As a fan, my first memories of the team and my first experience with hockey came in 1998. My parents picked up the tickets for my middle brother's birthday. Like a lot of folks in this area, I'd never watched a game. I can't even remember who we played that night.I was eight. As it stands now, I'm a few years past being able to catch a drink with you. The first few seasons are all a blur in my mind.
Around 2001-2003, I started to follow hockey more, and I began to guide my carefully crafted Predator's teams to glory on the NHL series of games. I was watching more of the games on TV, and I was much more familiar with the roster. I can remember Dunham being marketed as one of our team's first star players after the Olympic silver, but the games played in Japan don't ring a bell. It was around that time that we began to don Old Mustard, still my favorite jersey.
The next year, we made the playoffs. Hockey had become a household sport for us. We made an event out of every game, and even adopted some of our football traditions: chili and Rotel nacho's plus a few pick-up games of NHL during the intermissions. I can even remember Erat winging his nose on the goalpost. Hockey had come to dominate the conversations at lunch, and hockey helped ease my transition into high school. I can remember one game (against the Islanders?) where we "tied" the game as the clock expired. The referees announced the goal didn't count, and I can remember yelling ferociously in the living room. I'd like to imagine you were giving someone an earful, if just for me.
Then we lost hockey. If ever there was a dark age during my lifetime, the Lockout was that time. We hated not having hockey, and we all crafted imaginative ways to end the lockout. But unfortunately for us, as well as you guys and the players, an answer never came.
After the lockout, Nashville set the world on fire. We had a few of those new-fangled shootouts, and Chris Mason even scored a goal. We finally broke 100 points and had a really impressive home record. I convinced my father to take me to a game sometime that year, and someone launched a catfish onto the ice. It was the first time either of us saw that in person.
The Glory Days continued with guys like Legwand, Arnott, Kariya, and even a guy named Forsberg stopping in to play for a minute. We were all proud to be Preds fans, like we had all graduated up to the adult table at Thanksgiving.
Again, dark times lay in waiting. The terrible Fire Sale was on the horizon. Dark days in the kingdom seemed imminent. We were soon to be without several star players. And to make matters worse, we could've lost the team. I have but one mental image that I've held to from this era: a jersey that read " Not 4 Sale" cleverly positioned so that the name was Not Sale and the # was 4.
It was during this time that I had moved away to college, and I was seeing less of my parents. My father surprised me with tickets, and we still have the pictures from that game hanging in the living room. Shortly after that game, Legwand put one in an empty net to clinch the series against the Ducks and us into the second round.
These days, I'm finding myself as more of an ambassador to the team and the sport. I've made it my mission to share my love of hockey with my friends and co-workers. I've taken several people to their first hockey games, and I expect to continue doing that as long as I'm able. I was actually at work when I found out you'd be leaving the team, and I watched the press conference on lunch.
I'm in the process of making a collage for my father as a gift. It's pieced together out of the tickets and memories of the games and concerts we've been lucky to attend over the years. You opened up during the press conference and shared the many memories you've made over the years here, and I would like to share those that we've made thanks to the team.
Your friends in Nashville.