November 15, 2007

Nash Stars for Men's Hockey

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The Edmonton Oilers have a legacy of strong first-round picks, from Paul Coffey to Grant Fuhr to Ales Hemsky. The latest Oilers prospect, freshman Riley Nash, plays in Cornell’s own backyard and has been recently excelling for the men’s hockey team. For Nash, though, the high selection, 21st overall in the 2007 NHL Draft, was a bit of a surprise.
“I had never really seen myself as a first-round draft pick, but last year, I guess, looking back on it, I knew that I had a pretty good season, especially my second half from Christmas onward, I played really well,” Nash said. “And then my family advisor kind of said don’t be shocked if you get picked in the first round because there are a couple of teams that really liked you. I thought I had good interviews with a couple of teams, and Edmonton was definitely one of them.”
The Oilers’ interest is not surprising, given Nash’s numbers last year in juniors. Playing for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League last year, the Kamloops, B.C., native scored 38 goals and notched 46 assists. Nash was named team MVP and BCHL Interior Conference Rookie of the Year.
Coming to Cornell was a natural decision for Nash. His older brother Brendon is a defenseman on the team, although he is currently injured and has not played so far this year.
“We have always been a close family, so my parents wanted me to come here,” Nash said. “I kind of sensed that. I knew that I always wanted to play with my brother. Looking past college, I didn’t see us playing anywhere together after this. Cornell is a great program and I really like the coaches, and that was a big factor too. It’s a pretty good education as well.”
It took a little while for the younger Nash to get going once he got to Cornell. He did not record a point in his first three games, including the two exhibition contests at the beginning of the season. He notched an assist in a 3-2 loss to Princeton on Nov. 2, but really came into his own last weekend.
“The first couple of games were a little frustrating,” Nash said. “Our line was getting chances but we couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Against Yale on Friday night, he scored his first career goal, an unassisted wrister that gave Cornell a 1-0 lead. It was the only goal in the game until there were 40 seconds left. Nash then assisted on sophomore co-alternate captain Colin Greening’s empty-net goal.
“Personally, I think he’s progressing a lot faster than I did last year,” Greening said. “Obviously, he reads the game really well. It’s like anybody that comes. You have to get used to the speed and how big the players are. It’s only been five games into the season, and he’s shown himself to be a real presence out there, so he’s progressed really well throughout the last couple weeks and he’s only seem to get better.”
Nash continued his strong play the next night, as he executed a highlight-reel goal, maneuvering through the Bears’ defense and faking out sophomore goalie Dan Rosen for the tally. He picked up another assist in that game, too, giving him four points on the weekend. For his efforts, Nash was named ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week.
“He obviously felt more comfortable this weekend,” said head coach Mike Schafer ‘86. “He has a tremendous amount of skill and great plays that he made on both nights. The highlight reel goal as far as what he scored at Brown, it made people stand up and take notice a little bit.”
In addition to Friday’s first career goal and multi-point game, Nash got some more news from Edmonton brass.
“They were actually at our game at Yale, so it was nice to get my first goal with them there, so it looks like I’m putting the puck in every time,” Nash said. “You don’t talk to them too much, they kind of just let me do my thing, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. They know Cornell will take care of me here.”