Recently, Puck Daddy visited the production facilities of 2K Sports in Novato, Calif., as the video game company continues work on its latest hockey title, NHL 2K9. We'll have coverage of the production process on Tuesday and Wednesday; first up is our exclusive sit-down with cover athlete Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There were two moments during Rick Nash's visit to the 2K Sports studios that reinforced his credentials as a legit gamer. The first was when he let slip a "Blades of Steel" reference, which led to a Nintendo "Ice Hockey" reference, which led to a spirited discussion over the correct configuration of a four-player team on that classic game. (For my money, it's skinny/medium/fat/fat.)
The second moment was when Nash, 23, was getting bombarded with questions from the production team behind NHL 2K9, the video game for which the Columbus Blue Jackets star is the cover athlete. He answered each one of them, and showed an authentic reverence and enthusiasm for the talent and time it takes to pull off one of these games -- whether he was being asked about his now-classic goal against Phoenix for the hundredth-thousandth time, or when he was entering his seventh hour skating around fake ice in a black, skintight motion-capture suit.
"You think it's a bunch of people sitting around, putting some ideas together. But it's a whole operation," he said.
At the end of a long day of shooting, Nash sat down with us for a wide-ranging interview, covering everything from the making of 2K9 to his embarrassing penalty in Canada's world championships loss to Russia to his future with the Blue Jackets; along with the stuff we all really care about: women, punk rock, reality television and "Harold and Kumar."
Q. When you and I started playing games, it was probably three Japanese guys in a room putting some ideas together, and then you come here and it's epic. One of the cool things I heard about you is that when you went to the All-Star Game, you were genuinely in awe that gamers had competed for a chance to be in Atlanta, too. And here, you seem enamored with the guys who put these games together.
RICK NASH: I really am. They're professionals at their jobs, just like you're a professional at yours and I'm a professional at mine. It's something I grew up with as a hobby. To see these guys behind the scenes making it happen, it's pretty interesting.
At the All-Star Game, I couldn't believe they actually got there by playing video games. These guys are like celebrities to me, you know? Champions at their game.
Q. Your comments about the goal against Phoenix [in the 2K Sports production meeting] were interesting. It almost seems like you didn't realize until a couple of days after the fact how huge it had gotten.
We were on a road trip. In Columbus, we don't get the coverage that, say, a Toronto would have, where they dissect every single game. So we're on the road, going through Dallas, and our PR director kept calling me and calling me with interview after interview. It was crazy. I go back home, and my buddies are calling me.
I didn't even see the goal, because we were on the road. I went home and watched it ... and I still watch it, and go, "Wow." It's like something you do in a video game.
My buddies would call me and tell me that it got the most hits on YouTube for two days in a row. I thought that was pretty cool; how many people go on YouTube a day? Even people that don't watch hockey are seeing it at the top.
Q. Speaking of signature moves, how many of your movements are actually going to go into this game?
I hope they keep the special moves to myself. I don't know the total plan, but it'd be interesting to play the game and see something that I did today in the studio. I think that's going to be the coolest thing.
Q. Did I hear your GM say that you might move to center this year?
There is a little talk about that. I think that's a worst case scenario in case something [else] doesn't work out this summer. Personally, I would try center, but I don't think it would bring out the best in my game. But saying that, I don't know, because I've never tried. You take one face-off maybe every three or four games, and it's tough to work on that.
Q. Speaking of the off-season ... how did you feel about the over-the-glass rule before the world championships? Were you not a fan of the rule beforehand?
It's a new rule ... it's the way it is. You can be on both ends of it. You can be on Russia's side and say it's a great rule. A rule is a rule. You can't change it, and it's just unlucky. About 80-90 percent, maybe even more, are accidental. How many times does someone actually mean to flip it out?
That's what makes sports so much fun. Last year, I score a big goal; this year, I'm in the penalty box. That's why I never get too high.
Q. How did you gauge the reaction from media and fans after it happened?
The players were great. It's obviously something I wish didn't happen. And the media was good about it. The game is so fast that you don't even realize that it happens. I was just trying to chip it in, and next thing you know it rolls up in the stands. Everyone was great, but I'm sure I'll hear some jabs about it for the rest of my career.
Q. You were named captain late in the season for the Blue Jackets. In the past, they've given the ‘C' to veteran players -- Luke Richardson, Adam Foote. Does your captaincy signify a changeover to a new generation of players for the team?
