Even though they’ve spent the past three seasons in the same league, brothers Riley and Brendon Nash weren’t sure they would ever get the opportunity they’ll get this weekend.
For the first time, the two will go head-to-head when Brendon’s San Antonio Rampage visit Riley’s Checkers for games on Saturday and Sunday. Those meetings will not only mark the first time they’ve crossed paths in the AHL, but the first time they’ve played a competitive game against each other at any level.
It will be completely new experience for the two, who are much more accustomed to playing together, as they did for three seasons at Cornell University from 2007 to 2010.
“It will be weird, because it’s something we’ve never got a chance to do except in the summer,” said Riley, the younger of the two at age 23. “I don’t know what it will be like.”
The clash became possible only recently when Brendon, previously a member of the Montreal Canadiens organization, joined the Rampage via trade on Jan. 3. Prior to that, he spent the previous three seasons with Hamilton – one of four AHL teams the Checkers have never faced and are not scheduled to face this season.
Due to that scheduling oddity, it would have taken a playoff matchup to bring the two together, something that nearly happened when both reached the Calder Cup semifinals in 2011 but did not advance to meet each other in the final.
“I thought when we both got to the AHL at the same time we’d get to play against each other, but it was almost like we were in a different league,” said Riley.
After that and other near-misses over the years, things fell into place rather quickly.
“As soon as I got traded I looked to see when we were playing them,” said Brendon, 25. “It’s going to be a neat experience.”
The two, interviewed separately, claim to have a close relationship, one that was only made closer from their time spent together at Cornell, where they played with Checkers defenseman Justin Krueger and were one of three sets of brothers on the team. As such, they talk to each other nearly every day, with recent conversations taking on a slightly different flavor.
“There have been a few harmless jabs,” said Riley, on pace for his best offensive season as a professional with 28 points and a team-leading 20 assists in 46 games. “He scored in his last game, so I was telling him it was a good thing he got that in because it’s not going to happen this weekend.”
“I know all his moves, so it’s going to be pretty easy that way,” said Brendon, who has nine points (2g, 7a) and a plus-7 rating in 31 games.
With the brothers using phrases like “easy-going” and “mild-mannered” to describe themselves and each other, it’s unlikely that the game will become the long-awaited outlet for any sort of deep-seeded, sibling rivalry. Even with them sure to come into contact due to their opposing positions, there won’t be a fight like there famously was between the NHL’s Primeau brothers
during their first meeting in 1997.
“Chances are slim, seeing as how I have zero fights in my pro career,” said Riley.
That would be just fine with the rest of the Nash family back in Kamloops, British Columbia, including their parents and two sisters.
“My parents will be more nervous than we are,” said Riley. “I know they’ll be yelling things like, ‘Don’t hit him, Riley’ or, ‘Don’t slash him Brendon!’ I’ll definitely be aware of it when he’s out there, but I also have to make sure I’m doing my job.”
“He’s just another player you’ve got to worry about, but I definitely don’t want him to score on me,” said Brendon. “That’ll just give him more ammo going into the summer.”
Growing up in Kamloops, where Riley claimed to make a living of being something of an agitator, something Brendon more or less chalked up to the normal antics of a younger brother, the two said that they hoped they’d find themselves in a position like this one day but could never have expected it.
Riley, an Edmonton Oilers first-round pick in 2007, had the clearer path to pro hockey, while Brendon was not affiliated with a team until he signed with Montreal as a free agent following his senior season at Cornell.
“It was always a dream and it was good to see him get drafted in the first round,” said Brendon. “When I was in school I wasn’t sure, but it was neat to have teams interested.”
As it turned out, that only ended up being the start of a longer process that will finally be completed on Saturday. A recent injury to Brendon, who missed six games before returning Monday, was the final hurdle to overcome.
They may even get a chance to do it again, with the Rampage back in town for two more games at the end of March – games that their parents are planning to attend if the stars continue to align just right for both brothers to be in the lineup.
Due to volatile rosters and scheduling, all involved now appreciate how difficult that is, making his weekend even more significant.
“It’ll be fun, and it’s a very unique opportunity,” said Riley.