by Brian Coe
Alain Nasreddine stood there stone-faced, relating how hated his recent recall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It was boring, man," he said. "I just wanted to leave the first thing I got there."
Then the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin dropped the facade and let out a big laugh.
"No, it was unbelieveable," he said gleefully, "especially when you don’t really expect it. It just came as a shock. I was up there every day with the biggest smile. The team was doing good when I got there, and it was fun to be part of. It was fun to be there."
Nasreddine hasn’t seen much face time in the NHL during his 11-year pro career. Prior to this season, the former sixth-round draft choice of the Florida Panthers had appeared in just 18 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders. His six-game stint with the parent Pens was his longest stretch in the NHL since he suited up in eight games with his hometown Canadiens back in 1998-99.
"Being 30, you never know when you’re going to get your last shot," he said. "I got six games, that was nice. I think I did good, I think [the Pittsburgh staff] were pleased with what they saw."
Actually, they probably couldn’t have been happier. Nasreddine made his Pittsburgh debut on Mar. 11 against New Jersey, logging nearly 17 minutes of ice time in a 6-3 Penguins win. The defensive specialist went scoreless in his half dozen games, posting a plus-2 mark as Pittsburgh went 3-3-0.
To tell the truth, though, no one should have been surprised by what they saw out of Nasreddine at the NHL level. After all, he’s been among the best blueliners in the AHL this season, leading the league’s best defensive unit and placing second among all league defenders with a plus-20 rating headed into last weekend’s action.
Still, the recall came as a minor shock to Nasreddine when he was told by about it by Pens CEO Jeff Barrett on Mar. 9.
"We (Nasreddine and head coach Joe Mullen) were just talking and Jeff came in and said ‘Does he know yet?’" Nasreddine recalled. "Me and Joe looked at each other. I said, ‘What? What?’ And he said ‘You’ve been called up.’ My heart just dropped, it was a good feeling."
Two days later, Nasreddine was skating along side the likes of Sidney Crosby, John LeClair and Sergei Gonchar – elite company indeed. But it wasn’t the big names that gave his stomach butterflies.
"My stints in the NHL have been so far apart that every time I go up there I’m just as nervous as I was my first game, maybe even more," he said. "To go from the ‘A’ right away to a big game in the show, it was fun. It was exciting. I was nervous, but after the first couple shifts I was all right."
Pittsburgh could have easily called up a defensive prospect – such as Noah Welch, Ryan Lannon or Andy Schneider – in Nasreddine’s place. And that’s where a little familiarity from the head coach could have paid off for the vet.
"[Pittsburgh head coach] Mike [Therrien] knows what I can bring to the table, that certainly helps, especially when you get older," said Nasreddine, who played under Therrien in both Wilkes-Barre and Fredericton. "When you’re younger and you’re a prospect, you know you’re going to get a shot. The older you get, you have those young guys pushing and you have to make room for them. To get a shot at 30 years old, that I wasn’t expecting. But that’s the only reason why I’m still here, to get that shot in the NHL."
Nasreddine thought the 2005-06 campaign might be his last playing in North America. European teams have been dishing out large contracts to top-flight AHL players during the past few years and, with his contract being up at the end of this year, the promise of a big pay day looked pretty good to Nasreddine.
But the events of the last month have made him think twice about a trip overseas.
"Three times," he said. "With everything that’s happened the last couple weeks, I’m going to sit down with my family and we’ll see what the best decision is. But certainly right now I’m leaning toward staying here.
"I could easily fill a six [or] seven role on "D" for an [NHL] team. I wouldn’t cost too much. If I do the job, why not? Even if I’m a little older, I can give them a couple of years to fill in. I certainly would do it."