Veteran still has something to offer

Former Black Stick James Nation is back playing in the National Hockey League after a two-year...
Former Black Stick James Nation is back playing in the National Hockey League after a two-year absence. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
It is a bit cruel when James Nation has to line up next to someone half his age or less in a sprint race.

But what the 41-year-old lacks in speed he makes up for in experience and he has that in abundance.

The veteran defender made more than 100 appearances for his country before retiring from international hockey nine years ago.

While he called it quits at the top level, Nation kept playing at club and provincial level.

He linked up with the Southern Dogs when he moved to Dunedin for an employment opportunity in 2010.

The team pulled out of the National Hockey League in 2016 and Nation was injured last year and skipped the campaign.

But he is back this season for another tilt at the title.

Nation plays for Kings United in the local club competition and is doing some coaching at John McGlashan College as well.

"I still felt like I had something to offer the club by playing," he said.

"And when our kids came along, it still fitted in and I think it is really good for children to see their parents participating in sport.

"And hockey is kind of like that - it is very family-orientated.

"The pressure is off. You are just there having fun. It is a form of fitness and it is nice to help the younger players."

Nation and wife Sophie (38) have two children, Max (9) and Anabelle (6).

He is the chief executive of the Tarn Group and life is busy. But with Black Sticks Hugo Inglis, Blair Tarrant, Nick Ross and Kane Russell unavailable, Nation felt his experience would be an asset for Southern and he is fit and willing, so why not.

Potentially, he will be the oldest player in the NHL and playing alongside the likes of young stars Malachi Buschl and the Ward brothers, Jordan and Finn, is a challenge.

"I really enjoy it. They play so differently to how I play. Hockey is so much faster than what it was and I'm getting slower, so there is this big gap.

"They keep me honest and, hopefully, I keep them honest as well with some tips when I can.

"But it is a bit sad when I'm having to do some sprints against Finn - there is a huge age gap."

Finn is just 17 and will quite possibly be the youngest player in the NHL.

He is not the only teenager in the squad. Southern has a young and mostly local crew. How competitive the team will be is an unknown quantity.

"I don't know to be fair," Nation responded.

"We are always the underdogs and we are the underdogs because we don't get to play against anyone until we are at the tournament, so they don't know us.

"We always seem to punch above our weight and I think if we get into the top four we will have had a fantastic tournament given the experience we've lost or have.

"I think we just have to go there and play as well as we can."

Southern opens its campaign with a home game against Canterbury next month.


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