Battle of Alberta brings out best in Calgary-born Nilsson

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Robert Nilsson insists his affinity for Calgary hasn't waned.

It is, of course, the city where he was born.

It is the city where his father, Kent, starred for five seasons.

It is the place his family visited nearly every summer.

It's just the Edmonton Oilers forward is on the other side of the Battle of Alberta.

"I was always a big fan of Calgary and Edmonton," Nilsson insisted after the morning skate in preparation for last night's clash against the Calgary Flames. "But when you're here, you have to choose one of them, and, right now, it's Edmonton."

Still, you know the 22-year-old acquired from the New York Islanders as part of the Ryan Smyth trade had a little extra something in his game when he faced the Flames for the first time in his career a week ago last night. The talented young pro netted a goal and an assist in his first ever regular season clash at the Saddledome. It also happened to be the first time he'd played against the Flames.

"It's fun to play Calgary," said the 5-ft.-11, 185-lb. winger. "It's a good team, and you have to be on top of your game to beat them. Obviously, there's a little bit more motivation that I was born there, too, and have a couple of friends there."

Nilsson was born in the Stampede City Jan. 10, 1985, and six months later his father -- known as the Magic Man for his immense talent -- was traded to the Minnesota North Stars.

Still, almost every year until his mid-teens, the Nilsson clan returned to Calgary for a summer vacation.

"My mom and dad still have friends there, so we spent a lot of time visiting," he said. "I'd hang out with their friends' kids.

"I played summer hockey there when I was 13 or 14, too."

Nilsson's father also spent part of one season with the Oilers and won a Stanley Cup in 1987. Kent Nilsson is currently a scout for the Oilers, which does allow him to keep tabs on his son from Sweden.

It's unfair to expect Robert to be the offensive force his father was in his prime.

Heading into last night's clash with the Flames, Nilsson had eight goals and 25 points in 68 NHL games over three seasons. This year, he'd compiled one goal and three assists in 11 games -- a year that included a stint in the minors after starting the season in Edmonton.

"I feel like I'm ready to have my place here. Of course, it's a disappointment to be sent down, but you've got to work on those things that made you get sent down," said Nilsson, who responded to the demotion with four points in five AHL games before being recalled to the big club.

"I know I had two or three bad games before I got sent down, so I wasn't angry with their decision. I was angry with myself and tried to do as good a job as I can."

And now he has to find the elixir to stay.

"It's a consistency thing," Nilsson said. "Even though some nights the puck doesn't bounce as you want it to, you still have to be good defensively and try not to get any pucks behind you. That's the main thing I have to work on."


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