The Predators were scheduled to have a day off on Wednesday, but less than 48 hours after parts of their city were decimated by a tornado, they weren't about to stay home.
Just as so many of their fellow Nashvillians were doing, much of the team ventured out into the community to help collect donations for those affected by the storms that rolled through in the early hours of Tuesday morning. When the sun rose later in the day, the damage was unimaginable.
The Preds were in Minnesota ahead of a game that night against the Wild, but they saw the images and heard of the loss of life throughout Middle Tennessee. So, as soon as they were back in the region, the Predators joined the rest of their community by doing whatever they could to make a small difference in the city they all call home.
"It's very emotional," Preds Captain Roman Josi said Thursday. "A lot of people lost their lives, a lot of people lost houses and there's so many people that need help right now. We all love the city, and you can see how the city's coming together right now. People are trying to help each other, and I know everybody in the organization will try to do their part to help."
"It's heartbreaking…and you can't help but put yourself in their shoes and you're just like, 'Wow, it could have been any of us,'" Preds forward Matt Duchene said. "It was nice to get out and make some donations and give some time… It was amazing to see this community come together. Just car after car after car pulling up, opening their trunk just loaded with stuff; it's just amazing to see. Obviously, there's still a lot to go, but the way that this community has come together is impressive. It makes me very proud to be a resident here."
Video: Josi, Ellis, Duchene talk Nashville tornado relief.
Duchene, who said he has a friend whose house was damaged in the storm, says it wasn't easy to be away from town in the immediate aftermath. But once the Preds were back, they knew they had to do something to help their neighbors.
A number of players, coaches and staff joined the cause at CRC Nashville, just east of the city near an area that was one of the hardest hit by the tornado. Once there, the group collected donations as residents lined up car by car to give whatever they could in the time of need.
"I didn't really know what to expect, and I was glad we were allowed to really get hands on and actually try to help them make a difference," Preds Associate Captain Ryan Ellis said. "We were there for probably two or three hours just packing up and helping everyone. It was a great feeling to be a part of something that obviously affects so many people and make a positive impact."
Video: Coach Hynes discusses Nashville tornado relief.
The Predators have seen a tremendous response from the rest of the National Hockey League, and a number of clubs - including the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers, as well as the NHL and the Predators' ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades - have raised funds or many monetary contributions to relief efforts throughout Middle Tennessee.
The support has been humbling, and the Predators have been proud to see how the sport has come together to give back to their city.
"At the end of the day, sports are so powerful because they bring people together," Duchene said. "To see the way the League's reacted, it's amazing. When you're on the ice, you're battling and you're competing and sometimes you hate other teams and other guys and stuff, but when stuff like this happens, that's all gone. It's just the human factor. We're very blessed to play this game and be in this League that supports each other so much. There's a lot of grieving left to do for a lot of people, but you give as much as you can and try to ease the burden."
During Thursday's game against the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators will be selling Nashville Strong T-shirts ($20) and sweatshirts ($40) with all proceeds going toward relief efforts throughout Middle Tennessee. Fans may purchase the apparel and make donations at the Predators Foundation area outside of Section 106 all night long.
The game itself was already important to begin with, but now, it means so much more to a community that could use an escape for a few hours - and the Predators intend to give their city something to smile about.
"As a team, you can inspire people and give some hope to people," Josi said. "That's what we need to do. We need to go out there and play as hard as we can and get a win for Nashville."
"For the fans… it's that much more important for us to come to the rink with a mindset that it's not really just about winning the game," Ellis said. "It's more than that right now, and allowing people to have something positive in their life when it's been a tough couple of days [is important to us]."
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, here are some ways you can help:
To volunteer, sign up with Hands On Nashville at hon.org
To donate, visit the Community Foundation of Middle TN at cfmt.org