Center Chad Nehring entered the third week of November as the Hartford Wolf Pack’s leading scorer.
Last year at this time, he had yet to play his first AHL game.
Despite three solid and productive seasons in the ECHL and Central League, the former Lake Superior State Laker had never landed an AHL opportunity prior to getting the call last November 29 to join the Wolf Pack from the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors. Once he got the chance, though, from Head Coach Ken Gernander & Co., who had just lost top-line pivot J.T. Miller to a recall to the parent New York Rangers, Nehring never looked back. He immediately latched on to a spot centering the Wolf Pack’s fourth line, and proved himself to be a useful and reliable penalty-killer as well.
That’s the same role in which he started this 2015-16 season, but the 28-year-old Springside, Saskatchewan native almost immediately began stepping up his offensive contributions. He scored the Wolf Pack’s only goal in their opening-night game against St. John’s October 10, had a personal AHL-best three-game point-scoring streak from October 17-23 and struck for his first career AHL three-point game Sunday, collecting a goal and two assists in the Wolf Pack’s wild, 7-6 overtime loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
To Nehring, any success he has had, whether it has been as a role player or as an offensive threat, has all been about a willingness to throw 100 percent of his energies into whatever the Wolf Pack has needed him to do.
“I think the biggest part of getting called up, when you join the next level you’ve got to find a role, just to be able to stay, to show yourself,” he said recently. “A lot of guys, if they’re scorers in the league below, they think they can come up and be a scorer here. There’s obviously bigger boys here and guys with more success, so when I came in last year, I tried to fit in, tried to fit my role, and whatever they asked upon me I would do. And that bought me some time to show myself and show my game, and luckily enough I was able to sign here in the off-season and have some success this season, and play a little bit more of a role.”
Nehring spent all of last season on a tryout agreement, and his yeoman work with what turned out to be a very successful Wolf Pack team earned him an AHL contract offer from the Pack this summer. Although the chance to show how solid a player he could be in the AHL was a long time coming, Nehring never doubted that it would present itself at some point.
“It’s about the time and the amount of work you put in,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient, there’s a lot of prospects, (NHL) contract guys, that are at this level. They (NHL teams) want to see their guys play and do well, and that’s why you’ve got to put in your time. You’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to work hard every day and try to earn your spot.
“That’s the biggest thing, is getting that opportunity. My mindset is, never give up, I work hard every day whether someone’s watching or not. A big thanks, honestly, goes to my agent (Peter Cooney), he got me to the camp over here (last year’s Wolf Pack training camp), to kind of get my foot in the door and get more people to see me and take a look. And I had a good start to the year, and luckily I got a chance to come up and prove myself enough to stay here and show myself.”
When asked if there is anything about the Wolf Pack situation that enabled Nehring to make such a good go of it, he said, “It’s all about the opportunity, it’s all about the fit. A lot of teams, maybe they had a younger fourth-line center they were developing, but our team was going for the championship last year, so maybe they wanted a little more experience on the fourth (line), a guy that’s played, maybe not at this level but other levels. It was the right fit, it worked out good and now here we are today.”
So the timing was right for Nehring to get a good break, and he certainly made the most of it. And while names like Chris Bourque, Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo, et. al., were the headliners of last year’s division championship, and march to the Conference Finals, by the Wolf Pack, the contributions of less-heralded individuals like Nehring were arguably just as important.
“It’s understanding your surroundings,” he said. “I mean, we had some really high-end skilled players, who are obviously having big years again this year. So you’ve got to know where you fit in, what you can contribute and how you can help the team win. And I feel like we all grabbed roles and accepted them, and played right through that, and that’s how we had so much success.”
Nehring started this 2015-16 season with exactly the same mindset, and his scoring exploits have pushed him up the Wolf Pack depth chart. He played Sunday on the Wolf Pack’s second line between Travis Oleksuk and Ryan Bourque, and he and Bourque combined for three goals and five points in a five-goal Wolf Pack first period.
“Obviously you want to have success, and for most of this year I was with (Nick) Tarnasky and (Shawn) O’Donnell, guys that work hard, and that’s how we play. We put some pucks in the back of the net and it worked out well, and now I got a little promotion for a little more opportunity, and continue to work hard every day to make it the best.
“It’s kind of one of those things with us losing a bit lately, I think there’s some changes being made and trying to find the right fit for everyone, and trying to turn this back on to the right track for the team.”
No one who watches the Wolf Pack on a consistent basis should have been surprised that Nehring and Bourque were in sync immediately, as both are heart-and-soul, full-effort players. According to Nehring, those are characteristics that typify the entire Wolf Pack team.
“Guys that work hard usually have the most success, and we clicked for a couple of nice plays,” he said of himself and Bourque. “We got a couple of bounces to go our way and it seemed like everything was going in in that first period.
“They switch up few things to see what’s going to work the best, because we have good players here, we have a good setup, and it’s just a matter of time before we start clicking in the right direction.”