ANAHEIM – Matt Nieto figures he was about nine or 10 years old the last time he was on the Honda Center ice before this year.
The Long Beach native was a part of the Junior Ducks then, taking part in a shootout competition between periods. He played a preseason game here with the Sharks in September, but Tuesday’s game will be his first real NHL game in Southern California.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be really cool for me,” Nieto said. “I have a bunch of family and friends coming to the game tonight, so it will be nice for them to watch me play in person. I’m excited.”
The 21-year-old estimated his cheering section to be between 15 and 20, as the Sharks go for a home-and-home sweep of their division rival.
Nieto said that as a little kid, he was more of a Ducks fan, perhaps drawn to their silly cartoon logo when the team was originally founded in 1993. Later, he gravitated towards the Kings, thanks to a good friend that had season tickets.
He’s missed both of the Sharks’ games against the Kings, suffering a hand injury in late October, just a few days before San Jose visited Los Angeles on Oct. 30. On Dec. 19, Nieto was on a minor league reassignment in San Francisco.
He’ll finally get his chance on Tuesday at Honda Center, and if he remains on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, there’s a good chance he can end his 14-game scoreless streak.
“I was really looking forward to playing here, and it was really unfortunate with the injury,” he said of the missed games at Staples Center. “I’m excited to play here. It’s New Year’s Eve, and it couldn’t be a better time.”