Our first Opening Night in franchise history was on track to be perfect.
I can still picture the puck hitting the ice. I can hear the roar of the fans, feel the buzz surrounding this new thing in town. It was everything you could possibly want from an inaugural showing in terms of the interest from the city and hosting a sellout crowd.
But you're also supposed to win your first game at home.
Instead, the Florida Panthers shut us out that night - a 1-0 score - to put a bit of a damper on the celebration. We had a party that night after the game at a spot downtown, and the whole team was there. It was a nice time, but if I'm just being honest, I thought we were supposed to win the first game.
That persistent feeling was part of the realization this was an expansion franchise and it was going to take a little bit of time to develop on the ice.
There were lots of factors that went into me deciding to come to Nashville. I had an opportunity to go in another direction way back in 1997 when I was hired to be the first general manager of the expansion Predators, but it was really about starting something from the ground floor. I would have my fingerprints basically over everything to happen in the franchise, and I think that can be both positive and negative.
But that's what I signed up for, and I'm really happy I did. It's one of the best decisions I ever made in my life, and there are so many great memories from the last 22 years.
While Opening Night back in October of 1998 didn't produce the result we were all hoping for, there were plenty of victories to come. We got better year after year and began to consistently qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the mid-2000s, we had some of the best records in the NHL, so in terms of our timetable with hockey operations, everything was clicking along and we were moving in the right direction to move from the expansion part of our history to the next phase that would be the competitive part of our history.
There were some other issues to deal with in 2007, however. When the team was in the process of being sold, I just remember having to unload so many of our top players. Basically, I was just told to make sure I got as close to the floor as I could on the salary cap, so we put ourselves in a very uncompetitive situation and it just had ripple effects throughout the organization - on and off the ice.
Fans weren't happy, sponsors weren't happy, support dwindled and players want to be competitive. We were just getting to the point where players were excited about coming to Nashville, and we kind of lost all of our momentum.
It was certainly disappointing, to say the least, but when the local ownership group came in to save the team, it was an amazing feeling.
From a pure business investment standpoint, these were smart people and this wasn't exactly where you want to put your money if your whole motive was to be making money. The fact that they stepped in to take over a franchise that wasn't very healthy from a business standpoint showed their commitment to wanting the Predators to be successful. That was very impressive to me, and that clearly was the turning point of the franchise and their commitment to the city.
Slowly, but surely, everything started moving back in the right direction from the team on the ice to the support in the stands and in the community to where we are today.
There are so many things that have happened since then, and an overwhelming majority of them are positive. Hosting the NHL All-Star Game here in 2016, everybody thought that was the coolest thing. It was the best All-Star Game ever, and anybody that participated on the ice, off the ice, the media, anybody that travelled here had the greatest time, not only here in the arena, but in our city. It was second to none.
And just look at what's happened in our arena, our game presentation, our playoff presentation, the crowds outside in the postseason and the Stanley Cup Final run. Nashville has set standards that nobody else had set before, so I'm very proud of our franchise for so many things. It's the total package here, and I think lots of teams in sports are trying to copy or do some impression of what we've already been doing.
From a hockey standpoint, beating Anaheim in 2017 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final is a moment I'll always remember. To get just four wins away - and then just two wins away in the Final - it takes so much to get there, and it was a wonderful feeling to advance to that point.
Of course, the ultimate prize is still out there. It's one of those things you work hard for, and just because you work hard and put in a lot of years, there's no guarantees. Maybe in some companies after 20 years you get a gold watch, but in hockey, they don't just give you the Stanley Cup. You have to keep competing for it and fighting for it. I've had some really good teams in my career here in Nashville, and if there's one thing that's driving me, that's it for sure.
When you start off in a nontraditional market, you go through some times where the support is not so good, the belief is not so good, the ownership changes - there's a lot of doubt can be brought into your mind.
Now you see the sellouts every night - which we shouldn't ever take for granted - but you see the ripple effects of hockey in the area, the building of another Ford Ice Center here in Nashville, and I know it's not going to be too long before the first born-and-raised Nashvillian plays in the National Hockey League, hopefully for the Nashville Predators. That's something you never thought about 20 years ago, and now it's just a matter of time.
We've come a long way since that first night in October of 1998 - had some better parties, too. Who would have thought we'd be doing so in Nashville, Tennessee?
And just wait until we host the biggest party of them all.