There was so much I could have shared about the past 12 months, and it took me a while to come up with just three things. Most people ask me questions that are more specific and don't take much thought to answer. But to come up with three things, what three things will I think of the most, years from now, about my first season? I had to think about that one.
As I began to reflect on everything that happened during the 2017-18 campaign, the highs and the lows, the late nights and early mornings, the division title and Presidents' Trophy, a few items began to come to the forefront.
It was roughly a year ago when I got the phone call. Less than three months removed from winning a Clark Cup as head coach of the United States Hockey League's Chicago Steel, David Poile and Peter Laviolette offered me an incredible opportunity to be an assistant coach in Nashville. I was humbled then, and I've become even more so now.
I have always prided myself on working hard throughout my career, and it's easy to work hard when you are passionate about what you do. I also know that I have been blessed to be around plenty of amazing people, great players and great organizations that helped me and gave me prior opportunities that led to this one. I couldn't be more thankful to be here or for the people that helped me along the way.
I had my perceptions coming in from the outside, but what I experienced during my first NHL season, my first with the Predators, far exceeded any expectations I ever could have imagined.
I do believe to have success, and especially to have sustained success, you have to be around great people. If I'm picking my first highlight for my first year in the NHL: it's the people I'm around every single day.
The culture in Nashville is incredible. It starts from the top and trickles down to the point where it truly feels like a family. And when you have that attitude in the organization, good things are going to come from it.
Lavi is just - he's an incredible leader. I've learned so much from him this year in regard to leadership and the way that he communicates with people, the way he's able to get his message across, the way he's able to motivate. He's able to empower everybody, not just the players, but the staff. He makes everybody feel like they're a huge part of what we're doing here, and that's not an easy thing to do.
And then, working every day with our associate coach, Kevin McCarthy, is amazing. He has basically been in the NHL as a player or a coach since he was in his late teens. He's a wealth of knowledge, he's an incredible coach, an even better person, and one of the funniest people I have ever been around. I don't think there was a day that I didn't learn something from him.
I could go on and on about how much I love working with the people in this organization and how much I learned in my first year from being around them. Our goaltending coach, Ben Vanderklok, our video coach, Lawrence Feloney, our video staff, Pete Rogers and our equipment staff, Andy Hosler and our training staff, our strength and conditioning coach, David Good, our hockey operations manager, Brandon Walker - I can't say enough about all of them and everyone else I worked with. The common denominator between all of them is simple: they are the best at what they do. They're passionate about their jobs, and just as important, they are great people and great teammates.
And then, there's our general manager. To be there the day David Poile, a man who has been here since the very beginning, became the winningest GM in the history of the NHL is something I will never forget. To see how he works each day, to witness his organizational skills, and to see how someone like him, with all of his experience and success, excels each day, is a huge honor. And the same goes for the rest of the management staff, our scouting staff, our communications staff and our owners. There are so many people working so hard for a common goal, and in so many different capacities, but everyone wants to do their part and do it the best way possible.
And then there are the people behind the scenes, the wives and families who play just as important of a role. You might not see them in a staff listing, but there are so many who are such a huge part of the organization. I will never forget how Kristen Laviolette, Rhonda McCarthy, Marlene Vanderklok, Elizabeth Poile, and all the other wives, welcomed my wife and children and brought them into the Predators family. You have no idea how important this is when you work in sports.
My family has lived in four homes and in three different states over three years. When you're really not home for most of the year and your family is getting adjusted to a new state, it can be rather difficult. I know I'm going to miss birthdays, holidays and special events. It sucks, but it's reality. As a coach, I love being a part of team because I am a part of something bigger than myself. These amazing women, the wives and girlfriends, were nothing short of incredible in how they made sure my family felt they were a part of something special as well.
Of course, when I think back about my first season and think about the people, I will think a lot about the special group we had in our locker room. Going into the season, I wasn't totally sure what to expect since I hadn't coached professional players before. These guys make a lot of money playing a game. I wondered how much of a difference there would be working with professional athletes with all the different factors coming into play.
To be honest, I could see how someone at this level could find themself focused on their well-being over the group and look at it as just a job. I was worried about that going in.
However, I quickly saw that we have a special group here in Nashville. I loved working with these guys every day. There is a wide range of ages, backgrounds and nationalities in our locker room, but that doesn't matter. What I love about the group and what I miss most when the season is over is seeing the passion they have for the game and passion to compete, not just for themselves, but for the guy next to them and for the organization.
These guys combine work ethic, professionalism and character, all while putting a genuine care for the well being of the team above all else. It is a privilege to work with them in this game we are all so passionate about while seeing the great people they are off the ice.
