Stuck in the middle

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

A couple of months from now, Eric Nystrom will finish his college playing days. Then, the Calgary Flames 2002 first-round draft choice should be readying to embark on his pro career.

Seeing as the league and the NHLPA can't find common ground on a new collective bargaining agreement, Nystrom has no idea what the next step will be or where it'll take him.

"I wish I just knew more about what's going on and had more of a knowledge about it. I'm sure I will in the future," said the University of Michigan captain. "I hope it gets resolved because all I want to do is play. Who knows what is going to happen? I'm in an odd situation because I don't know what would happen, if there's a lockout where I'd go. It's tough for entry-level guys who just don't know what's going to happen.

"It's scary, it's finally our chance to step into pro hockey but where are we going to go and who are we going to play for? It's a question that's looming."

At least for a few months he can put that on a back burner.

A senior with the Wolverines, Nystrom will soon be preparing for his conference playoffs, with the hopes of a national title.

Plus he's going into the home stretch with renewed confidence having regained his offensive touch. A mid-January marker snapped a 10-game goal-scoring drought and the son of former New York Islanders Stanley Cup winner Bob Nystrom joked it had been so long he forgot to raise his arms in jubilation.

"I was just snake-bit. I had chances, a couple of breakaways, and was just getting stoned," he said. "But I tried to stay patient and now they're going in great. It just comes in bunches. I'm just playing hard and the puck's finding me. You can't ask for more than that."

Nystrom had six goals and 12 assists in 24 games going into last night's game against Michigan State.

Curiously, the Flames weren't worried about his scoring woes. They see the 6-ft. 1-in., 208-lb. forward in something of a checking role at the pro level.

Nystrom said knowing that helped him through the struggles.

"They told me my game isn't going to be measured by statistics. It's going to be measured by the win/loss column, because when I'm playing well the team should be winning," he said. "But, on the other hand, it's nice to score a few points. Playing good defensive hockey leads to me scoring. That's when the puck seems to find me."

He's actually preparing for the future while with the Wolverines. A big scorer as a freshman, he's now being counted on as a checker, expected to shut down opposing gunners and kill penalties.

"It's something that complements my game, being able to play in different roles," Nystrom said. "Being able to play in a checking role and knowing I can do that helps me. When I'm with players who can get me the puck, I know I can score.

"Come the next level, if I have to play in either situation I feel I can be successful. It's good to get versatility in your game.

"You can't teach offence but defence is something you need to have the will to do. That's maybe why some people shy away from it, because it's hard work and it's tough."

Sounds like he'd fit in perfectly with the Flames team envisioned and built by GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

"I kept close tabs on that team. They played a gritty style of hockey that I don't think other teams could match," Nystrom said of the Stanley Cup runners-up from last season. "They might not have been the best-skilled team but it was the team that wanted it the most.

"I love seeing underdog teams with so much heart beating a team with so much skill. Sometimes I get frustrated with the team we have here because we have a lot of skill but sometimes teams with older guys can push us around or play a little grittier and then we don't have as much success."


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