Nash Makes Most of First NHL Games

Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 11:50 AM / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Nash Makes Most of First NHL Games
Riley Nash had a Christmas to remember this year.

Michael Smith
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Four days prior to Christmas, Nash played in his first National Hockey League game, following his first recall. Two days later, he recorded his first NHL point, an assist on a goal from Andreas Nodl.

With Tim Brent healthy and ready to return to the lineup, Nash was sent back down to the Charlotte Checkers on Friday night, but his quick and productive stint here with the Carolina Hurricanes is one he won’t soon forget.

“Probably one of the better Christmas presents I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “Twenty-two years in the making. It was a dream come true.”

Nash, a first round pick of Edmonton’s in 2007, came close to making that dream of playing in the NHL come true earlier this season. He was one of the last players to be assigned to Charlotte in the final days of training camp. Then-head coach Paul Maurice praised Nash, saying he was the most improved player over the course of the calendar year. But, roster slots were precious.

“They said they were really happy with the way camp went. They just wanted to start with 12 guys. Totally understandable,” Nash said. “I’d rather be playing than sitting out watching.”

So, that’s what he’s done. Nash has played in all 31 of the Checkers’ games this season. Though he hasn’t put up the offensive numbers (2g, 7a) he’d like, he said other parts of his game have benefited.

“I haven’t been great offensively, but I think I’ve been doing some pretty good things defensively,” he said. “Pucks just haven’t been going in the net. Hopefully at some point, I’ll turn that around.”

Nash’s successful time with the Hurricanes might just be the remedy for his offensive struggles in Charlotte, especially considering he was able to get on the scoresheet in just his second NHL game.

Initially, Nash got credit for a goal. The Hurricanes had grinded out two good shifts in the Senators’ end. There was a partial line change while the team maintained puck possession and Jamie McBain filtered the puck deep. Nash helped it along behind the net, and Nodl picked up the puck. He skated out from behind the cage, tossed the puck to the front of the net and scored.

But Nash didn’t celebrate like it was his first NHL goal. Though it was announced as his, he was pretty sure he didn’t touch it. Eventually, off-ice officials agreed; Nodl was credited with the goal, as it went in off an Ottawa defenseman’s skate, and Nash got the primary assist.

That was just his second NHL game. In his first on Wednesday against Phoenix, he skated on a line with Eric Staal and played in the final minutes of a close game. He logged 13:02 of total ice time, all at even-strength. Though he played the majority of the game on the fourth line, head coach Kirk Muller used him as a center for Staal and Drayson Bowman in the third period.

“It was pretty cool,” he said of playing with Staal. “I don’t know if I can say I would have expected that, but I’ll take it.”

He’s even got a battle scar from his first game in the league. And it happened on his first shift when he was cut near the eye.

“I came off and Pete [Friesen]’s like, ‘We’ll probably have to stitch that up,’” Nash said. But he wasn’t going to let that keep him out of his debut.

“Any way you can stop it from bleeding without [me] leaving the game, I’m all in favor of that,” he recalled saying. “They were able to do a pretty good job on it, and I was able to stay in the rest of the game.”

Though Nash was returned to Charlotte following Friday’s game, it wasn’t a reflection on his play. As a natural center, he’ll be back in Raleigh sometime. Until then, he’ll have a good Christmas story to tell.

“It just takes time. We’re still pretty young guys, and I’m not in any rush to get here,” he said. “I want to be here tomorrow, but I just want to enjoy the moment right now.”

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