I don't want to say it was a surprise, I don't even want to say it was an adjustment - but the biggest difference for me was the grind. What I mean by the grind is that you're playing every other day, and it's just… different.
When you hear "grind," I think it may sound negative to some people, but that's not how I think of it when talking about an NHL season. When you love what you do and love the people you are around, you want the grind. You want it all the time and you don't want it to end. The more, the better. And it doesn't get better than this grind.
I've come from working in junior hockey, where it's primarily a weekend league and you're mostly playing Friday through Sunday, or college hockey where it's usually Friday and Saturday only. But the NHL is every other day, sometimes back to back.
It's a grind, but it's an awesome grind. It's just great. You're 100 percent immersed in it all the time, and you have to be, because the amount of games you play and the preparation that goes into all of those games. You must quickly build on the good games, learn and grow from the ones you aren't happy with and make sure you are getting better each day.
With the grind in the NHL, you're so invested in your group, and you have to be so invested in what you're doing all the time. I'm blessed with an amazing wife and a great family to be able to do what I do - and love what I do.
It takes so much out of the players to be able to play 82 games in the regular season, and then there's the playoffs. It's amazing what they do in this League in terms of taking care of themselves and their preparation and what they need to be doing every single day.
Of course, there are games throughout that first season that, just for one reason or another, stood out more in my mind. There was a game late in the season against Tampa Bay on the road, and it was the second game of a back-to-back. We were home against Buffalo the night before and lost a game where we weren't happy with how we played. So, not only does the game go poorly, but then you head right to the airport to get on the plane, wake up in another city, deal with the time change - that's a lot on these guys.
But the way we bounced back the next game as a team with a 4-1 win on the road against one of the best teams in the League, that was one that stood out for me. That victory was a perfect example of the type of individual game I will think back on and remember from my first season. It exemplified the special group we have - and special training staff we have to get them ready - to be at our best when things were not easy, to be at our best when the grind hurts the most.
To play almost every other day, it gets you going all the time and it just doesn't stop. That's why it probably, in part, makes it so hard when the season does end. You've been going at such a high rate for such a long time that you almost don't know what to do with yourself for a little while afterward.
It's probably clear from the statements above, but that passion for the game from the people in this organization is one of the things that I will always remember from my first season. Something that I also realized very early on, and something that will stick with me for the rest of my life, is the passion the people in this city have for their hockey team.
I'll never forget riding around town with my 6-year-old and 3-year-old girls last season. They were confused as to why every store we went to, or all the places we drove past on the road, they're seeing all these Predators signs. We weren't at the rink where they expected to see the logo, we were just out and about. I kind of laughed to myself and said, "Well, we have really special fans here, sweetie."
You see it at the games, but then you see it away from the rink, too, just living in this community. The fans here, they're incredible. It's the passion of the whole organization like I mentioned before, but it's the passion of the entire city, the entire fan base, as well.
There's not another fan base like it in the NHL. Actually, I don't know that there are really any fan bases like this that I've ever seen in sports, period.
They're awesome with that 7th Man mentality. A lot of fan bases might say it, but I've never seen a fan base live it like ours does, the way that they are there for us every single game. It's incredible.
You can think about it in terms of the show of support just on a game night, but I think it's also the genuine passion for the game, for our players, for the organization that our fans have. It's something that you automatically take so much more pride in where you are and what you're doing because of them.
Our fans, and the passion for the organization, it's unique and it's special. It's not something that you see everywhere and you can't take for granted because it really is a special thing. After one year of being a member of this organization, it's something that I'm honored to be a part of.
Just like we ask our players to take the offseason to get better, I want to come back a better coach than I was in year one. That's not my mentality just this summer, that's my mentality every year. You have to keep learning and growing, because if you're not, somebody else is instead.
I'll never forget that feeling of stepping out onto the bench at Bridgestone Arena for the first time. Ultimately, there is no better feeling than winning, and it makes it even better with the passionate group of staff, players and fans we have.
It doesn't happen by accident, it happens by identifying great people who are also great players. Being able to work with those guys every day and being able to form relationships with them, there's nothing else like it.
When I look back at the past 12 months, it has to be the people and the passion that we have here within the entire organization, right on out to the fans - that's what is going to stand out the most for me.
The loss in the playoffs to Winnipeg stung. So, when you put everything you have into a season, and then a playoff run, night after night, it's jarring when it's over.
Whether you're finishing your first year working in the organization or you've been here since the start, I think all of us wanted more in terms of where we wanted the season to go. It felt like it ended early, but that also drives you and gets you excited for that following year for the organizational expectations and personal expectations.
I'm trying to enjoy the offseason as much as I can, but the summer can only last so long. Another grind awaits, and I can't wait to get back to Smashville and get going again.