VANCOUVER -- Maybe the only people happier than Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves himself making his NHL debut tonight are his parents.
After learning the news that he had been called up by the Rangers on Monday, Nieves said the next call was to mom and dad, and understandably it was an emotional moment.
"My mom was so excited I think she started crying actually on the phone," Nieves told reporters Tuesday after the morning skate at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. "My dad was pretty close to tears too because we've been through a lot. Taking me to 6 am practices for years and now it's finally here. I'm excited."
For himself, Nieves said getting the news from Hartford head coach Ken Gernander was one of the most exciting experiences he's had in hockey.
"It was exciting. It's kind of surreal. You get that phone call and you get that nod," Nieves siad. "It doesn't register for a little bit."
Nieves, who was recalled because both Chris Kreider (upper-body) and Pavel Buchnevich (back spasms) remain out of the lineup, said he's focused on sticking to his game and not trying to do too much differently.
"I feel like I have to come in and play my game and everything will fall into place," Nieves said. "[Head coach Alain Vigneault] likes my size, he likes my speed and that's two-thirds of my game right there. I've just got to show up and use that and I think I'll be just fine."
That size and speed was what was most recognizable in September's Traverse City Prospect Tournament, when Nieves played predominantly with fellow Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey, who said those two attributes make him a dangerous player.
"I think the biggest thing about Boo that sticks out is his size, and for someone that big, he can really skate," Vesey told NYRangers.com. "I think for a big guy, not many skate like he can. His speed is definitely something that fits in our lineup."
No Ranger knows Nieves better than defenseman Brady Skjei. The two go back to when they were 15 years old and played for the United States at tournament in New York. Since then, they were opponents in the United States Hockey League, were draft in back-to-back rounds in 2012 (Skjei in the first-round, Nieves in the second) and clashed in college when Skjei was with Minnesota and Nieves at the University of Michigan.
Now, the two will be teammates for the Blueshirts.
"It's really cool. I'm really happy for him," Skjei said of Nieves. "He's always been such a good player. He'll do really well tonight."
Nieves got a taste of the NHL when he played a preseason game against the Flyers. He said he felt he played well that night and said he hopes to do more of the same tonight.
"I feel like I got a lot of the nerves out there because I played almost Philadelphia's full team," said Nieves, who nearly scored in the exhibition contest. "I feel like as long as I do the same thing I did there I'll be just fine."