NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Thursday night, not only are the Nashville Predators dropping the puck for their home opener, but they’re also celebrating a quarter of a century in the National Hockey League (NHL).

As the Preds skate into the 25th anniversary season, Michelle Kennedy is overseeing the organization as the team’s new president. Kennedy started with the Preds as an intern in 2008 and proceeded to grow within the business.

Before being named president, Kennedy was the team’s chief operating officer. As president, she handles day-to-day business and collaborates on all major initiatives for the team and fans.

Over the past 15 years, Kennedy said it has been fulfilling to see the Preds evolve from a struggling franchise that fans had to fight to keep, to a Music City staple.

According to Kennedy, there are some full-circle moments throughout the team’s leadership.

The Preds’ first coach, Barry Trotz, is now working as the second-ever general manager. Plus, the man who scored the very first goal for the team, Andrew Brunette, is now the team’s coach

As a woman leading a male-dominated sport, Kennedy told News 2 she feels fortunate to have been regarded for her work ethic and diligence, irrespective of gender, but said she does recognize the significance of the position she’s in.

“I acknowledge that, statistically speaking, it’s rare,” Kennedy explained. “For me, the importance of it is for little girls to see someone who looks like them doing something that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise believe they could do.” 

She recalled hearing David Polie’s granddaughter proclaim when she grows up, she’s going to be an NHL general manager. Kennedy said she hopes to help promote that kind of confidence among young women.

“Whatever I’ve done, they can do,” said Kennedy. “I’ve not done anything remarkable other than just work hard, be loyal, be honest, use integrity in my decisions, and things like that. I want little girls to think this is normal.” 

Kennedy said there were two key turning points for the Preds:

  • The 2016 All-Star Game, which was when the world discovered the environment Nashville can cultivate for hockey fans, according to Kennedy
  • The 2017 Stanley Cup Final

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“Those of you who’ve been here for that long will never forget the imagery of Broadway full of gold. I mean, we still have images throughout the building, obviously, and it was truly one of the most special times I can remember,” Kennedy described. “It was unbelievable…It really was those two events that I think put us on the map, and the way to stay on the map is to continue to be all that we strive to be every day: be a great part of the community, because in our business, sure, you want to win the Stanley Cup every year, but that’s not going to happen. I mean, that is not a reasonable aspiration, so you have to be the place that people want to come, even when it’s not a Stanley Cup-winning season.”

As they ring in the 25th season, fans might also notice the renovations throughout Bridgestone Arena, including the locker rooms and team lounge. Watch the video below for the full rundown of the upgrades put in place after the arena suffered severe flood damage last November:

In addition, the team announced a new charity initiative benefitting outstanding students ahead of the Preds’ opening night:

Ryan O’Reilly and the Nashville Predators are proud to announce the 90’s Mighty RO’R program which provides young community all-stars from the Middle Tennessee area who display core character traits – courage, compassion, leadership, perseverance and respect – with an unforgettable Preds game experience. The program, originally started by Ryan in St. Louis, will continue in Smashville! Parents, teachers, coaches and Preds fans are encouraged nominate Middle Tennessee children ages 16 and under by filling out the below form and describing ways the nominee exemplifies these core characteristics and go above and beyond for others.

A selection committee will choose one kid for every Preds home game beginning Oct. 12, to receive four tickets, recognition as the 90’s Mighty R’OR Community All-Star of the Game and a postgame meet and greet with Ryan O’Reilly.

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The Preds are set to face-off against the Seattle Kraken at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12. However, the team’s website lists several other festivities honoring “Opening Night in SMASHVILLE,” including the Plaza Party at 3 p.m. and the Player Gold Walk at 4 p.m.