Perfect present

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

DENVER -- Bob Nystrom couldn't have asked for any greater gift to celebrate his 53rd birthday.

Nothing that came in a box with a bow could possibly top sitting in the seats of the Pepsi Center and watching his son, Eric, play his first NHL game.

"This is the best for an old fart like me," said the elder Nystrom, a Calgary product.

The trip he'd been dreaming of for years finally came for the former New York Islanders fan favourite who was part of four Stanley Cup titles.

On Sunday night, Eric -- Calgary's first-round draft choice in 2002 -- received the call. The struggling Flames, needing a spark, recalled the left winger from AHL Omaha for last night's game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Bob and his wife Michelle immediately put the wheels in motion to head to Denver.

"I would have liked a little bit more notice but, when he called (Sunday) night, we were just absolutely thrilled," said Bob. "It's great to see him on the ice. We wouldn't miss his first game."

Actually, this is the second journey west for Bob in the last week alone. He traveled to Omaha and Des Moines to see Eric's first two pro games on the weekend with the Knights.

Of course, the storms throughout much of the U.S. made for some tense moments during yesterday's trip.

"I was kinda concerned because we were driving pretty quickly to get here from the airport, because we were delayed about an hour and 15 minutes out of New York," Bob said. "We weren't sure we were gonna get in but it's a real thrill for me. A real thrill."

Eric's milestone moment brought up memories of Bob's first NHL clash. He was called up around Christmas in 1972 from New Haven for a game in Chicago.

"I think I was minus-three my first three shifts," he said. "Then I kinda settled down."

Despite his own nerves, Eric had a solid debut against the Avalanche.

"You can never tell until you see game tape but I thought I felt good, kept it simple and moved the puck," said Eric, who finished the night minus-one.

"I worked my whole life to get a chance to play in the NHL and hopefully this is the first of many. I'm happy to be up here but losing 7-3 you can't just be happy to play here, you have to contribute as much as you can."

Still, Bob said before the game win or lose, he's just happy to see his son get his chance in the NHL.

"I think he's got good legs, it seems like he's got some good wheels under him," Bob said. "He had some good shifts, just what he's got to do, generate out there."

Besides, it's a moment that would even rank with scoring that famous Stanley Cup-winning goal of 1980.

"It's a dad thing," said Bob. "To see a kid from Long Island make the NHL, it's something we never really expected.

"It's not that the hockey's not good but the ability to play and practise and things like that isn't there.

"He's worked his butt off and to see him get here is phenomenal. For a dad, it's the best thing you can hope for because it's his true love and that's the best thing you can hope for with your kids."


Videos

Photos