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My first NHL goal: Riley Nash

Blue Jackets veteran has an interesting story around his initial tally

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

For most of a young hockey player's life, they dream of scoring their first career NHL goal. It's a highlight that keeps them going from the cold rinks of their youth to the pressures inherent within major junior or college hockey. 

And when that first goal finally crosses the line, it's a moment they'll remember for the rest of their life, a culmination of hard work, sacrifice and talent that was years in the making. 

Riley Nash got to celebrate all of that, but he didn't quite get to enjoy it the way he wanted to after scoring his first NHL goal. 

That's because the current Blue Jackets center, who was playing for Carolina when he got his first goal, had to make sure he still was in one piece after scoring his first-ever tally.  

Upon putting a 2-on-1 pass behind Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen in the game March 2, 2013, in Raleigh, Nash lost his footing and slid into the boards at a high rate of speed. Instead of raising his arms in triumph upon giving his team a 5-0 lead in the second period, Nash woozily got to his feet and took a deep breath as he was congratulated by his Hurricanes teammates. 

Riley Nash's first NHL goal

"We were going pretty fast, and the puck was just kind of a little bit in front of me, so I was on almost one edge taking the shot," Nash remembers now with a bit of a laugh. "I caught another (edge), but I'll take that any day when you score. Now that I know they're few and far between, I'm definitely not going to complain." 

One of the most genuine and self-effacing players on the team, Nash can now look back and laugh at his impromptu introduction to the PNC Arena boards as he looks back at the moment of a lifetime. 

The play was an odd-man rush because of Nash's hard and smart work, too. He started the whole possession by taking control of the puck behind the net and passing it to Jussi Jokinen along the right-wing wall. Jokinen's pass to the center of the ice was batted down by a Panthers defender, but Nash was following the play and grabbed the puck while gathering speed. 

By the time he reached the neutral zone, Nash had a 2-on-1 with Patrick Dwyer for the length of the ice, and Dwyer skated it from the blue line to the right circle before dishing it back to Nash for the finish past Clemmensen. 

"I knew he was passing the whole time," Nash says now of Dwyer. "He didn't once look at the net. I was just like trying to be all in and whatever happens, happens after, and I go smashing into the boards and you kind of forget about your goal. You're like, 'I didn't break anything? Am I OK?'  

"But obviously when you score a goal like that, it kind of takes the sting out. It didn't hurt too bad. I was able to finish the game. Thank goodness for the adrenaline. But it's a pretty cool moment. That was definitely one of the highlights of my career so far." 

Nash's story began in Consort, Alberta, where he was born before moving to British Columbia. He played his junior hockey in the BCHL, where he spent three seasons with Salmon Arm including a dominant final campaign in which he had 38 goals and 84 points in 55 games on the way to being a first-round draft pick of Edmonton. 

From there, he went the college hockey route, spending three seasons with Cornell. His production was eerily similar each year with the Big Red, as Nash had 12 goals and 32 points as a freshman, 13 goals and 35 points a year later and 12 goals and 35 points in his junior campaign. 

After that season, he was traded from Edmonton to Carolina at the NHL draft, and Nash went pro a year later, spending a season with the Hurricanes' top farm team in Charlotte. He played in five games with the Canes a year later, spending most of the year with the Checkers, before getting his first big chance in 2012-13 with Carolina after the NHL lockout ended. 

He played in six games that year with an assist to his record before posting that first career goal as well as two helpers in the game vs. Florida in a 6-2 win for the Hurricanes. 

"It's just one of those moments where it's surreal, and it takes a while to actually set in," Nash said. "I was lying in bed after that night on the road watching I think it was NHL Network, and they're showing highlights and you're on there. It's a long time coming, a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices made by a lot of people, and it all comes to a head there."  

Nash said his parents still have the puck he scored his first goal with, joking, "I'll collect that at some point," and since then, he's gone on to score 61 times with 104 assists in 541 games over a nine-year career while becoming one of the game's most consistent defensive forwards. 

Looking back, though, the first one certainly stands out. 

"It's pretty indescribable," he said. "It's just one of those things where you have been working your whole life and when that moment actually comes true, it's pretty cool." 

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