VANCOUVER -- The Edmonton Oilers flew into Vancouver just in time for a morning skate on Monday, quickly ending a short Christmas break with an early flight, a rarity on a game day.
The trip was decidedly shorter for top rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, however.
Nugent-Hopkins made the short drive from suburban Burnaby after spending the three-day break with family and friends in his nearby hometown. It was a drive the 18-year-old made before to watch the Canucks team he grew up cheering, but one that felt different as he prepared for his first regular season game against them at Rogers Arena.
"It's pretty cool," said Nugent-Hopkins, who played in Vancouver during the preseason, and has already faced the Canucks twice in Edmonton, scoring a hat trick in the first meeting. "I watched a ton of games on TV here and came to quite a few to actually watch live, so it's going to be pretty exciting to step on in the ice here."
There will be some familiar faces in the stands, as Nugent-Hopkins said he's on the hook for "quite a few" tickets for family and friends. Hopefully they help him feel at home, because while Nugent-Hopkins is second in team scoring with 34 points -- an incredible point-a-game pace -- he has just nine points in 17 road games, where opponents are better able to match up against him and top-line wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
The trio has 92 points combined, but just 30 of those have come on the road, which will have to change as the Oilers start a seven-game road trip while Edmonton co-hosts the World Junior Hockey Championships.
For now, though, Nugent-Hopkins was content to just enjoy the rare trip home, and a chance to unwind after a hectic year that included being picked first overall in the summer's draft. Ironically -- perhaps amazingly given how he's playing now – about the only think Nugent-Hopkins didn't do last season, was play World Juniors after getting cut from Team Canada.
"Just seeing the family," he said when asked what the best part of his Christmas was. "I haven't seen them too much, not even last summer because of all the draft stuff, so just seeing them was great. Most of the time, it was down time. They understand I only get a couple of days off, so they just wanted me to rest and hang out."