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The Man In Black: Matt Duchene Channels Johnny Cash in Preds Debut

Nashville's New Centerman Pays Tribute to Country Music Legend

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Johnny Cash used to star right across the street from Bridgestone Arena, long before the home of the Nashville Predators was even a glimmer in someone's eye.

The legendary country artist first performed the song "Man in Black" on stage at the famous Ryman Auditorium in downtown Music City way back in 1971.

Almost 50 years later, that arena across the block at the corner of 5th and Broadway houses a new cast of stars, and as another made his Predators debut on Thursday night, he decided he had no choice but to channel "The Man in Black."

Not even the temperature flirting with triple digits earlier that afternoon was going to deter Matt Duchene from completing the look - a black suit, black shirt, black tie, black loafers and even a black pocket square - the only logical fashion choice for him to arrive in and greet the masses.

The day at the rink started with the traditional morning skate, and afterward, Duchene declared that even with everything that happened this summer - signing the seven-year contract with the Preds, slipping that Gold jersey on for the first time and even a pair of preseason outings in his new home building - today felt like the true start of his career with Nashville.

And if first impressions are everything, he's well on his way to becoming just as popular in these parts as Mr. Cash.

Duchene appeared at the annual Gold Walk presented by Nissan celebration on the Bridgestone Arena plaza later that afternoon to snap selfies and hand out signatures to adoring fans, and he was already winning folks over.

For those who made it into the building early, Duchene gave them another reason to cheer him on. Traditionally the last one off the ice following the warm-up session, he accidentally fell on the ice prior to taking one last shot and putting the puck in the net. As the crowd cheered, Duchene raised his arms skyward and grinned, a moment he later revealed was anything but embarrassing.

"Yeah, that was my best 1972 Phil Esposito impression, so I gave the fans a good laugh," Duchene said postgame. "Honestly, it took a little bit of butterflies out of me. I got a good laugh, and getting to laugh at yourself is great."

There was no reason to laugh at Duchene once the puck dropped for real.

Video: Predators ride four-goal 3rd to 5-2 win against Wild

He rattled off three assists in Nashville's 5-2 Opening Night win over Minnesota, not a bad way to make friends. The third helper came on Filip Forsberg's empty-net tally late in the contest, and Captain Roman Josi hadn't yet realized the additional point had been recorded until he was asked about it in the locker room.

"He had three? Oh, I thought he only had two. That's pretty good," Josi quipped. "Yeah, he was great. He was making plays all over the ice. Doesn't surprise me, to be honest. He was unbelievable in the preseason, and you can tell how good he is."

Duchene helped send the locals home happy, and nearly four hours after the arena had cleared out, No. 95 was still riding that same high as he penned an Instagram post in the wee hours of Friday morning.

"Nashville… wow, that was fun. Tough to get to sleep after that one (see time of post)," part of Duchene's post read.

So, was the true start of his career in the place he had always wanted to call home everything he had hoped it would be?

"I had high expectations, I came in kind of trying to stay even-keeled, but it's blown my expectations out of the water," Duchene said. "I haven't even gotten to do a quarter of what I wanted to do around the city yet. But as a team, this is the exact team that I wanted to come and join. This decision to come here was hockey first all the way, and that was so much fun for me to go out and play with the team tonight."

It was the kind of night that would have been special anywhere, but in Nashville, it means just a bit more.

Even the "Man in Black" would have approved.

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