By Robert Picarello
With the summer coming to a close and another school year just around the corner, Nate Guenin should be out shopping for books and school supplies like all of the other college students, but instead the Ohio State University senior was spending the dog days of August in New York at the Rangers Prospect Development Camp.
"This is great from an athlete's perspective," Guenin said. "It prepares you for the season. You know the season is going to be a grind, so it gets you back in the swing of things. It gives you such a tremendous start to the season. I think it's great to have it in New York. It gives us a taste of what it would be like. Being in this facility your eyes just light up and if that doesn't make you work harder - seeing everything that the organization has to offer - I don't know what would light a fire under you."
Having the opportunity to train at the Rangers state-of-the-art practice facility with the team's coaching staff and former players like Adam Graves and Ulf Samuelsson in the weeklong camp had the 6-foot-2 defenseman's juices flowing every morning. But Guenin didn't have to be on the ice to get in a New York state of mind.
"You walk in those doors (at the MSG Training Center) and walk down the hallways and see all those pictures on the wall - Messier holding the Cup, Mike Richter and Adam Graves at the All-Star Game - just little stuff like that. You almost get chills thinking what could be ahead of you in the future," Guenin explained. "New York has everything you could ask for and I personally just love being in New York. Last summer was the first time I got to go around and see New York and I just love it. But how could you not love New York? When you're here you just think that one day this could be your town and where you play and where you work. It's remarkable."
What's also remarkable is how far the Sewickley, PA native's game has come since the Rangers made him the 127th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
"Nate is ready to turn pro," Rangers Asst. General Manager/VP of Player Personnel Don Maloney
said. "He's going to be a senior at Ohio State and he'll be the captain of that team. He's 208 pounds. He's a good skater, so he's ready to turn pro. We haven't signed him yet, but we intend to sign Nate Guenin."
While those words would be music to Guenin's ears, it won't stop him from working hard every time he hits the ice or picks up weights in the gym.
"You have to be constantly working on your game and the little things," Guenin said. "Those little things add up because when you move up to the next level you don't want to be left behind. It's the little things that matter. You watch an NHL or AHL game and you'll notice that the guys that are successful are the ones that do all the little things right. Whether it's making a small pass or just striding right, it's the little things that win hockey games. That's what makes you move on to the next level."
What's also going to get him to the next level is the way he plays the game. Guenin is the type of defender that opponents hate to go up against, as he punishes the opposition every chance he gets.
"He's kind of a JYD defenseman - a junkyard dog defenseman. He's a scrappy guy. He's hard to play against. You probably won't like working with him at the net or in his corner or those types of things. He makes life miserable for people," Rangers Head Coach and Vice President of Player Development Tom Renney
"I'm a defensive defenseman who likes to throw the body around," Guenin admitted. "Every shift I try to lay somebody out. My job is to make the other team hate to play against me. That's something I take pride in and that's something I'll carry with me as long as I put the skates on.
"Whether it's going down to block a shot it doesn't matter. I'll do anything for my team. You might not recognize what I do on the stat sheet, but if you're a true hockey fan you'll realize what I do."
But the fans aren't the only ones who notice what he does every time he takes a shift. Renney and his coaching staff like what they have seen from their 22-year old defenseman.
"I think he's has real good leadership qualities. He takes very good care of himself. He's very serious and sincere as a player," Renney said. "Its team first for Nate and he's a guy that's attended his fourth prospect camp in a row now. We see improvement every year and he's going to give himself a chance to be a National Hockey League player."
While Guenin knows his number may be called soon by the Rangers who are dedicated to a youth movement, he's not about to take anything for granted. He'll just keep doing the things he's been doing, hoping that some day soon all his of hard work and dedication will pay off.
"I just take it year by year. I had an injury in my sophomore year that set me back a little bit, but all I can do is work hard," he said. "All I can do is take care of what I do on the ice and off the ice and whenever the Ranger organization feels I'm ready, they'll make that call, but I can't sit around and plan anything. Every day I need to be working on something to improve."
So as of right now, Guenin plans on going back to college to finish up his education, but if the phone rings and the Rangers come calling, the hard-working blueliner will have no problem leaving Ohio behind for the bright lights of New York.
"I was drafted before my freshman year of school, so I wasn't ready then and now I have three years under my belt. The coaches in college are always stressing that hockey is going to end someday. My coach in college played professional hockey and he says that your career could be one day, one year or it could be 15 years. But you're going to have to do something after it, so get as much education out of the way. But if the Rangers come calling, then it would be time to go. I could always go back and get my education. My goal is to play in the NHL and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to make it," Guenin said.
"They drafted me knowing that I was going to go to college and that I would have a couple of years to develop and get better. At that point it wasn't a hard decision. If I had to make it now it would be a little tougher, but I want to put that blue jersey on some day and whatever I have to do to do that, I'm going to do."