By Brian McDonough, special to NAHL.com-California Rubber Magazine
Chris Nuth celebrated what was perhaps his greatest moment on skates last spring in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s where his California Stars’ 18U AAA team captured the Pacific District regional championship, earning it a berth to nationals.
Sure enough, the 19-year-old forward from Trabuco Canyon is back up north gunning for even more success - this time in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
A member of the Kenai River Brown Bears, Nuth couldn’t be happier to call Alaska - a state, he says, that celebrates a unique passion for the sport - home this season. “I remember thinking that the fans from Alaska were the craziest I’d ever seen,” he recalled. “They seemed to almost compete harder to win games than the players; they’re honestly die-hard.
“It’s awesome to actually have them cheering for me now rather than yelling at me, especially in Kenai. Brown Bear fans support the team, win or lose, and treat the players like royalty.”
Drafted by Kenai River with the team’s final pick in May’s NAHL Entry Draft, Nuth started his junior career with a bang after putting home three goals and two assists in his first six games. He was also an impressive plus-6.
Leaving the comforts of Orange County, he says, has been a rewarding experience. “I remember telling people I was going to move to Alaska and they just looked at me like I was crazy,” said Nuth. “I just wanted to play in the NAHL and really didn't care where. Moving here was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. The team is amazing.”
And one that has a strong California tie behind the bench. Oliver David, a Los Angeles native, is in his second full season as Kenai’s head coach.
“He’s an amazing coach,” offered Nuth, whose coach for the Stars, Brent Agrusa, now leads the NAHL’s Chicago Hitmen. “I think the best thing about (David) is that he has the respect of his players. I’ve never heard one of his players - past or present - complain about him and that’ll take a team a long way.
“He works us extremely hard and knows exactly what to do to make the team better and help his players improve.”
Growing up, Nuth began his hockey career as a Pee Wee in the Yorba Linda Blackhawks (now OC Hockey Club) organization. He played another year of Pee Wee all the way through 16U for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks before deciding to play AAA with the Stars, with whom he played two seasons at the 18U level.
Nuth credits Tracy MacDonald - his coach every season with the Jr. Ducks - for fueling his passion for the game. “He was just a local dad coaching his son and his friends, but the biggest thing was that he let us just have fun,” said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Nuth. “He worked us hard and taught us the fundamentals, yet he made sure we were having fun every time we were on the ice and even off it."
“If hockey wasn't so fun growing up, I probably would've been done playing competitively a while ago.”
Instead, Nuth is now playing in one of the elite junior leagues in North America - one with a penchant for exposing, developing and advancing hundreds of its players to the collegiate and professional ranks year after year.
“My dream is to play college hockey,” said Nuth. “To get an education and be able to play hockey would be amazing. That's my goal and I’ll continue to work as hard as I can to improve until I get there.”