Columbus Blue Jacket Rick Nash only wants to see one improvement in his video game character: "I want him to be tougher," Nash explains. "I'm always getting knocked around when I play and my character never gets into fights, even when I'm trying to mix it up."
Only thing is, as Nash talks tough, he's sitting on a couch wearing skin-tight black spandex, probably looking, for the moment at least, as un-tough as any hockey player could. "Maybe I should be doing triple axels instead of slap shots," he laughs when I bring up his outfit. "I kind of look like Spider-Man. This suit doesn't leave much to the imagination, that's for sure."
Nash had just finished a day of rigorous motion-capture work for 2K Sports, a process that included his funny suit along with about 50 ping pong shaped markers that transformed every movement Nash made on the synthetic ice straight into the computer to be used in 2K Sports' hockey series. And with cameras valued at more than $10,000 each capturing the process, you could imagine the stunned silence that took place when one of Nash's slap shots ricocheted off the post and spun out of control straight for one of those expensive lenses.
"I got word from the boss to do all of my signature moves as hard as I could and that's what I did. I was holding my breath there for a second when the puck flew towards the camera, but luckily it hit a suitcase that was setup right below it. I didn't want to leave today owing them any money."
Nash has been a gamer since the days of NES Hockey and still remembers his preferred squad from the game: "It was important to get a good mixture of the fat guys to rough people up, but you needed those skinny goal scorers as well."
From there, Nash turned to Blades of Steel and his addiction to video games continues to this day. Says Nash: "Coming to the NHL at 18, I didn't have much in common with the older guys who had a wife and kids, so I turned to video games to kill time. I play all the time. I have a pretty sweet big screen now with a PS3, a 360, and a Wii, so I have the guys over and we're playing all the time."
Here's what else Nash had to say while relaxing in spandex as we talked playoff beards, YouTube goals and getting Columbus into the playoffs.
ESPN: When the NHL games come out, what's the first thing you do, play the game or check your ratings?
Rick Nash: We have a lot of young guys on the team and as soon as the games come out, first thing everyone does is check the rankings. We have a lot of guys who are excited to be in video games, so we scroll through the rankings and check out the stats and the points in the different areas. There's always talk around the dressing room about that kind of stuff. A couple of the guys on the team chirp me all the time about how my character refuses to fight. That, and I always figured myself a little faster.
ESPN: When you zoom in on your character do you like the way he looks?
Rick Nash: I actually think he looks better than me. In the video game, they do a great job of cleaning up your blemishes. They pretty me up a little.
ESPN: Growing a playoff beard is one of the new features in NHL 2K9. What's it going to take to get the Blue Jackets in the playoffs so we can see your best Teen Wolf look?
Rick Nash: It takes me a while to grow any type of beard, but hopefully this year I can get the playoff beard going for real. I think consistency is a big thing for us. We started off strong last season then mellowed off, but by mid-season we were back at it and by the trade deadline we were one-point out of the playoff spot. So I think if we can stay consistent, we can make it.
ESPN: I read that you started skating at two-years old. Some kids are barely talking at two and you're already calling shots out on the ice. How does that happen?
Rick Nash: Growing up in Canada, it's what everyone does. After school, you're always playing hockey and I know it was the same for my parents growing up. We had a little pond behind the house and whenever it froze over, my dad would bring us out there and skate. We lived in an industrial area and there were no lights so my dad would park the van by the ice and turn on the headlights. He'd run the battery while we played and my goal was to basically try and stay out there as long as possible. Thinking back, as long as I can remember I've been on the ice skating.
ESPN: When did you first realize that you were on the fast track to becoming a professional hockey player?
Rick Nash: Remember back when you were a kid and you had to write down what you wanted to be when you grew up? I always wrote NHL player. I didn't even think it would happen back then, I mean how many kids in Canada and around the world are dreaming about that, and it only really happens for a small, select percentage. But that was my dream. Then when I was 17, I saw the first central scouting list that came out and I was rated fourth in North America. That's when I realized that I needed to take this a bit more serious because my dream was about to become my job.
ESPN: What are some of the pressures of being a number one pick that maybe the average fan doesn't realize?
Rick Nash: There are definitely a lot of pressures that come along with being the number one pick because everyone always remembers what the number one guy does, good or bad, and nobody really remembers two or three. There is pressure, but at the same time there are also a lot of perks. Luckily for me, when I first got to Columbus, there were a couple of older guys, a couple of former first rounders who could help me out.
ESPN: What's the atmosphere over at the World Championships compared to the NHL?
Rick Nash: It's like European soccer where fans are chanting and singing songs throughout the game. The fans get rowdy. The NHL is a bit different. Nobody is singing songs or anything like that but the fans are great. That's actually one of the things I'm looking forward to seeing in the video game, the atmosphere. It's something that when I met with the producers I talked about wanting to add, more of that authentic feel. I think the game is going to have a nice balance between these highlight reel goals and realism.
ESPN: Speaking of highlight reel goals, you've scored some that look like they're straight out of a video game, especially the one against Phoenix where you beat two defenders and the goalie on a crazy inside-outside move. What goes through your mind during a play like that?
Rick Nash: I can't believe that actually happened to be honest. In some sense, everything like that comes natural as you're so used to just going out and doing it, but that one against Phoenix, I don't think I could even do it again if I tried all day. The only way I could do that again is in a video game. Everything just happened so fast.
ESPN: I saw you score a goal where you shot the puck between your legs. Are we going to see that again?
Rick Nash: I'd love to try that again, but when I did it the first time, it was really the only thing I could do at the time to get the puck up and quick. It's just a reaction.
ESPN: It just seems like you have so much determination to put the puck into the net. Is that determination what sets you apart from other players?
Rick Nash: There are about a dozen guys in the league who really love to score and seem to work harder to put the puck in the net. That's my favorite thing to do, score goals, so I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to put that puck in the net.
ESPN: Do you see the younger scorers like yourself, Sidney Crosby, and Ovechkin as the three who can really bring fans back in the game with the exciting kinds of goals you guys are scoring?
Rick Nash: I hope so. It's great company to be mentioned with as those guys are big stars and are doing a great thing for hockey. They went into a couple of markets that were really struggling and now they are two of the top markets in the league because of them. We have a good thing going in Columbus, we just really need to make the playoffs. To be one of the young players people are looking at is really exciting to me.
ESPN: I seem to see more hockey on the Internet than I get to watch live. How has technology helped spread the word of the NHL at a time when the sport isn't shown as widely in the United States as it used to be?
Rick Nash: The biggest thing is that the NHL jumped on board so early with YouTube. It was a great idea, great marketing by the NHL. I didn't realize just how big those videos were getting, though, until that goal against Phoenix. All of a sudden I had buddies calling me up and telling me that two days in a row my goal got the most hits on YouTube. They were so pumped up about it, it was awesome.
I think video games are another way to bring a new audience to the league. There are a lot of gamers out there, myself being one, and I'll use the college football example: I didn't know anything about college football coming from Canada, but living in Columbus, all anyone ever talks about is the Buckeyes. So I ended up playing NCAA Football and now I know all the teams, the stadiums, and it got me so much more adapted to college football.
Hopefully the hockey games can do the same thing and teach the kids about the sport, about the players, and hopefully from there they'll become fans and start to follow the sport for real.