© East Valley Tribune
It is probably not by coincidence that Nash, as in Coyotes hard-working winder Tyson Nash, rhymes with bash and crash.
"Or smash," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who played three seasons with Nash for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, two of them when the team won the Memorial Cup (Canadian Hockey League championship).
"He’s one of those guys everybody on his team likes. But when you play against him, you can’t STAND him."
Comments like that about a player are music to a coach’s ears.
"He goes out there and gets under people’s skin. He’s the type of player you absolutely despise when he’s on the other team," said Coyotes head coach Rick Bowness. "But, you absolutely love him when he’s on your team. It takes a very special person to fill that role. Tyson does it well."
The analysis brought a wide smile to the usually happy face of the 29-year old Nash, a native of Edmonton, Alberta.
It is a smile that’s present when he’s off the ice, that is.
"When I got my first chance to play in the NHL with St. Louis (in 1998-99), my coach (Joel Quenneville) told me ‘You’ve got to be the most hated guy in the league to stay here." I said ‘all right, I’ll do whatever it takes to stay.’ That’s what’s going to keep me in this league."
That is what’s enduring about Nash to Coyotes fans. They cheer when he steps onto the Glendale Arena ice surface. They ooh and ahh when he dishes out a fierce hit. They come to their feet when Nash, not known as a skill player, scores a goal or contributes with an assist.
"He is becoming a fan favorite," said Coyotes general manager Michael Burnett. "On and off the ice, he contributes in way that you would like every player to contribute. He gives 100 percent effort and there’s 110 percent preparation. He’s prepared to pay the price each and every night, taking it and dishing it out. He’s a great example to all our players, particularly the ones who have more skill. Skill alone is not enough in many cases. The passion that Tyson brings often is what makes the difference for players."
Nash realizes his role is not a n easy one or one that will bring glory and accolades. It is, instead, a role that is necessary for a hockey team to be successful. Each team must have an in-your-face, get-out-of-my-way, all-out player like Tyson Nash.
The Edmonton Oilers, the team Nash grew up watching, had one of the best agitators in NHL history in Esa Tikkanen. Ken Linesman was another super pest in the NHL. And more recently, Claude Lemieux was the prototypical pain every opponent feared.
Nash, who took a liking to Tikkanen as a boy, is becoming one of those necessary elements. And he’s not just another gritty face.
"I’m just a guy who goes out there an tries to play hard every night," Nash said. "My role is to be an energy guy. I come to the rink with a lot of enthusiasm and try to change the momentum of the game.
"When a teammate comes up flat, I try to go out there and try to change the momentum with a big hit. I play a physical style of hockey. That’s what I love. Everyone has a job to do and that’s mine."
It is a job Nash has accepted and does extremely well.
"He is, simply, the best at his job," Doan said. "But, he’s such a great guy. He’s one of those guys who makes coming to the rink fun. He’s the best in the league at his job of creating opportunities on the power play, getting other players off their games by worrying more about him. He brings energy to the entire lineup. He’ll have a shift and the team rises. A guy like that is hard to find. He’s a fantastic agitator."
Not everyone can fill the role. In fact that’s why there are so few players who perform it to a tee. It’s a job that brings praise from teammates and the wrath of opponents. It’s one that a player with a strong will makes up his mind to accept and does so without hesitation.
So-so agitators won’t last in the NHL. They’ll be run out of the rink quickly. Friends and foe will see through them and, if they’re lucky, they will have decent minor league careers. But, the good ones like Tyson Nash know what it takes to stick in the NHL.
"It takes a very special talent to do what Tyson does," Doan, said. "It takes a special kind of person. It’s incredibly mentally tough to do, more than people might think. And to do it every game? That takes a strong willed person. Tyson has become so good at it. He took the challenge to become one of the best in the league at what he does and he did it. He brings and element we were missing. He’s a very important key to this team."
Nash knows his teammates are counting on him. As well as the fans who are starting to chant his name at Glendale Arena.
"At the NHL level, everyone has to do something really well, extremely well," Nash said. "I wasn’t that great of a skater. I obviously don’t have a lot of skill. But I can work and work hard. I can hit. I can agitate.
"I know why I’ve stayed in this league. You knock on the door and you hope someone will answer it. I was given a job to do. Something I can take pride in, something not everyone wants to do. As a player, that chance is all I can ever ask for. And, that style is not only what got me to this league, it is what’s going to keep me here. When I stop doing that, that’s when I’ll be back in the minors."
Hardly something that Nash should be concerned with.
"Tyson Nash had to scratch and claw to earn everything he has received to get to this level," Bowness said. "He’s one of those players who doesn’t take where he’s at for granted. He has a very good understanding of what makes him an asset to our team. He takes a lot of pride in the solid player he has become and his work ethic is unbelievable."
"Tyson brought an element to this team that we were missing," added Bowness. "I can guarantee that defensemen will tell you he’s not a comfortable guy to go back and get the puck when you’re playing against him. He knows his strength every single time he’s out there. He’s the guy who’s going to pay the price, whether it’s on the wall or blocking a shot or anything in the thankless areas that make teams successful."
That includes dropping the gloves and throwing his fists around when necessary.
"That’s just part of the game, part of my job," Nash said. "I’m not a big fighter, but you have to answer the challenge when it comes. It comes with the territory in my style of play.
"There’s not a game that goes by when someone doesn’t ask me to go (fight). I will if I have to. But, I just want to play and contribute to the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I love what I do, I love the Valley and this organization. We have great fans, fantastic management and a wonderful arena to play in. What more can anyone ask for?"
Who could as for more from Nash, brought to Phoenix in a trade last summer? His 255 NHL games and 100-plus penalty minutes every season in the league have made him a valuable commodity.
And the team knows it.
"He was a winner with Doan in juniors," Barnett said. "We had a good inkling that Tyson would be a nice fit with this team. He has been proving to be exactly that. Hopefully we’ll have him in front of our fans for years to come.