SUN Hockey Pool

Nystrom's not the kid Sutter used to know

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:40 PM ET

Sitting in his ranch house, wading through the list of players hed inherited this summer, it didnt take long for Brent Sutter to spot one name that stood out as being awfully familiar.

Oh sure there was Dion Phaneuf, who Sutter coached in Red Deer several years back.

But this was someone hed known much, much longer than that.

His name: Eric Nystrom.

Having played alongside Bob Nystrom on Long Island before Eric was even born, Sutter admits he entered this weeks camp with a soft spot for the little gaffer.

Its so neat because Eric Nystrom was just two years old back then, beamed the Flames new head coach, showing a softer side when talk turned to Eric.

He was the cutest little guy. He used to come around with his little stick and shoot around the dressing room. I remember carrying him around the room.

Two decades later, the two meet again in an NHL dressing room, albeit 3,000 km away from their original daycare setting. And now, at age 26, the 6-foot-1, 195-lb. Nystrom carries himself quite well around the room, thank-you very much, as someone many see as a key role player for the Flames.

I dont think were that different, he said of the obvious comparisons with his father a gritty, tenacious right winger who spent 14 years with the Islanders after honing his craft as a Calgary Centennial in the early 70s.

I think (Sutter) knows what to expect from me and Im going to make sure I make a great first impression and prove I can be a key part of this team.

One of the harshest criticisms of Mike Keenan throughout his two years in Calgary revolved around his stubborn refusal to reward role players like Nystrom with more ice time on nights when he clearly deserved it.

Just how Sutter will see him now is anyones guess, which is why Nystrom entered last nights exhibition game hoping to leave nothing to chance or sentimentality.

This is a new season and theres a lot of competition here nobody has anything locked down, said Nystrom, selected 10th overall by the Flames in 2002.

You have to play your best Im looking at this as a playoff game. This is the biggest game of my season right now.

Sutter has a track record of apportioning ice time based on effort, which bodes well for a heart and soul guy like Nystrom whose eyes got wider as he recalled the impact meeting his dads teammates had.

He was the captain of the New York Islanders and I grew up a huge Islanders fan, said Nystrom of Sutter, whose career in New York overlapped the elder Nystroms by five years.

I was so young back then, but I watched him play a lot of hockey. Its just interesting to cross paths with a person like that its great to have some sort of connection. I was excited to hear he was hired because hes a guy who knows what it takes to win. Hes won the Cup as a player, hes a really structured guy and hes going to suit this team really well.

Last year, his first full season with the Flames, Nystrom demonstrated brief flashes of the type of finish that saw dear ol Dad piece together seven 20-goal seasons en route to four Stanley Cups.

He knows he needs to demonstrate more of that if he wants to ascend any higher than fourth or third-line status.

I dont like to put it in those terms because thats out of my control, said Nystrom who scored five goals largely as a fourth-liner last year.

Ill do whatever they ask me to do and make sure this team is contending for the Stanley Cup.

Even sounds like his dad, which is music to Sutters ear.


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