Kyle Bernard had admittedly let his guard down.
After all, the Ford Ice Center Public Safety Officer had already returned home to a hero's welcome just weeks earlier, with more than 200 Predators employees surprising him back in Nashville fresh off a deployment to Kuwait.
Assigned to the 944th Security Forces Squadron out of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Bernard thought the humbling showings of gratitude had ended.
But, when he was led down to the Predators locker room prior to their preseason contest on Sept. 25 and goaltender Pekka Rinne emerged from the equipment room and introduced himself, he figured something else might be coming.
"I thought, 'Well, he doesn't really know who I am, so this is kind of odd,'" Bernard laughed.
Rinne was there to do more than just say hello. Along with Predators Equipment Manager Pete Rogers, out came a brand-new CCM glove, then a blocker, then a pair of leg pads and so on, until Bernard was completely outfitted with fresh set of goaltending equipment from the hockey company.
It was a way for CCM and the Preds to say thanks to a man who helps to keep us safe at home and abroad - and who also enjoys keeping pucks out of his net in his spare time.
"It's just really special because it's not something that he needs to do at all, to take time out of his game preparation, and it just makes it extra special," Bernard said of Rinne's gesture. "And then for the organization to go above and beyond to do something like that really means a lot."
Bernard wasn't about to say no to the new gear, especially with his current outfit over a decade old. Still minding the crease at Ford Ice Center when he can, Bernard has been strapping on the pads since he was an eight-year-old growing up in Massachusetts.
It was during a mite practice that Bernard first faced shots, and it wasn't long before he knew he was destined to be a goaltender.
"Our coach was taking shots on me and he kind of shot one a little harder than he probably should've, he ended up hitting me in the cage and I just kind of laughed at him," Bernard recalled. "And he was like, 'I think we found your spot, it takes a special person to just laugh after taking one right off the cage.' So, I decided to stay with it and they couldn't pull me out of there if they tried. I loved it."
Bernard played all the way through high school and one year into college, but it was at that point when he realized the university path wasn't quite for him. He'd always had an interest in the military, due to both sides of his family serving in different branches in the past, and Bernard determined he would be the next to do so.
He enlisted into the Air Force out of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2008, and after attending basic training and then job-specific training, Bernard received his first active-duty assignment and found himself residing from Boston to New Mexico, South Korea to Saudi Arabia.
Through it all, he never lost his love for the game of hockey, helping to coach a high school team while in Albuquerque and even volunteering to help out at on-ice clinics in South Korea.
No longer on active duty, Bernard is still on a reserve unit based out of Arizona. That's where the recent deployment to Kuwait came in, the first time he had departed his post at Ford Ice Center since he was hired in February of 2017 - something that never deterred the Preds from bringing him on board.
"There was always a chance that I'd get deployed and the organization was fully aware and fully supportive," Bernard said. "From the get go, it's been nothing but 100 percent support from every level in this organization, and it's been an incredible breath of fresh air."
Of course, Bernard never expected all of the additional love that's come his way, but when there's someone who's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in your midst, people tend to take notice.
He's come a long way since taking that first puck to the mask, to giving so much to his country and defending the values that allow us to enjoy things like a night out at the rink.
It's only fair that hockey gives back to him.
"The thanks and support mean a lot, more than people think," Bernard said. "And working for this organization, it's a world-class organization with world-class people and the support has meant the utmost to me and my family, and we just want to say, 'thank you.'"