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By: Julie Robenhymer

When Nathan Bastian embarked on his first season as a professional hockey player at the age of 19, he was concerned about stacking up to the level of play, a new dynamic in the locker room and living on his own. 

“No parents. No billet family. Just me and my laundry,” he said with a smile. 

It’s something that his mother, among others, was really concerned about when he first moved to Binghamton, but Bastian quickly got over it. 

“First of all, I was living with other guys on the team so it wasn’t like we were really living on our own,” he explained. “Everyone chipped in with the cooking and the cleaning so it really wasn’t a big deal at all. 

“I mean, how hard is cooking spaghetti?” he said with a laugh. “You put it in water and when it’s done you take it out. And doing the laundry, all I do is throw it in and press ‘wash’ and when it’s done I take it out and throw it in the dryer and press ‘dry’. I don’t understand how that’s a hard concept either. I really don’t know why all these people are so concerned about us being able to do these things and take care of ourselves. I think we’re pretty good at it.”

Another big adjustment was playing with men who had wives and families. 

“I’m not in junior anymore with a bunch of 17-year-olds,” said the Kitchener native who spent three seasons playing for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL “I was playing with men – 26, 30-year-olds – I had to keep the goofiness in check. I mean…it just had to be done, but at the same time we’re still a bunch of boys. We still had a lot of fun and the guys were great.”

On the ice, Bastian’s biggest adjustment came with the realization that the AHL level was harder than he expected. 

“I knew it was a big jump and that it’d be hard, but you really don’t know how difficult it is until you get there,” he stated. “It was honestly eye-opening to see just how good the AHL is and it was really important for me to find out that, even as a 20-year-old, I could compete with these guys. I went into the season with the mindset that I was going to learn and get better and I think I did that. On the ice, I became more of a compete and better player and, throughout the year, I just kept getting better and better.”

Bastian finished the season with ten goals and eight assists in 68 games with most of those points coming in the last month of the season. 

“When things went sideways for the team, it was tough, but I was still playing well and then I went through that slump – it was something like 20 games without a point – and that was really tough for me,” he said. “I started holding the stick too tight and the worst possible scenarios start going through your head, but part of being a pro is being consistent so I tried to do that and focus on what I could control and then I started playing better and was putting up more points and I think I ended the season really strong.”

Binghamton head coach Rick Kowalski agrees with Bastian’s self-assessment. 

“In the beginning, he played to a safe identity which we didn’t have a problem with,” he explained. “He was more physical and settled into a fourth-line role, but we knew he could be more than that because of his skill set. As the season progressed, he became more comfortable hanging on to the puck in the neutral zone and down low. He’s got good hands and is a big body. That definitely helped his development.”

Improved confidence aside, perhaps the biggest adjustment for the now 20-year-old was learning all the little things that make you a better professional. 

“I used to be able to get away with not stretching or not warming up,” Bastian said. “I’d just lace ‘em up and get out there, but the pro game is a lot harder on your body and you just have to do more before and after games and on your off days to prepare and recover and just be nicer to your body.”

While stretching has become part of his daily routine even away from the rink, Bastian is also feeling better thanks to a supplement he now adds to his protein shakes. 

“I used to be a professional napper. I napped every day, not even just on game days. Every day,” he explained. “I’d be at the gym and while resting between reps I’d think about how excited I was to go home and have a nap because I was just so tired and now that I’ve been adding this green stuff to my shakes, the thought of taking a nap doesn’t even cross my mind. I feel so much better and I can’t even believe it.”

The “green stuff” – dried, pulverized vegetables like spinach and kale that provide extra iron and a natural energy boost – was suggested by his trainer and it’s helping Bastian – 6-foot-4, 205 pounds –  have his best summer of training yet. 

“I know everyone says that about every summer, but this year I actually feel that way,” he said emphatically. “I’ve never had a better summer and I’m even grateful that we didn’t make the playoffs – don’t get me wrong, it would have been nice and playing for another month or so would have helped my on ice skills – but I’ve been in the gym for ten weeks now and I know I will be a better hockey player and have a better season next year because of it.”

Having a better understanding of how all the little things add up and can make a huge difference, Bastian is doing his best this off-season to set himself up for a strong rookie camp and a chance to compete for a spot on the New Jersey Devils roster. 

I now know how competitive [the AHL] is as a league and playing against guys who have their man strength, I now know how hard I need to work this offseason to get stronger so I can compete better for loose pucks and things like that,” he explained. “I also want to get faster and quicker, like I always do, but as I get older and feel better as a player and more confident in the system, I’ve learned to just trust the process and keep working hard because I know the results will come.”

For now, his focus is on making a good impression in Newark at his third Devils Development Camp. 

“As one of the older guys here, there’s no reason why I can’t be one of the more dominant players here,” he said. “That’s the goal for me. To have a good camp and stand out for all the right reasons and continue that through the rest of my summer training and come in for rookie camp ready to make a really good impression. Like I said, I feel really good right now. I know I’m on the right track and I’m just excited to get going and show off all my hard work.”