"Slap Shot" meets "A Season on the Brink" in this twisted tale of minor league hockey in the place with more pro teams than any place in North America: TEXAS!

Nasty Nasato Eases IceBats Way
By Jason Cohen

AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Luch Nasato gets his paycheck from the Memphis RiverKings, but Austin management may well owe him money. In Game 2 of the Central Hockey League President's Cup finals, he gave the Ice Bats fans top-notch entertainment. With apologies to Clint Cabana, Dan Wildfong and several San Antonio Iguanas, the Travis County Expo Center hasn't burned with this much hate since the Central Texas Stampede went out of business. That Nasato was one of several undisciplined Memphis players who helped Austin even up the series with a 4-2 win was really just a bonus.

The pink-haired RiverKings defenseman had Austin thinking about him right from the first face-off. He'd gotten away with a spear of Jeff Greenlaw in Game 1; tonight, he continued to hack and whack, and started a fight between Eric Labelle and Brian Tucker that he somehow backed away from without penalty. Labelle treated Nasato to a chicken dance as he skated to the box.

By the second period, Nasato had the Bats so worked up that normally even-keeled Gerald Tallaire taunted the Memphis bench after giving Austin a 2-1 lead. A full-on fracas developed out of that.

Memphis tied the game 2-2 on a Don Martin five-on-three goal at 11:20 of the second period; there were four Bats and three RiverKings in the box for that one. But when Nasato went for tripping at 13:23, Greg Willers made him pay with an unassisted goal. When Dan Price made it 4-2 at 19:23, Nasato slashed him after the lamp had already been lit. By the end of the night, he had accumulated seven penalties: slashing (twice), roughing (twice), unsportsmanlike conduct, unsportsmanlike conduct-diving and tripping.

"I thought he was pathetic for a hockey player tonight, I really did," Ice Bats coach Brent Hughes said. "I don't think that stuff belongs in the game. If I was his coach, I'd be disappointed."

"He knows he didn't help us tonight," Memphis head coach Doug Shedden said. "I don't need to yell and scream at him. Usually, one game in a long series, he crosses the line and takes dumb penalties instead of creating them. But he's a great player, an All-Star defenseman in this league. He's loved in our rink and I love him -- he's a winner. He needs to stay on the ice."

Nasato leads all CHL defensemen in the playoffs with 16 points, and had 40 in the regular season, along with a plus-minus rating of +23. He won a United League championship with Shedden in Flint two years ago, and also has 39 International Hockey League games on his resume.

Last time the two teams met in the regular season Nasato attacked Price, who received 30-some stitches from a flying puck the game before, with an under-the-shield face wash. He was out of the box about a millisecond when Greenlaw retaliated. Then, according to several Bats, Nasato skated to the Austin bench and began clawing at his nose and face, trying to produce blood to draw an extra penalty.

"I don't remember a lot of the stuff I do during a game," Nasato said when asked if this was true. In any case, the Kings scored two power-play goals with Greenlaw in the box that night.

Tonight, the Bat Cave crowd jeered Nasato long and loud and hard, with as much enthusiasm as they had for Austin's goals. An hour after the final buzzer, Nasato was talking quietly with a few RiverKings supporters outside the Memphis bus. Austin fans on the balcony above continued to make fun of his hair, question his sexuality and remind him which team won.

He wouldn't have it any other way. "If people aren't talking about me or saying anything I'm not doing my job," he said. "I feel good that everyone's out there giving me - crap let's say."

"He does his job, he does it well," said Ice Bats forward Ryan Anderson. "What can you say? If you asked, would you want him on your team, anyone would say yeah, in a heartbeat."


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