Former Nashville Predator Steve Sullivan will take on his former team for the first time in Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. Sullivan amassed 100 regular season goals and 263 points in 317 regular season games with the Predators from 2004-2011.
It will be the first time Sullivan has played in Bridgestone Arena since leaving after the 2010-11 season. The Predators parted ways with Sullivan after he had some injury issues and was used in a diminished role near the end of the season. Now he’s back in town and Nashville players who played with him are excited to see him make his return.
“He’s a great person and great hockey player. It’s very good to see him playing still, and it’s going to be awesome for the fans to see him back. He was a good leader, and I took some advice from him in the dressing room,” said Predators forward Martin Erat.
Nashville acquired Sullivan at the trading deadline of the 2003-04 season, and he made an immediate impact. He recorded a hat trick in his first game with the Predators against the San Jose Sharks and went on to become one of the most memorable players in franchise history.
“Being here from day one, Steve might have been the best acquisition we ever made at the trading deadline in terms of impact. He came in, and everybody remembers the San Jose game. He had a hat trick. He was a guy that was really a fan favorite. Great offensively for us. He was very involved in the community. Still has his home here. He’s a very good player,” said Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Sullivan did have a lot of injury issues in his time in Nashville. He missed nearly two full seasons worth of games with a debilitating back injury from 2007 to the early part of 2009. He finally returned to the lineup on Jan. 10 of 2009, and went on to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance through the back injury. He still cherishes the standing ovation he received on his first night back into the Nashville lineup.
“The emotions are extremely high, obviously. There’s a lot of days when you just weren’t sure which way it was going to go. To be able to come back on the ice and resume play and get the ovation from the fans, knowing how much they appreciate me being back out there. It meant a huge amount to me,’Sullivan said. ‘These are great fans. They’re very loyal, and they’re passionate about their Predators. That’s the reason why the team is still here. They were able to really set the stage for a fan base that will be here for a long time.”
Given all of the different setbacks and injuries that Sullivan has gone through in his NHL career, he’s approaching a very impressive milestone. Thursday night’s game in Nashville will be the 980th game in Sullivan’s career. He’s approaching the 1,000 game mark, which is something that holds a special place in today’s NHL.
“He’s getting close to 1,000 games. That’s pretty remarkable for playing in a league that’s a pretty violent league at times and playing that many games because he’s not the biggest guy. He’s gone through a lot of injuries. When he left here, I was a little bit worried for him because he had gone through a lot. He missed a complete season that one year with the back and all that. Probably what’s happened with him is time has healed his body,” Trotz said.
At 38 years of age, Sullivan is obviously in the latter half of his NHL career. However, he’s still been a productive player for the Coyotes and has already recorded a hat trick this season. Sullivan’s ability to persevere and continue to be successful is special, and the 1,000 game mark is an extremely important milestone to him for his NHL career.
“That number means a lot. It really does. I think that if you look around, not many guys get to hit that magical number. It’s a goal that I set for myself just before I had returned to play from the back after seeing Jason Arnott hit that number and realizing that so few guys had done it. That’s a goal that I had set for myself, and we’re working towards that. Hopefully I can surpass it by a lot, but it’s definitely a milestone that I’ll be extremely proud of if I’m able to reach it,” Sullivan said.
At one point, it was unclear whether or not Sullivan would ever play hockey again after his back injury. Now, he’s on the doorstep of being a member of the silver stick club. Sullivan’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, and a good portion of it was spent in Nashville. Many may have doubted him along the way, whether it was because of his injuries or his size, but nobody has ever been able to take his determination and motivation away from him.
“One thing about Steve Sullivan, when he’s determined to do something he’s going to do it,’ Trotz said. ‘I know he’s determined to get to 1,000 games so I know he’s going to do it. He was one of the great Predators to ever play here.”
If Sullivan plays in every game between now and March 28, his 1,000th game will be in Nashville. If that’s how it comes to pass, that will be an amazing atmosphere.