and play hockey every day; I can't really complain about much."