Interview with Tyson Nash; Former NHL Player, and Current Color Commentator with the Phoenix Coyotes
I remember as a kid pouring through the statistics on the back of hockey cards. They were fairly simple back then as there were no numbers beyond Games Played, Goals, Assists, Point and Penalty Minutes to look at. They say that numbers never lie, but numbers never tell the whole story. It was natural to look at those with the high points tallies from the year before, or the twenty year veteran whose annual stats were printed so small that even eight year old eyes had to squint to see them. Each one of those players I studied for hours on that 1980-81 O-Pee Chee set took different paths to the National Hockey League and each athlete took on different roles to excel there. A generation later, a new era of statistical analysis has emerged. Constant exposure to media has pulled back the curtain of traditional numbers and appreciation of players who could do the little things that could help win games emerged. We here had notinhalloffame had the pleasure of speaking with Tyson Nash; one of those unsung heroes whose career cannot be judged by a quick look at a hockey card.
Tyson Nash had a very solid career in the National Hockey League. A seven year veteran, Tyson’s career in the spotlight began as part of the last dynasty in Junior Hockey, The Kamloops Blazers. With the Blazers, Nash was part of a team that captured three Memorial Cups in a four year span; a feat unlikely to be replicated again. The team was loaded with future NHL stars as along with Nash, the Blazers had Darryl Sydor, Scott Niedermayer, Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.
“I can’t thank that team enough”, Nash recalled. “I was certainly fortunate to be around so many other good players and you can’t help but get better in that situation”. The Blazers were not just littered with talent, but Nash spoke highly of the exceptional teamwork that they had. “When you are on a winning team like that, it makes you want to win even more. I learned how to be a real hockey player there”.
Nash was drafted in the 10th Round (247th overall) in 1994. While being drafted to the NHL is a major accomplishment, it is not genuinely expected that late round selections will automatically make the roster. Nash would learn quickly that the point per game scoring that he was able to produce in the Western Hockey League would be difficult to duplicate at hockey’s highest level. “I learned in the AHL from my coaches how to change my game. I was not going to be able to score 20 goals like I could in the American Hockey League. In the NHL, you have to find that niche to enable you to stay long term. You don’t have to do everything great, but you have to do that one thing great.”
What he excelled at was the role of the agitator. With this specialty, Tyson Nash would constantly draw opposing players into taking foolish penalties, giving his squad power play advantages. Nash flourished in his role as the cerebral grinder and became a stalwart on the fourth line of the St. Louis Blues. He may not have been the scorer he was Junior, but he was a regular performer on the highest stage of professional hockey.
Tyson would be traded to the Phoenix Coyotes and would be reunited with his former teammate in Kamloops, Shane Doan. Nash continued his role as the agitator, and though he would not often light up the lamp, he was recognized for the amount of hits he would deliver in a game. It was at this time that ice time and hits delivered were becoming numbers that fans would look at Tyson Nash was praised in Phoenix for what he brought to the team. As a physical player, Nash would himself suffer through injuries. He was no longer the same player, but he pushed to continue a career on the ice. Like other former NHL players before him, Tyson took to Japan to continue his playing career.
“I was banging on every door, and no one was answering. I still wanted another shot. I was sitting at home in November and a friend of mine called me and said why don’t you to come to Japan? You can come here, work on your skills and have a bit of fun”. As it turned out, it was one of the better decisions that he made in his career. “We were treated as kings over there, and the hockey is actually very good. I would equate it to better than the East Coast League. The Japanese players are very fast, much better than you think.” Tyson would find himself a fan favorite of the Asian League, even though the Japanese fans were not always sure what they were seeing with him. “They didn’t always know to take to my game; they called me the Assassin. However, they are very passionate about teams. I had a lot of fun playing there”.
Tyson would return to North America and would return to Phoenix; but this time it would not be on the ice but as a broadcaster. The transition to on ice to off ice personality appeared to be a natural one on the surface. Past teammates and hockey fans alike would often comment on his likable nature. Regardelss of how it appeared visibly seamless, Nash found that the conversion to Hockey player to hockey commentator was not an easy one. He replaced Darren Pang, who was himself a former NHL Goaltender. Pang has become very successful broadcasting for NBC and many younger fans are oblivious to his on ice exploits. Replacing Pang was in many ways the biggest challenge of his Hockey career.
“Darren is one of the best in the best in the business. I was very fortunate as I was in radio for one year while he was on TV. He always helped me out and gave me pointers. I still text him from time to time and he is always willing to help.”
As someone who is still in his mid 30’s, many of his former NHL teammates are still plying their trade in the NHL. Objectivity is expected of those with a microphone but how easy can that be when your friends are those on the ice?
“You have to keep your credibility. I have to call it the way it is. If I rip a guy on the air, often I feel bad and I will go up to them after the game. They understand, much like I did when I was playing and was in the exact same position. The harder part for me is the players that I disliked like Matt Cooke and Sean Avery and remaining objective. Everyone has a job to do and it is important not to take things personal”.
At only the age of 37, life seems to be only getting better for Tyson Nash. “There is no better job in the world then calling hockey. I am still around the boys and I don’t get beat up anymore. It’s a great gig!”