Nine reasons to smile

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- When you've seen it before with a guy who wore a couple of nines on his back, you don't dare suggest you'll ever see anything remotely resembling it again.

And I'm not. But we're seeing something here. We're seeing something very special.

We're watching Rick Nash become a fully accredited NHL megastar right here in front of the world's eyes. But these days they are sore eyes and, whenever the league returns, maybe they'll take his talent away, clutch, grab, trap and smother him to death so he won't be able to put on the spine-tingling show he's putting on so far at the IIHF World Championships.

But he's doing it here. Oh, how he's doing it here.

Nash scored two more world-class, highlight reel goals, his fifth and sixth of the tournament, and set up Joe Thornton for another, to grab a big game by the throat and defeat Team USA 3-1 here last night.

As player after player came through the mixed zone after the game, they literally lined up to be quoted on the subject of the young sensation.

"He's a great player," said Doug Weight. "He's 20 years old and we can all see here that he's ready to establish himself at a high level. He'll be a player for Team Canada for many more years. I don't think anybody would have predicted how quickly he'd reach the level we're seeing play at here so far."

EVEN BETTER

Canada's players liked him even better.

"It's really exciting to see him doing what he's doing here. It's fun seeing the next generation of Canadians right now," said Kris Draper.

"He's a world-class hockey player who loves to play the game and is in the zone right now. He just loves what he's doing. The guy is going to be unbelievable."

Martin Brodeur says there are two things he likes about Nash: 1. What he's doing here. 2. That he plays for Columbus.

"It's kinda nice he plays out West. We don't see him that much," said the New Jersey Devils netminder.

There's another thing, says Brodeur. "He's willing to pay the price," he said of the tough going. "That's a great quality you don't often see in a young player."

Linemate Simon Gagne says you almost want to stop and watch him.

"It's unbelievable the way he's just flying. He has wings on his skates."

Thornton, who with eight points is tied for the tournament scoring lead with his linemate, says he marvels most at how Nash puts himself in position to score the gorgeous goals we've seen him score.

"He's just so lengthy," says Thornton. "Those long strides he takes ... and he takes up a lot of space. Once he gets in on a defender that big bum of his is going to come in there and then there's not much chance to stop him."

On Nash's first goal, which gave Canada a 1-0 lead just 51 seconds into the second period, he banged the puck off the side of the net up into the air, batted it down, turned around and caught the corner.

After Mike Knuble evened the score, Nash broke in with Thornton two-on-one, had the presence to check behind him, then went backhand to forehand and roofed it.

He did everything but autograph the puck before he put it in. If you count the 26 goals he scored in the regular season and eight in the playoffs in the Swiss league and now six in three games here, that's 40 goals in 60 games.

"I didn't realize that. That's kind of cool," said the kid.

In an 82-game NHL season, he scored 41 last year to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top scorer. His total represented 22% of Columbus's goals. The native of Brampton, Ont., is up to 36% of Team Canada's goals so far in this tournament.

"It's unbelievable. Obviously it feels good," said Nash of living this moment. "Playing in Davos this year, I think, really is helping here. With Joe in Davos with me, we're just continuing."

COMING OUT PARTY

It's not lost on him that this is his coming out party and that he, Thornton and the young breed on this team are going to be the staples of many a Team Canada.

"We're very fortunate we're showing the future. Obviously we're going from Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Wayne Gretzky to a new generation coming in."

Tell me, no matter what happens with the lockout, that you don't want to watch Rick Nash play for Canada in Torino.


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