By PATRICK WILLIAMS
HARTFORD -- The Hartford Civic Center on a sleepy November night is not where NHL veteran Tyson Nash expected to be spending his 2006-07 season, but then again a lot of objectives that the Phoenix Coyotes had in place for this season have failed to bloom.
Nash, who has logged 374 NHL regular-season games with St. Louis and Phoenix, is with the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, in his first return to the AHL since the 1998-99 season.
"Now it's soggy subs on the bus," said Nash, instead of an NHL life of charter flights and prime dining.
Nash plays the left side of a talented first line with Jeff Taffe and RW Bill Thomas. Saturday night against the Hartford Wolf Pack, Nash saw his three-game point streak snapped as Hartford bombed the Rampage, 9-3, on Saturday night.
"It's been frustrating," the Edmonton native admitted afterward. We feel that we have a pretty good team here. [Saturday] was a prime example of why we don't win games. We just don't bring it every night."
"Tonight was embarrassing, to say the least," said Nash, who, with the Rampage already down a skater and the game just about out of hand, compounded San Antonio's woes by taking a minor penalty and then picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct call from referee Conrad Hache.
Such behaviour was not what San Antonio head coach Pat Conacher wanted to see from his PK, especially from the player with the most NHL experience on the San Antonio roster.
But so it has gone for Nash and the Rampage (5-10-0-0), who dropped to an awful 1-6-0-0 on the road in wrapping up a three-game East Coast swing.
If he is to return to the NHL eventually, the Rampage winning some games would go a long way toward making that happen for Nash.
"You've got to keep going, you've got to win hockey games. Scouts aren't going to watch teams that are losing every night. Nobody wants to be a part of a losing team."
The Coyotes demoted Nash to the AHL prior to the start of the season. The Coyotes are stuck dead last in the NHL's Western Conference, and Nash found himself caught up in a roster crunch prior to the season that landed him in the AHL.
"There are so many problems up top that you don't really know where to begin. Unfortunately I was the odd man out."
"I wish they would have done it to me in the summer rather than in training camp. But that's the way it goes sometimes, and they felt like they were doing what was best for the hockey team, so you can't hold that against him."
"I wish all those guys up there the best. We want them to do well, but importantly we've got to do well down here."
If nothing else, Nash's AHL exodus at least has enabled his scoring touch to return. After going scoreless in 50 games with the Coyotes last season, Nash's five markers so far this season tie him for the Rampage's goal-scoring lead with Taffe. In all, Nash is 5-3-8 in 14 games this season.
"It's been pretty frustrating, to say the least," Nash said of being in the AHL. "Obviously this isn't where I want to be right now. You've just got to remain focused, and hopefully this is just a bump in the road. You've got to prove yourself all over again, but I think I've done that up to this point."
Nash still sees an NHL future for himself. The agitating style that he played in the NHL is still on display in the AHL, and Nash is second to Matthew Spiller for San Antonio's team lead in penalty minutes with 44.
While the enforcers' role is all but dead in the NHL, Nash believes that there is a still a place up top for feisty third- and fourth- liners like himself who can play the game and irritate as well.
"I don't think that's ever going to go away," Nash said of the role played by Esa Tikkanen types who can combine skill and agitation. "If you can't play, you're not going to play [in the NHL]."