yson Nash Brings His Grit, Passion and Intensity to Every Game
© 2005-06 Phoenix Coyotes Program Feature
To say that Tyson Nash is a physical hockey player is an understatement. Game after game, Nash punishes the opposition with thundering body check. He’s had many memorable hits with the Coyotes since he joined the franchise in 2003-04 but one of his hits stands out more than all the others. It was the check he delivered on Calgary Flames’ forward Krzysztof Oliwa on Jan. 27, 2004
"Oh yeah, I remember that hit," laughed Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
Oliwa was picking up the puck on the sideboards when the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Nash zeroed in on the monstrous 6-foot-5, 245-pund Calgary enforcer. Nash delivered a bone crunching hit that sent Oliwa flying into the Flames bench early in the second period. Oliwa was left stranded with his legs sticking straight up as if he was surrendering.
"He’s a big guy and I guess I was in the right place at the right time," said Nash. "He happened to be along the boards and with him being so big it didn’t take much to get him over the boards."
Even Calgary players were laughing afterwards.
"I think I broke my helmet," said then-Flames defenseman Tony Lydman following the game about Oliwa’s skates landed atop his head. "I’m just happy that (equipment manager) Gus (Thorson) wasn’t cleaning my visor or anything and I actually had my helmet on. Otherwise I would have been dead."
Doan remembers the hit well, but admits that Nash still reminds him every so often.
"He makes sure I don’t forget it," said Doan. "But you know what, Tyson is different than most people. He hates feeling any type of intimidation and he’s driven differently than other people. To run someone like Oliwa when you know that there’s going to be a response and that he’s going to want to kill you, it’s just amazing. Tyson lives for that opportunity and I’m glad he’s on our team."
In need of grit, toughness and resilience, Coyotes Executive Vice President and General Manage Michael Barnett swung a trade with the St. Louis Blues to acquire nash on June 21, 2003 in exchange for a 5th round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
The trade has proven to be a major success for the Coyotes. Nash has flourished in the role of a pesky forward who agitates the opposition and has earned the respect of the coaching staff and his teammates.
"Hockey players are pretty honest guys, they love people that aren’t cheaters," said Coyotes Managing Partner-Head Coach Wayne Gretzky. "Tyson plays hard every night and it doesn’t matter if the guy he’s facing is 6-feet tall or 6-foot-5, he plays the same way. There’s a great deal of respect in the locker room and you have to earn that respect, it’s not just given to you. Tyson has that respect and he is a tremendous presence in our locker room. He’s a very good guy to have in there because he’s extremely unselfish. His energy is what he brings as well and that kind of sets the tone for our team. We’re happy to have him on our team and hopefully he can stay healthy for us."
Barnett has also been delighted with the way Nash has performed as a Coyotes.
"He lets it all hang out every shift, no holding back," said Barnett. "He’s paid the price in the weight room to be able to use his strength and mobility on the ice to his benefit. It not an accident that he’s a fan favorite."
The trade benefited Nash as well.
"Without a doubt, it’s just been unbelievable," said Nash. "I don’t think there’s a better place to play in the league than Phoenix. Everyday you come out, the sun is shining, and it’s just been great.
"The management is trying to put together something special here and they’re not going to stand for losing. When you’re a part of a team like that, it’s really encouraging."
Entering his second full season with the Coyotes, Nash has solidified his role on the penalty killing unit and on the team’s fourth line – also known as the grind line – with Mike Ricci and Boyd Devereaux.
"It takes all kinds of player to make a good team," said Nash. "Everyone wants to score goals, but I’ve got a job to do and that’s to provide energy and bang bodies."
Earlier this season, the Coyotes missed Nash’s presence on the ice when he was sidelined for a total of 25 games with an abdominal injury that required surgery.
"I don’t think there’s any doubt that when he’s in the lineup, we are a lot harder to play against," said Doan. "You know what you’re going to get out of Tyson every night. It’s a given. He pushes guys in the dressing room to get better and that’s what you need on your team.
"Everyone talks about all the things he does on the ice, but there are very few people that can do what he does. He does so much for our team and is a great guy to have in the room. As a captain, you need to have someone there for you and he’s great when it comes to that."
Nash has been there for quite some time now. Their friendship began when Nash was nine years old and took a trip to a ranch owned by Doan’s parents.
From 1992-1995, the duo played on the same line in junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League and went on to win back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1994 and 1995.
"We had some great times there," said Nash, who during the 1994-95 season recorded 34 goals and 41 assists for 75 points and 70 penalty minutes in 63 games with the Blazers. "We lived together and those are the days when you kind of grow up and turn into a man."
Doan cherishes the time spent in Kamloops.
"As a 16-year-old, I learned so much from him there," said Doan. "We were roommates and what a great opportunity for me to be around him. He’s got a lot of integrity and a lot of character. I was pretty fortunate to be around him and he became kind of a big brother to me."
Growing up in Edmonton, Nash idolized Finnish player Esa Tikkanen of the Oilers, who loved to initiate contact and get under the skin of opponents. Tikkanen also held his own in five-on-five competition and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves. Not known for his offensive promise, Nash realized that in order for him to have a career in the National Hockey League he must play Tikkanen’s style of hockey and modeled his game in that fashion.
"I looked up to him because I liked the energy he brought to the ice," said Nash. "I know what my job is and it’s not to score goals, but if they come that’s even better.
When they do come, however, they’re often of the spectacular variety.
Much was made – and deservingly so – about Washington Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin’s highlight film goal at Glendale Arena on Jan. 16. But Nash’s tally in a game against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 2, 2004 ranks high on the list of eye-popping goals as well.
With the game tied at a goal apiece, Nash literally dove over New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur for a loose rebound in the crease and while in mid-air swept the puck into the net.
It’s a goal that Nash is very proud of.
"I haven’t stopped hearing about it, "What about my goal? What about my goal?’" joked Doan. "That was a great goal, though. It just shows you his competitive nature and his character in doing whatever the team asks and doing anything to get the puck. To be able to score that on a goalie like Brodeur is pretty amazing."
Nash was quick to agree.
"I don’t score many goals, but I definitely won’t score any prettier than that, that’s for sure," said Nash with a smile. "I was just doing what I had to do to get to the puck. My eyes were as big a saucers when I saw that puck laying there. Nothing was going to stop me from getting that puck."
And nothing ever does.