The drive can be tricky, especially with bridge traffic on a Friday night drive, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is treating this weekend’s mini series in Abbotsford as a “hometown” experience.
Nugent-Hopkins, the 19-year-old product from the hockey factory of Burnaby Winter Club, will come to town with the Oklahoma City Barons for a two-game set against the Abbotsford Heat Friday and Saturday nights.
He’s played in front of family and friends before as a professional – twice last season with the Edmonton Oilers as a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie.
With the NHL currently in the midst of another lockout, a trip to the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre count very much as local for The Nuge.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Nugent-Hopkins in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s always fun when you can play in front of your friends and family.”
The Oilers first-round, first overall, draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft can’t put a specific number to how many friends and family will venture out to the AESC, but they likely won’t be alone.
Aside from Nugent-Hopkins, the Barons currently have three other players from B.C. on their roster: White Rock’s Colten Teubert, Aldergrove’s Cameron Abney and Kelowna’s Justin Schultz, who turned out to be one of the most coveted free agents this summer after spending the last three years at the University of Wisconsin.
The Barons also bring Jordan Eberle, who cemented himself in World Junior Championship lore for Canada thanks to clutch goals against Russia in 2009 and the U.S. in 2010, and Taylor Hall, who turns 21 next week and has already played two NHL seasons.
The Barons have opened the season with seven of their first 10 games being at home, and had yet to travel to a Canadian market.
There’s plenty of hype surrounding their arrival in the Fraser Valley. Both games against the Heat are expected to sell out.
“Abbotsford will get a real taste,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who had 18 goals and 52 points last year as a rookie with the Oilers.
He has three goals and 10 points in nine games for the Barons.
Of course, it’s highly likely that if not for the lockout, Nugent-Hopkins – as well as Eberle, Hall and Schultz – would be playing with the Oilers.
For now, that’s out of his control. Helping the Barons win – they are 5-4-0-1, which is seventh in the Western Conference – is the priority.
“I’ve definitely been keeping updated on the lockout but it’s tough when you’re in the middle of a season,” he said.