In baseball the swing-man is a valuable piece, a pitcher who is capable of delivering innings out of the bullpen, but also sliding into the rotation for spot starts.
Flexibility makes the swing man indispensable.
In hockey, the swing man is less heralded but no less important, and Nolan Zweep is that guy for the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The 19-year-old started his junior A career on defence.
This year, Chiefs bench boss Jason Tatarnic asked the Abbotsford native to play forward.
Good soldier that he is, Zweep has accepted the challenge with no complaints.
“It’s new and a lot of fun and I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “It helps out the team and whatever I can do to help the team is what I want to do.”
Players asked to fill this role often bristle at the thought. Zweep could view it as an indictment of his work on D, but he takes the sunnier approach.
Down the stretch and into the playoffs, No. 24 was a press-box regular, and he had enough of that.
“I always just wanted to get into games,” Zweep said. “So whatever got me into games where I could help the team, that’s what I was going to do,” Zweep said.
The Chiefs have played 17 games so far this year and Zweep’s suited up for 15.
He practises as a forward and has played up front all year, but Tatarnic rests easier at night knowing he’s got a player who can fill in on D when the injury bug bites.
On Saturday night versus Victoria, Zweep did fill in on the blueline in place of injured teammate Carver Watson.
“Nolan is very valuable to our team because he can play forward or defense and not many guys can do that,” Tatarnic said. “He’s a work horse, he brings energy and he’s a guy that every team needs.”
“Nolan does everything for the team and he has team-first attitude and those kids are hard to find sometimes.”
The difference between forward and defence is the old ‘hammer and nail’ analogy.
On defence, you’re taking hits to make a play, moving the puck in the face of on-rushing fore-checkers.
Zweep’s role reversal finds him as the hammer, pestering and punishing any defenders who are slow to react.
“One thing I’m finding that’s nice is I know what the defenceman doesn’t want to do,” he said. “I can pressure guys into situations I didn’t like to get into myself.”
“I can take away their easy play, force them into a harder pass and finish my check afterwards.”
“By taking away what I liked to do, what was easier to do on D, hopefully I’m making them mess it up by giving them little time and space.”
On defence, Zweep said he could control the play more and see the entire ice as he made passes.
Forward is more of a reactionary blur.
“I’m trying to be up on fore-check hard, back on the back-check hard and be very sound all around.”
“I’ve played defence my entire life, so this is new and exciting and a lot of fun.”
Zweep had one goal last year.
He’s still looking for his first this year, trying to figure out how to be defensively dependable while still producing offence.
“It’s something I’m still trying to pick up, like those little plays down by the net that I’m not used to,” he said. “I’m already starting to pick up on it and it’s going to keep coming for me.”
Zweep gets to watch Jordan Kawaguchi on a nightly basis, but how many guys can emulate what Gooch does?
Zweep keeps a closer eye on veteran Linden Hora, who’s role last year is similar to Zweep’s this year.
“Gooch has helped me a ton, but Hora’s role is the one I’m trying to do,” he said. “I’m trying to bring energy to the team.”
“Linden is energy and he is fun.”
“He’s defensively sound but he also pounces on every offensive opportunity he can.”
Zweep doesn’t have the same ability to aggravate the entire opposing bench that Hora has.
But he isn’t afraid of confrontation and won’t back down.
“They might be bigger and throw me around, but I’m not scared,” says Zweep, who measures five-foot-10 and 180 pounds.
“Last year I was more scared about making mistakes than anything else, where this year I’m more confident and I’m looking to make plays.”
• Zweep’s Chiefs are on the road this weekend, facing three Coastal Conference foes. Chilliwack visits Nanaimo Friday, Cowichan Valley Saturday and Powell River Sunday.
The next home game is Nov. 12 versus the Coquitlam Express.