His first choice would be to have his name plate in the Tampa Bay Lightning's dressing room, but that doesn't make Cristoval "Boo" Nieves unique among his new Crunch teammates.

It's the surreal feeling of deja vu the Baldwinsville native experienced on his first day of training camp that sets him apart.

"It looks exactly the same," said Nieves about Cicero's Twin Rinks arena, the site of this year's preseason camp, and the place where Boo sharpened his skates as a teenager, a little more than a decade ago, as a proud member of the Syracuse Stars.

What You Need To Know

  • Cristoval "Boo" Nieves skated with the Syracuse Crunch for the first time Tuesday morning

  • The Baldwinsville native was hoping to earn a spot with the team's NHL parent Tampa Bay Lightning after signing a tryout contract 

  • Nieves grew up skating at both Twin Rinks, site of Crunch training camp, and the War Memorial while playing for Camillus Youth Hockey and the Syracuse Stars

  • The Crunch play their only exhibition game in Utica on January 30

Nieves, who turns 27 on Saturday, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Lightning last week after attending the Stanley Cup champs' camp on a tryout. After playing 76 games with the New York Rangers over the past four seasons, he was hoping to earn a spot on Tampa's NHL roster.

Partly due to the pandemic, unfortunately, Nieves got squeezed out, and was sent down last week to his hometown's AHL team.

"I'm not sure what necessarily went wrong," he said after his first Crunch practice Tuesday. "It's kind of an odd year, you know, numbers-wise, it's a little different. Everything's obviously a little different, with everything going on. I'm just kind of focusing on being here, and just trying to do what I can to get back there."

"We like him as a player, and that's why we signed him," said Tampa's director of player development, Stacy Roest. "He'll probably be one of the first guys to get a look up there, but for now, hopefully we stay healthy, and guys can continue to play up there. And, if they're not going to play up there, we want them playing down here."

Nieves said one of the benefits is his familiarity, not only with his CNY surroundings, but with both his old home rink, Twin Rinks, and his new one, the War Memorial. Boo played most of the last four seasons for the Rangers' AHL team in Hartford, so he's taken the War Memorial ice as a professional. He's also skated there as a pre-teen, while he was with the Camillus Youth Hockey program, on special occasions.

"The War Memorial was actually kind of a treat when we skated there," recalled Nieves, who says he thinks it was on Thursday nights. "You'd see all the guys coming out and taping sticks, and you go to some of the games growing up, and you see how fast-paced the game can really be played. It's definitely inspiring, and it's definitely something I aspired to."

 As much as he's enjoying being "home" again, Boo makes it clear his goal is to get back down to Florida, where his immediate family has relocated, and where his NHL dreams lie in wait. He, like the rest of his teammates, is pinning his hopes on earning a shot with the Lightning at some point this season.

In the meantime, though, Nieves said it's nice to be able to look outside the window in his hotel room, and know exactly where he is. And to have the opportunity to use the rinks he grew up on to prove himself, and find his way back to where he wants to be.

"Just doing the things I always do, passing, skating, hitting," Nieves said. "I'm just now working with these guys, trying to show them what I can do."