Whether you’re an Ottawa Senators fan or not, you simply can’t help but be happy for Nick Paul as a person and a player.
Six years ago, on July 1st, 2014, Paul was a 19-year-old player in the Dallas Stars system, who probably thought he had time to develop and grow on the team with little or no expectations as a 4th round pick.
Suddenly, he was seen as the key to a package that was traded for one of the greatest players in Ottawa Senators history, Jason Spezza.
The Mississauga native went from playing in relative obscurity with little pressure, to being matched with a rabid fanbase that placed high hopes and expectations on him because of who he was traded for. Paul struggled to find his game at the NHL level. You can imagine what the fans were saying, what management might have been thinking as he struggled to stay in the NHL lineup. Many would have forgiven him if he simply gave up on his NHL dreams due to the immense pressure.
But Nick Paul didn’t give up. He kept working and fighting each summer to improve. Suddenly, something clicked. Paul began to have success at the NHL level, and this injected him with a confidence that grew with each passing game.
Fans and media alike began to notice that Nick Paul had not only established himself as an NHL player, but the kind of player that would get invited to represent Canada at the World Championships.
That accomplishment alone would have been great, but Paul was not even close to being done yet. He not only made the team, but scored the golden goal to win the World Championships for Canada, a goal that will be forever remembered by hockey fans from coast to coast. The goal is a storybook ending to a journey of incredible perseverance. But Nick Paul’s story isn’t over, it’s just beginning, and Ottawa Senators fans should be excited about the next chapter coming this season.
We had a chance to catch up with Nick Paul to talk about the World Championships, his favourite things about the Capital, and his hopes for the season ahead.
How does it feel to be a few days off of your gold medal goal, one that will be remembered in Canadian history forever?
It’s an amazing feeling. Thinking back to the tournament and the experience we all had, it really is unbelievable. Everyone has been reaching out to me through social media. Now that I don’t have to be at the rink, I’ve had time to sit back and reminisce on the last three weeks.
The goal was set up by your Senators teammate Connor Brown. How special it is for you to have been able to share this moment with him?
Brown is an unbelievable guy. Off the ice we are really close. On the ice, he is such a skilled and smart player. I feel like this year he really found himself, and his scoring ability. He has always been an unbelievable player on D and on the power kill, making offensive plays, but I think that this year he really took a step to becoming an offensive threat. We have a great bond, and great chemistry as well. We were on the PK together and we loved to push the pace of the offensives who are on the PK to create turnovers and chances. Going into the tournament, we were on the power kill again. We didn’t end up on the same line, but we knew that the PK would be our time to score in the gold medal game for a 3 on 3. We had a good feeling. When I put it over to him, I knew he was going to handle it and give it back, so it was just an unbelievable feeling and I’m so excited and happy that it was with him.
Canada started off in a bit of a slump, going 0-3. What was the mentality of the team at that point? How did you come together?
It was really frustrating at the beginning. We felt that we played better than the outcome we had. We knew that we had the guys in the dressing room and on the ice that were good enough to beat those teams and push through the tournament. I think the best thing for us was coming together as a group by having meals and playing cards in the hotel room. There wasn’t one guy that was left out. At a non-COVID tournament, it’s hard to get the whole group to go to the same restaurant. But in the hotel, everyone was together, and everyone connected, no one was left out. Coming together in the hotel and at practices really helped to build our chemistry and helped us pull through.
Did you stay in touch with your family while you were there? Who was the first person you called whenever you got your phone back after the gold medal?
I called my mom and my dad. They’ve been there through everything. They’ve supported me through my ups and downs. My dad is my biggest fan, and he’s sacrificed everything for my mom and me. I had to give them a call to show them the gold medal, and the room was cheering. My brother was over at the same time with his wife Kelly and their newborn, so that eliminated another phone call. It was a really nice call and it was really important for me to get them on the phone.
You’ve now finished one full season in the NHL. Tell us about this past season with the Senators. What was it like for the players to play in front of no fans?
