When Peter Laviolette arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to become head coach of the Hurricanes in 2003, Kevin McCarthy already held the title of assistant coach.
At the time, then-Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford promised Laviolette that when the regular season came to an end, the choice would be his to either keep McCarthy on his staff or relieve him of his duties, but recommend to give McCarthy a chance for a few months.
More than 14 years later, the two are still together behind the bench - now in Nashville - and on Tuesday night in Dallas, a 5-2 win for the Predators, Laviolette stood alongside his associate coach as McCarthy coached his 1,500th NHL contest.
That milestone would be impressive enough to hit as an NHL player - McCarthy has 537 of those to his name as well - but to do it behind the bench should perhaps be met with further applause, considering the intense pressure to achieve results.
But that's exactly what the man they call "Kato" - who will be honored by the Predators prior to Friday's game against Vegas - has done now on 1,500 occasions as a trusted coach, advisor and friend.
"You have to have the respect of the people that you work with on a daily basis, but then you have to be a smart person as well and understand your job," Laviolette, Nashville's head coach, said. "To make a career out of it like Kevin has, a successful career, somebody who's reached a championship level so many times, I think it just says a lot about him as a person."
The Winnipeg native saw stints in Philadelphia, Vancouver and Pittsburgh from 1977-87 as a player, then transitioned to the coach's office, first in 1987 as a player/coach with the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears before stepping behind the bench full time.
McCarthy became a full-time assistant in Hershey during the 1988-89 season before taking over the head position the very next campaign. After a brief break, McCarthy jumped on with the Hartford Whalers as an assistant from 1992-95 and later took two more head coaching jobs in the AHL, one in Springfield, the other in New Haven.
Then the Hurricanes came calling. McCarthy joined the Canes in 1999 as an assistant, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 along with Laviolette before the two made a stop in Philadelphia, prior to arriving together in Nashville in May of 2014.
McCarthy has taken three trips to the Stanley Cup Final as a coach, including a historic run with the Predators last season, a feat that isn't lost upon Laviolette.
"I can tell you that without him, [the runs to the Finals] wouldn't have happened," Laviolette said.
Predators players are also well aware of the value McCarthy brings to the club.
"He's such a great teacher, but also such a great guy off the ice, too," Preds Captain Roman Josi said. "He always brings a smile to your face, and he's always positive on the bench. You have to be an unbelievable coach to coach that many games, and there's a reason he's been around that long."
"He's been a huge help for a lot of guys, including me," Nashville forward Austin Watson said. "As far as just trying to find how to get yourself in the lineup at this level and how to be successful here and how to help this team, he does a great job of sorting that out."
It takes a certain personality to survive and thrive in the profession, and behind the stoic expression on the bench, there's a lighter side to McCarthy that is equally as impressive as his abilities at the whiteboard or in the video room.
"He's probably the funniest guy I know," Laviolette said. "When Kato tells a joke, he laughs first and he laughs the hardest, so we all have to laugh along with him. But he has an unbelievable personality and unbelievable sense of humor, and sometimes you don't see that in a coach."
"Sometimes you might not catch the joke immediately; it's kind of a dry sense of humor," Watson said. "He's good at picking his spots, knows when to kind of lighten the mood or bring a little joke in to help bring some positivity into the room."
No matter what attributes McCarthy is bringing, it's guaranteed to help the Preds claw ever closer to reaching their ultimate goal. And as the associate coach continues along in his decorated journey through hockey, there will likely continue to be a trusted confidant by his side.
"One of the biggest assets for me as a head coach is his loyalty that we share together," Laviolette said. "Through time, I think we've established ourselves as pretty good friends and somebody that I can count on at the rink and away from the rink… He's a great coach and probably a better person."