They've been in pretty tough situations. Every captain, they've brought in. [Lyle] Odelein to start, they traded for Luke Richardson, and then Adam Foote was captain. I'm the first one brought up through the ranks. I think it was time for a change. We've got a lot of young guys on our team, and I think they were intimidated by Adam to go up and ask him a question, or tell him a problem they have. For a new franchise, I think it was a good move. I mean, we'll find out down the road (laughs).
Q. There was such positive momentum for you guys in the second half of the season. When everything went down with Adam Foote at the trade deadline, was that like an atom bomb in the locker room? To see a rift like that between a veteran player and management?
It was tough. It's funny: I was watching some TiVO that my mom taped, a SportsCentre thing from the day before the trade deadline, and we were one point out in ninth place. We were seeing all that stuff go down, and it affected the dressing room. It took the wind right out of everyone's sails. Two of our best leaders were gone.
Q. Foote and Sergei Fedorov.
Yeah. No one knew where to step up. Whose dressing room it was. That's one of the reasons they named me with 12 games left, for next year. In Adam's case, he's gotta do what's best for his family, what's best for him. But in saying that, I guess we were one player away from getting Brad Richards; that was the big deal out there, and that could have turned us the other way.
Q. And then he goes to Dallas and scores, like, 100 points in his first game.
(Laughs) Yeah, and we're sitting there watching that and we're like, "Aw, this can't be happening!"
Q. You know, I've never been to Columbus except for one time: The draft last year. But it stunned me. You must be on your best behavior, because the women in that town blew my mind. I thought in Columbus, you'd be home playing video games every night.
No, no, no, no, no ... but now I gotta be a lot more careful, because I have the "C." I'm representing more than a team, but a city, too.
Q. I had to be a different town than you expected.
It's a college city ... it's unbelievable. There's always something to do every single night, whether it's a college scene bar. Downtown's coming around, near the arena district. Bars everywhere. It's a great city for a single guy to have fun, and it's a good city for a family.
Q. How careful do you have to be? I went to some bar at the draft where it was, like, models and vodka.
A lot more careful now than I was in my younger days, when I turned 21 and had no cares. But I'm at a point in my life when I'm past all that. Ready to move on, for sure.
Q. I read one of those David Amber interviews with you where you mentioned music. What's on your iPod these days?
A lot of country. Country and punk is pretty much all I listen to. Social Distortion, New Found Glory, The Used. I've grown up on punk and alternative; when I moved into London Junior when I was 16, my roommate was straight from the farm.
Q. That same interview said you're into reality television. Still into it?
Yeah. I mean, that's all there is. (Laughs)
Q. What are you watching? The VH1 stuff? The Brett Michaels dating show?
Oh yeah, I watched that. And it's sad to say, but the MTV stuff is like a bad car accident, you know what I mean?
Q. Is this you admitting that you watch "The Hills?"
(Laughing) I was trying to butter it up for you. But, you know, everyone talks about it ...
Yeah, I heard something about that. What's he doing?
Q. Oh, you know, he's making copies, delivering dresses to photo shoots. Intern stuff. It's like "The Devil Wears Prada."
I didn't know it was to that extent.
Q. What's the last movie you saw?
At the theaters? That "Harold and Kumar Go To...", uh...
Q. "Guantanamo Bay?" Not as good as the first one.
Oh, you gotta watch it again! You can't pick up on everything the first time. I love my comedies. You know the first ["Harold and Kumar"] was filmed five minutes down the street from me. The White Castle was in Brampton. When they're coming down the hill, the look, they find it, and it was all done just outside Brampton.
Q. I'm actually a little insulted. I'm from Jersey, it takes place in Jersey, and I was under the impression it was filmed in Jersey.
I don't know about the whole thing, but the White Castle part was filmed in Brampton, because I drive past it every single day. It's called something else now, but they still have it painted blue.
Q. Time for the big general question to end the interview: What's it like being a hockey player?
(Points over to the 2K Sports production studio) To me, this is all whipped cream. This isn't me, in the spotlight. I like sitting behind, being under the radar. That's just the way I am, the way I'm brought up. I don't take anything for granted. I'm lucky to have friends back home who still treat me the same way they did before all this started. I can't explain it. To picture myself on one of these posters is really me living my dream.
Tuesday: How 2K Sports intends to reinvent its hockey title, Rick Nash gets grilled by gaming geeks and lays down audio tracks for NHL 2K9.