For three seasons, Syracuse Crunch left wing Tyson Nash has shown an unmatched enthusiasm for crashing into things. Players, goal posts, boards - it just doesn't matter.
That's what makes Nash one of the most popular players in team history. But there's one thing Nash can't keep butting his head against - a closed door. So the familiar sight of him jarring off his helmet and skating away with long hair flowing in the breeze may soon be just a memory.
Nash, 23, will be a restricted free agent after this season. He will likely finish that contract without playing one minute for Vancouver. If that's indicative of Vancouver's feelings about him, he wants to go somewhere else.
"I'll play anywhere they're going to give me an NHL contract," Nash said. "But after three years, they haven't given me a chance yet. I'd definitely be sad to leave here. But it's a business. Whoever wants you, that's where you've got to go."
It's debatable whether Nash, Vancouver's 10th choice in the 1994 draft, will get to test his marketability. Restricted free agents usually don't get offers from the open market and are retained by their original teams.
Crunch coach Jack McIlhargey said Vancouver should remain interested in Nash and that Nash is playing the best hockey of his AHL career. Scoring is just a bonus with Nash, but he followed a four-goal, seven-assist rookie season with 17-17 last year and has 16-16 in 64 games this year.
"He's always had the work ethic. He's improved his consistency," McIlhargey said. "If he continues to do that, he's going to get a chance (in the NHL)."
But there are factors working against Nash's Vancouver future as well. The Canucks' dual affiliation with Pittsburgh in Syracuse leaves fewer spots for role players, which is what Nash has become. That's especially true if those fringe players aren't behemoths.
Coach Mike Keenan's biggest imprint on the Canucks is the way he's hording size. That's why he gave trials to Crunch defensemen Bert Robertsson and Chris McAllister at forward. There's justifiable skepticism whether the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Nash can get away with his antagonism in the NHL.
"They call up the same players over and over. I've been labeled as a certain type of player, maybe just too small," Nash said. "Mike Keenan likes them big guys. It's hard to take when you see (defensemen) called up to play forward in Vancouver. I just don't think they think I can play the way I play down here up there on a regular basis. I guess we'll see over the next few years."
Nash got an early hint this season that his outlook in Vancouver is murky. After lasting until a late cut in Vancouver's preseason last year, he was an quick cut this year. Then he was a healthy scratch on the Crunch's opening night.
"I was pretty bitter," Nash said. "That kind of told me right there I had no spot in the organization. If you're a scratch in your third year of your contract, there's something wrong. I was just like, 'Oh my God, this could be a long year."'
Nash hasn't let it become one because he has one of the most upbeat personalities on the team. He also has perspective from his new wife, Kathy, his high school sweetheart from Edmonton whom he married last summer.
During Crunch games, Tyson will catch Kathy's eye in the stands and look for coaching signals. When Kathy pounds her fist into her hand, for instance, it means Tyson needs to start rattling some teeth. But at home, Kathy is a calming influence in the face of her husband's career uncertainty.
"He does worry," Kathy said. "You can't allow the business to take over your life. And that's one thing he's worked at - hockey is hockey, but the most important thing is relationships."
Yet in one way, that's making Tyson's season even more critical. He said the first contract in a player's career is easy to get because it's based on potential. Tyson sees Kathy in the stands and understands the implications of his next deal, which will mark the passing of hockey from a game to a livelihood.
"There's more pressure when you've got a family and that kind of stuff," Nash said. "If you don't play (well), you don't get a contract. Then what do you do? It becomes a living. My attitude is everything is going to work out. No matter whether you worry 10 hours a day or you don't, it always does."