Don Nachbaur spent all of his minor hockey years in Prince George. Local rinks, teammates and coaches played a major role in his rise to the National Hockey League.
Now, the city where Nachbaur strapped on skates for his first organized hockey game is recognizing his athletic achievements. He is being inducted into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame in the professional athlete category.
“I think it’s an honour,” said Nachbaur, who is now head coach of the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. “It’s an honour too because there are so many people that have donned athletics in Prince George, and to be singled out for your accomplishments is very humbling. At the end of the day, I would never have been able to do what I have done had it not been for such quality people that have helped me along the way from the time I was a kid to the time I became a pro. And it all started in Prince George.”
Nachbaur was born in Kitimat in 1959 and his family settled in Prince George in 1967. During his time in the Prince George Minor Hockey Association, a long list of coaches helped him develop his skills and appreciate the game of hockey. Nachbaur’s father, Walter, was also a major influence.
“I think any son looks up to his father," Nachbaur said. “I’m no different. He taught me a lot about life. He taught me a lot about hard work.”
Nachbaur looked up to coaches like Dave King, who coached him when he suited up for the Billings Bighorns of the Western Hockey League. Nachbaur skated for the Bighorns in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.
“Dave King was pretty much my mentor for the pro game,” he said. “He was a fantastic coach.”
In the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, Nachbaur was selected in the third round, 60th overall, by the Hartford Whalers. He was among a talented crop of prospects chosen. Other players, like defencemen Ray Bourque and Kevin Lowe, and forwards Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson, were also part of the 1979 draft class.
Nachbaur played 223 games in the NHL. He skated for the Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. During his NHL career, he collected 23 goals and 46 assists for 69 points. He also had a rugged side. His 467 penalty minutes are proof he wasn’t afraid to mix things up. In 11 NHL playoff games, Nachbaur scored one goal and added an assist. He also had 24 penalty minutes in the post-season.
Nachbaur came close to winning the Stanley Cup on two occasions. He suited up for the Oilers squad that was swept by the New York Islanders in the 1983 final and played for the Flyers team that fell to Edmonton in seven games in the 1987 championship series.
Nachbaur’s professional career also included 469 games in the American Hockey League, where he spent time with the Springfield Indians, Moncton Alpines, New Haven Nighthawks and Hershey Bears. After he suffered a herniated disk in his neck during a game with the Flyers in the 1989-90 season, doctors advised him to be careful with hitting and fighting. He decided to continue his career in Europe, where skating was more important than physical play. He spent four seasons, 1990 to 1994, with Graz EC of the Austrian League.
Nachbaur started his full-time coaching career in 1994-95 with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. After six seasons as head coach in Seattle, he returned to the AHL to work as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Phantoms. The Phantoms were led at the time by bench boss John Stevens, who went on to guide the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
Nachbaur began his tenure with the Tri-City organization in 2003. By the time the 2007-08 season arrived, he had turned the Americans into a WHL powerhouse.