Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Coyotes

Riley Nash Makes NHL Debut Tonight

Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 12:02 PM / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Coyotes
Christmas is coming a few days early for forward Riley Nash, who will make his National Hockey League debut tonight.

Michael Smith
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The Hurricanes recalled Nash this morning on emergency basis for forward Tim Brent, who was injured in practice yesterday. To make room on the roster, the team has put Jeff Skinner (concussion) on injured reserve.

As the end of training camp neared in early October, Nash was still in Raleigh fighting for a roster spot. Then head coach Paul Maurice called him the most improved forward over the course of the calendar year. Nash skated in five preseason games for the Hurricanes this season and recorded a goal and an assist. He ranked tied for the lead in plus-minus with a plus-2.

Nash, a former first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers and acquired by the Canes in the summer of 2010, was a key piece in the Charlotte Checkers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs last season. In 79 regular season games with the Checkers, Nash notched 32 points (14g, 18a) and was a plus-5. He added 4 points (1g, 3a) in the playoffs.

When the Canes’ front office saw him during the playoffs, they noticed that he had grown as a player. Maurice said that Nash was “grittier and fighting on pucks,” and that he came into training camp, “bigger, stronger and faster.”

Though he didn’t end up making the roster cut at the beginning of this season, his performance in training camp certainly positioned him on the short list for recalls. A couple of months later, he’s made it.

 “The kids are getting their opportunities, and they’ve got to take advantage of it,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Like I tell them, ‘Don’t come up nervous, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or it’s not going to work.’”

Nash will be slotted in Brent’s fourth-line center spot tonight. Muller said finding the right guy to play that position was an important consideration in making the recall.

“We need a guy who can play center and can play that two-way game,” he said. “The report I got is that he can play that way, so we’ll give him a chance.”

Nash left midway through the third period in the Checkers’ game last night. Muller joked this morning that they were keeping him fresh for tonight. In any case, he will be ready to play.

To keep the legs fresh for tonight’s game, Muller kept his team off the ice, minus Justin Peters and Derek Joslin, who is expected to be the healthy extra again of defense tonight. The Coyotes played just last night in Florida, where they earned a 2-1 win. Their starting goaltender, Mike Smith, stopped 19 shots before an injury forced him to leave three and a half minutes into the third period. Backup Jason LaBarbera made eight saves in relief, including one on a penalty shot. Justin Pogge, who played last season for the Checkers, tweeted this morning that he was in North Carolina, but there hasn’t been an official word from the team whether he has been recalled.

Tonight will be one to remember for the 22-year-old Nash, one he hopes will be followed by many more. A win would make it even more special.

“We’re rested,” Muller said. “Now we’re here, and we expect our guys to come out ready to go from the start tonight.”

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