Nash hoping to rekindle 2010 magic
SOCHI, Russia -- The fact of the matter is it wasn't only Team Canada's brain trust, the fans and the media who had their doubts about Rick Nash's Olympic candidacy this year.
It turns out the man himself wasn't totally sold on his own chances, either.
"Yeah, my expectations weren't too high," the New York Rangers star said on the eve of Team Canada's Olympic opener versus Norway.
"I had an injury and wasn't having the best season. But Steve [Yzerman] called me and said they believed in my game and trusted me as a player from my past. They put a lot of trust in me and I was honored by that."And just like that, as if a giant weight was removed from his shoulder pads, Nash began pumping goals out after the Jan. 7 roster announcement, scoring nine, to be precise, in the following 10 games after making the team.
"Whether that was the reason I was producing or not I'm not going to worry about it. But pucks just started to go in," said Nash.
No, but it sure made Team Canada's decision-makers feel better about their choice back in early January. The fact is, Nash was no sure thing to make it, not on a team that has so many talented players to choose from, not with the way he struggled earlier in the season after he came back from a concussion.
It's believed Canada's selectors debated between Nash, Patrice Bergeron and Logan Couture, all of whom were viewed at as having a defensive role. Only two out of those three players were going to make it. Nash and Bergeron got the call over Couture.
"He was a real big horse for us, and he played real hard for us in Vancouver four years ago," coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. "We're counting on that. Him and [Jonathan] Toews were magical in that tournament, and we're hoping they can rekindle some of that again."
The Toews-Nash forward combo became Babcock's go-to set in Vancouver, easily the pair of players he trusted the most in key situations -- his shutdown pair to be sure.
In a conversation with ESPN.com a year after that gold-medal effort, Babcock pointed to Nash when asked which player revealed the most to him, from a positive perspective, in that tournament.
Now that's probably because he already knew what he had in Toews and in Sidney Crosby, but it doesn't take away from the sentiment that Nash left quite the impression on Babcock, who frankly isn't a man who's easily impressed.
And perhaps it's also because people for a long time had preconceived notions about Nash, given the lack of team success in Columbus during his long tenure as the face of a Blue Jackets franchise that forever floundered while he was there.
Whatever the case, at the 2010 Olympics, Nash delivered a clutch performance, which realistically is the only reason he is on the team four years later.
"He was able to bring it every day in that tournament, and he really helped our team," said Babcock.
Nash's international experience, which includes the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, four IIHF world championships, a world junior tournament plus a world under-18, was no small factor.
Ryan Smyth owns the moniker Captain Canada for his lengthy national team duty in the 2000s, but next to him, Nash might as well have a Maple Leaf tattooed on his chest.
"He's always been extremely effective in international competition," Toews said of Nash on Wednesday. "I don't know if it's just that he feels comfortable, or if he likes the big sheet. He just loves playing for Canada. Whatever it is, he's easy to play with."
That extensive international experience has also provided Nash with both ends of the spectrum, in particular the juxtaposition of Canada's 2006 debacle in Torino and the memorable 2010 victory at home. He, as much as anyone, has valuable insight on how it can go so poorly or perfectly.
"Yeah, complete opposites," Nash said. "It's tough. It's about the team that gels together the quickest. In Vancouver, we became a group quickly; we faced adversity early and it brought us together. And in other international tournaments where I've had success, it's been the team that comes together fast."
That much-desired chemistry, fleeting in 2006 for Team Canada, so obviously prevalent in 2010, absolutely starts in 2014 with the Nash-Toews forward pair, a reliable seed that hopefully for Canada will help grow another tight-knit squad.
And for Rick Nash, perhaps more international glory.