Anthony Bitetto remembers his first NHL game like it was yesterday. January 17, 2015. Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg across the ice. It's not an occasion that's easily forgettable.
So when Bitetto was paired with Alexandre Carrier on Tuesday night in Vancouver for the young Predators defenseman's first NHL game, Bitetto wanted nothing more than to play the role of mentor this time.
"In my first game, I was nervous, so I tried to keep him calm, kept it light, jokes as much as possible, and I think he played well," Bitetto said after Wednesday's practice in Calgary. "The kid really played well in his first game, and the first thing I said to him was, 'congratulations, man, have fun. I remember my first game, and I know you will, too.'"
Carrier skated more than 10 minutes as his name appeared on an NHL box score for the first time, something he'll never forget.
"It's a dream when you're a hockey player to play your first NHL game, and it was awesome to play last night," Carrier said. "I was a little bit nervous in the dressing room, but when the game started, it was just another game and I enjoyed every minute of it."
There was some familiarity between Bitetto and Carrier - the two saw time together with the Preds during the preseason schedule, and Bitetto has also been down to Milwaukee on two conditioning assignments this season, further time for the two to become acclimated.
"It was great, he's a vocal guy, helps a lot and that's perfect for a young guy like me," Carrier said. "He was telling me to enjoy it too because you don't want to be stressful and make mistakes, so just have some fun out there."
"Once the nerves, the initial shock come out of you, it's hockey at that point; it's the same game he's been playing his whole life," Bitetto said. "Unfortunately we didn't get the win, but obviously it was a special night for him."
It wasn't long ago when Carrier heard his name called by Predators in June of 2015 at the NHL Draft in Florida. And no matter how many games he finishes with in his NHL career, he'll always be able to say he got one, and no one can ever take that away.
"If you would've told me when I got drafted that I would've played the next season with the team, I would've told you that you're crazy," Carrier said. "But sometimes you just have to have good timing and I think this year, that's what happened. After the chances I had, I was ready for it, so I think it's awesome."
Hunt Joins the Preds:
It wasn't long ago when Brad Hunt was a member of the St. Louis Blues, scoring a goal in Bridgestone Arena against the home squad. So when he set foot in the Predators dressing room for the first time on Wednesday in Calgary, it was easy to crack a joke at the expense of Nashville's newest blueliner.
But after being claimed on waivers from the Blues on Tuesday, Hunt is all in for his new club, and he hopes to help the Preds whenever called upon.
"You don't really know what to expect when you're on waivers, but I'm super excited to be here and do what they want me to do to help the team try and win," Hunt said. "I'm just excited to come here and get to meet everybody and get back into hockey mode again."
A self-described, puck-moving defenseman, Hunt was named an AHL All-Star this season for his work with the Chicago Wolves - nine goals and 29 points in 23 games. The 5-foot-9 blueliner also earned one goal and five points in nine outings with the Blues this season before being claimed.
"It's a little bit of a whirlwind when you're up and down, but the dream is to play in the NHL," Hunt said. "I have to thank St. Louis and Chicago for what they did for me this year and the opportunities that they gave me, but it's all about the Nashville Predators now. I just want to learn from the experience that I had and try and build on that and keep getting better every day."
Hunt isn't sure when he'll get the call to jump into a depleted Preds' defense corps, currently missing P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Petter Granberg to Injured Reserve, but the chance to contribute to a club in the chase for a playoff spot is undoubtedly enticing.
"That's the ultimate goal, is to get a chance in those playoffs and win the Stanley Cup, so as soon as you get yourself in the playoff spot, anything can happen from there," Hunt said. "I'm just excited to help the team get there and move on from there."
Defenseman P.K. Subban (IR) and forward Colin Wilson (IR) both participated fully in Nashville's practice on Wednesday in Calgary. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forward Colton Sissons were absent from the session and were given maintenance days.