It was definitely weird not having any fans. The only fan noises we’d hear would be through a speaker. It was an adjustment, but once we got used to it, it was fine. It was weird during intermission, there was just no atmosphere. You can hear absolutely everything on our bench. It was a good season for me as it was my first full season, and coming from the AHL, it gave me a lot of confidence. Again, it didn’t start off the way we wanted either, but we found that core group of guys and pushed through and had a heck of a finish. We were one of the hottest teams in the NHL at the end of the season. We’re super excited for next year. For me personally, I’m glad I was able to gain that confidence with the coach and for the minutes that I played. I’m going to build on that next year.
Tell me about the guys on your team, off the ice. Who would you say is the funniest guy on the team? Who is someone who is funny, but they don’t try to be?
For me it would be Chris Tierney. He doesn’t seem like a funny guy, but his mannerisms and the way he jokes around will make you laugh. Colin White is up there too, but Tierney is the guy that you can always chirp and go back and forth with.
Who is the best dressed guy on the team? Who is someone who needs to improve their fashion game?
We have a lot of guys who may not own a mirror (laughs)… it’s tough to say, especially this year, because the guys would mostly come to the rink in sweats. But I’ll be nice and give it to Chabby. He likes to spend a little bit on his clothes, so I’ll give it to him. For worst dressed, I really couldn’t tell you this year because everybody’s been wearing sweats.
Who’s in charge of the music in the dressing room?
The music in the dressing room is always unreal, mostly because I run it (laughs). I start off the music, but once we start warming up everyone just plays around with the radio. It’s a team effort, and the mood always switches up depending on what we’re feeling that day.
You do a lot of work with The Royal Ottawa. Why is mental health such an important cause for you?
Mental health is really important to me. When I was in high school, one of my good friends took his life, and it is something that has impacted me deeply. I knew that once I got a platform and was able to make a change, that I wanted to get involved. I started my own charity when I was in the OHL called ‘Points for Paul’. I started out with the North Bay Foundation. When I came to Ottawa, I was up and down in the AHL with Ottawa, Binghamton, and Belleville. Once I got my platform in Ottawa, I worked with The Royal and they’ve been absolutely amazing. We have a lot of cool things coming up… the last 50/50 draw went to The Royal for mental health. My girlfriend and I just bought a house here in Ottawa, so we really want to be a part of this community, we want to make a difference and we’re very excited for the opportunities to come.
Now that you’re home, what are you looking forward to most? Is it hitting the fairways or a certain patio in Ottawa?
I think I will definitely be going to the golf course first. I’ve been missing that. I’ve been watching a lot of golf videos, so hitting the links is definitely first on the list.
What is your favorite thing about Ontario in the summer?
Probably patios. Patio season is huge. I love eating in the sun, and a nice cold beer always goes down better on a patio.
Do you have a pet? Or did you have a pet growing up?
I had a husky growing up. And we have a husky-shepherd rescue who is a year and a half old from Freedom Dog Rescue.
Social media. Love or hate?
Depends on if I had a good game or not (laughs). Just kidding. It’s good and bad. When you’re killing time it’s nice to scroll through, but sometimes that scrolling can turn into an hour. So, it is a love-hate relationship.
Do you like to cook? If you do, what is your favorite dish to cook on a night off?
Absolutely. My girlfriend and I actually cook a lot. Our favorite dish is salmon with a pistachio horseradish crust.
What is your favorite thing about Ottawa so far?
Probably walking around downtown. We love Tavern on the Hill; we’ve gone there with our dog a few times. It is a beautiful park down there. I come from Mississauga, and it’s always so packed to go downtown. But here, you take a 15-minute drive, and you’re at a trail, it’s nice and convenient.
Nick, if you could give any piece of advice to a young hockey player looking to follow in your footsteps, what would it be?
It would honestly be to never give up. People say it so much, and you can take it how you want. But at the end of the day, if you really want to do something, you can do it. There were times when I thought it was impossible, and I didn’t think I was going to get to the outcome that I have now. By sticking to it, and pushing through, and not taking no for an answer, you can do a lot of things. The mind is a very powerful weapon, so don’t listen to anyone else and believe in yourself.