Rick Nash has reached the summit of international hockey – and the hardware he had draped around his neck last week was well earned. The Columbus captain played a major role in Team Canada's gold-medal run at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and even days later, he was clear the accomplishment would take a while to sink in.
"It's a feeling you can't really describe," Nash said after Canada's historic 3-2 OT win over the United States last Sunday.
Nash had the chance to celebrate with his parents Sunday night in Vancouver. He chose to turn off his phone, which was bombarded with calls and texts, and enjoy the time with family, eventually making his way back to Ohio on a flight with Canadian teammate Roberto Luongo.
Having just experienced the greatest thrill of his hockey career, Nash was glad to be back on his home turf this week.
"It was nice to see the guys," he says. "We've become family and after you're gone for two weeks, you start to miss them. It was nice to be back in the room and around all the guys today, especially."
His teammates, the Canadian-born ones in particular, were just as happy to have him return.
"It was unbelievable, especially the way Nasher played," Kris Russell, a Red Deer, Alberta native says of watching his captain in the best tournament in the hockey world. "To see Nasher come out with gold was unbelievable. You couldn't ask for much more.
"It was an awesome finish."
While it was a huge individual accomplishment for Nash, the hope is that his personal journey can have an impact on the Blue Jackets as a whole. Every player has to experience their own pressure cooker to get better, but with the Columbus leader having just gone through a whole new level of challenge, he'll be better equipped when the Jackets play big games.
"It will," says head coach Claude Noel. "Eventually, if you're goal is to win a Stanley Cup, which our goal is, he'll be showing us how.
"There's no question he'll show us how."
Jackets' D-man Mike Commodore took in a lot of the Olympic tournament. He likened it to NHL playoff hockey, especially when the USA and Canada faced off in two epic games. As someone who has hoisted the Stanley Cup, he thought the environment of the Olympics was similar to the hockey wars waged in the late spring.
"Maybe it's a good tune up for him," Commodore says of Nash's big role. "I said this last year, I'm not worried about Rick Nash. He hasn't played a whole lot of playoff hockey but he's played in big situations internationally. That was for sure the biggest and he did well.
"That game was great for hockey and the NHL. And it's nice that the Columbus Blue Jackets got some exposure through our best player."
Nash's bread and butter is scoring goals and while he managed to rack up some points in the Olympics – scoring twice with three assists – he was a defensive force in the tournament. That's a part of his game that has developed in the past couple of seasons and he definitely had his hands full in Vancouver, joining fellow young NHL captains Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards as the shutdown unit against stars like Russia's Alex Ovechkin and Zach Parise of the USA.
It bodes well for the Jackets. But according to Nash, even though his team won, it wasn't just the successful run at gold that will influence the Columbus dressing room in a positive way. Fedor Tyutin, Jan Hejda and Samuel Pahlsson also played Olympic hockey.
"I think the big thing is that we had other guys experience the whole situation there," he says. "It was a great tournament and for those guys to experience it, come back and relay that to the other guys, and myself included, it's a big deal.
"It's just going to make these guys that much more excited to get to a position to play in a game that means so much."