Dec 26, 2011, 12:35 PM EST
There are probably plenty of “holy **** I’m actually in the NHL” moments for rookies, but the first game against the team you grew up watching has to be one of the biggest.
The best rookie of them all, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, will experience that tonight in Vancouver when his Oilers take on the Canucks.
“It’s going to be pretty cool. I grew up watching the Canucks, although I never got to too many games,” Nugent-Hopkins told the Vancouver Sun. “I got some decent seats sometimes, though. It’ll be special playing there for the first league game.”
The Sun also spoke to the Nuge’s mom – “I’d imagine playing in Vancouver will be nerve-racking for Ryan” – but the best quote came courtesy one of his minor-hockey coaches, Jeff Birrell.
“I’ve coached for 26, 27 years and the one thing you can never give a child is passion,” said Birrell. “If their single passion is to be at the rink all the time, shooting pucks, learning the game and they have the skill, they can make it. Ryan had that and he just lives for it. He’s a humble, I-love-to-play-the-game kind of kid.”
Nugent-Hopkins leads all NHL rookies with 34 points, eight more than New Jersey’s 21-year-old Adam Henrique.
The Oilers might not get the warmest welcome from the Canucks, who are coming off a 3-1 loss at home to the Flames on Friday.
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