I almost became the story instead of reporting it back in the summer of 1995.
There were rumors the New Jersey Devils may be on track to relocate to Nashville, but they won the Stanley Cup that year, which seemed to put that possibility on hold. Nevertheless, my employer at the time, WTVF here in Nashville, sent me and a photographer up to the northeast to get a pulse on the situation.
It turned out to be like Ferris Bueller's Day Off because these insane things started happening.
First of all, we started the day trying to find New Jersey's governor at the time, Christine Whitman, and we basically chased her all over New Jersey. We found her at this hospital event, and we were part of the media, and I asked her a question about the Devils going to Nashville. All of a sudden, everybody in the New York media started interviewing me about why I was there to cover the story. I have brothers and sisters who live in the New York area, and they look up and go, "What the heck is he doing on the news?!"
Next, we went to the Devils' Stanley Cup celebration, and I realized that our WTVF Nashville sticker on the side of my photographer's camera was making people mad. Chris Terreri, the Devils backup goaltender at the time, goes up there and starts cracking on Nashville, and not in a good way, and the crowd started getting a little hostile toward us. Luckily, we got out of there alive, but it was a pretty interesting day to say the least.
I'm glad I made it back to Nashville to see the Preds from the beginning.
I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and I was a diehard Boston Bruins fan. I loved hockey. I had moved to Nashville in 1986, so when it became official the Predators would begin playing in the fall of 1998, I was so excited.
I was there at the Expansion Draft in Buffalo, New York, back in 1998, and I remember I did my stand up in front of Niagara Falls talking about the honeymoon the Predators were going to be having with Nashville. I wanted to be involved with this team in any way possible.
I got to know Predators public relations guru Gerry Helper pretty quickly, and I was identified as a guy in the Nashville media who at least knew something about the game. I also got to know Bob Kohl, who is now the senior director of broadcasting for the Preds, and they started asking me to do some radio as the backup radio guy for the scoreboard shows. I did that, and they just kept giving me more and more stuff to do and eventually bumped me up to television on the broadcasts with Fox Sports.
I'll tell you; it was awesome. To be around the game that I loved, to be able to interview players and coaches during the broadcast, sometimes right from the bench, it was a thrill. But it's funny because they were very tolerant of some of my mistakes, and believe me, I made some beauties.
I've always said if I ever wrote a book, one of the chapters would be titled "The Kidnapping of Drew Miller." He was playing for the Detroit Red Wings at the time, and I had to ask him to come over to Nashville's side of the locker room hallway for a postgame interview, because the Red Wings had beaten the Predators, and we wanted to talk to someone from the opposition.
I didn't think it was that big a deal till I saw Gerry and Detroit's media relations guy looking at me like I had killed somebody. I then realized it was a major faux pas, and we laughed about it later, but I always called it the kidnapping of Drew Miller.
Those interviews on the bench were always great, just to feel the energy down at ice level and talk to the guys. My first hit in the first period would be with a defenseman, which meant anybody but Shea Weber. Shea and I were cool about that, I just understood he just was not going to give me anything noteworthy in the heat of the game.
My hit in the second period would be with one of the assistant coaches. At first it was with Brent Peterson, who gave ridiculously long answers, or Lane Lambert, who was a little more concise. Brent would give me what felt like a five-minute answer, which was kind of funny, and there was nothing I could do. The thing they always told you was don't ever be doing an interview when they scored a goal. I don't think that ever happened, but it got a little bit wordy with Brent.
Everyone was always so great to me in that role. Former Preds defenseman Ryan Suter was terrific to me, and he had a way of explaining the game behind the game in a way that was really understandable and really valuable. Former Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz told me what goaltender Pekka Rinne's indicators were if he was going to have a good night early on, and we loved that on the broadcast. Brent and former Preds Assistant Coach Peter Horachek were awesome to work with as well, and they gave me a lot of info on players, which I was endlessly fascinated with.
Then there was working at the desk for the pregame and postgame shows on Fox Sports with the legendary Terry Crisp. You get such a great hockey education watching a game with Crispy, and Crispy lives and dies with those guys. And it was funny because I got the R-rated version of his analysis, which is probably the most honest.
Working with Crispy was easy and doing that show was so much fun. It was the most fun I've ever had in television, because you're working without a script, you're doing a structured show, and you have to do it without a teleprompter, without any of that stuff. It was the toughest, but most exhilarating thing I ever did.
I suppose all of us, who have been around this team since the beginning, have that specific moment where you realized how far the Preds have come from that first night back in 1998. For me, it was that first really big watch party in the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
I can remember reading comments in the paper or different forms of media where people were making fun of hockey, and I just always wondered if it was going to hit here. I've had a lot of veteran people in the media say hockey's not going to make it here.
So, I got emotional, not only when they made it to the Final, but seeing how organically the success of the Preds had just electrified the city. The Predators were not only popular here, but they'd become the pride of the city.
It's just amazing the job that those guys have done as an organization, just the way they market and the presence they've become, not only in Nashville, but in the southeast. Seeing that first watch party and then realizing just what the Preds mean, not only around here, but within what seems like a 300-mile radius, that just blew my mind.
It's an amazing story, and it's only just begun. I'm so glad I've been able to contribute to this one.