A bleary-eyed Rick Nash barely was recognized when he arrived at a near-empty Pearson International Airport in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
After his European-based flight from the world hockey championship in Austria was delayed for nine hours, the budding NHL superstar gladly welcomed the peace and quiet as he was greeted at the gate by his father, Jamie.
Nash had better enjoy the serenity while it lasts. Life certainly will be much more hectic in the coming days when he attends the Memorial Cup in London, the city where he starred for the Knights during the 2000-01 and '01-02 seasons.
While he never had the opportunity to skate for the Knights at the state-of the-art John Labatt Centre, he will be on hand at their glitzy new digs to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff before a Memorial Cup contest next Tuesday. He also is slated to attend various Knights alumni functions.
"I'm told there is a real buzz around town, so it should be fun," Nash said yesterday. "We weren't good when I was there, but the Hunters (Dale and Mark) did a great job with the franchise. I'm really excited for the Knights. I was following their progress, even when I was at the worlds."
While Nash and his Canadian teammates clawed their way to a silver medal at the two-week tourney, he London's march to its first OHL title through e-mails with trainer Don Brankley,the longest-serving member of the Knights organization, having been with London for 35 years.
Both Nash and his former junior club have soared to success since he was selected as the first overall pick of the 2002 NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
At 19, he became the youngest player to lead the NHL in goals when he equalled Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla with 41 apiece in 2003-04.
Nash and St.Thomas native Joe Thornton spent much of the lockout leading Davos to a Swiss League title, then combined to, at-times, dominate the competition at the worlds. It was the first chance for many Canadian hockey fans to focus on the 20-year-old star.
"Obviously, it was the first time I was in the national media because of where I play in the NHL," Nash said. "Columbus is a great place to play but I don't think some people in Toronto even acknowledge there is an NHL team there.
"I've received lots of calls the past couple of days congratulating me for the worlds. At least it's been a chance to relax. I've been going, going, going ever since Joe and I went to Switzerland last fall."