Great Nassau memories for Nystrom

STEVE MACFARLANE Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:40 PM ET

Years of memories of the New York Islanders and Nassau Coliseum are stamped on Eric Nystrom’s mind.

Dale Hunter dishing out a late hit on his favourite player Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs.

Brawls in the stands when the Isles would meet the cross-town rival Rangers.

Taking the ice himself as a toddler before morning skates when his dad, Bob Nystrom, wore No. 23 for the Isles — a kid in a candy store falling in love with the game.

All those memories are about to take a back seat.

Nystrom will suit up in the Coliseum for the first time as an NHL player Thursday night as the Flames continue their drive for the playoffs with a game against the Islanders.

“I grew up skating on that rink with my dad. It’s very exciting,” Nystrom said this week while wearing a huge smile at the thought of it.

“It’s gonna be an emotional night. I’ve got tons of friends and family there, so I’m really excited.

“I can’t wait.”

Neither can his parents, who have been patient for nearly a decade since Nystrom was drafted 10th overall by the Flames in 2002 to see him make his debut in his hometown.

“My parents are going crazy. My mom, all she wanted was to drive 20 minutes down the road to see me play in a game at Nassau Coliseum and finally it’s gonna happen,” Nystrom said of his mom, Michele.

“My mom’s been dying for this day for a long time. Every time the schedule comes out, she’s always looking when we play them. This year, when she saw it was March, she had it circled on the calendar right away.

“It’s nice to finally get there.”

It’s been a long time since Nystrom stepped on the ice there as a member of the Nassau Lions as a teenager.

The 27-year-old passed through the U.S. national team development program before four years at the University of Michigan. He split time with the Flames and their minor-league affiliates for a couple of seasons and had shoulder surgery before spending the last two years with the big club.

Now he gets to go back in time.

“The first time I ever went on the ice was there. I just remember being a little kid and skating there,” recalled Nystrom, who as he got older skated with then-head coach Rick Bowness’ son as a pre-teen. “Me and his son would go on the ice before a pre-game skate at seven in the morning and we’d have pucks and the whole ice to ourselves and just fly around out there. It’s every kid’s dream to be able to skate in an NHL arena, on the ice by yourself with all the pucks in the world.

“I was so lucky. It was just awesome. Surreal, almost. You just picture your favourite players playing on that ice. You imagine that you’re them out there.

“I saw so many games in that arena. I saw every single game growing up. I never missed a game.

“It’s really special to be playing there.”

About 50 of his family member and their close friends reserved a block of tickets. Nystrom says many more have also dropped him notes telling them they got tickets to watch his return.

Thankfully, he got a chance to visit with his folks on a more intimate level after landing in New York Wednesday.

“At the game there’s gonna be so many people waiting I’m not even gonna be able to say hello to everybody,” Nystrom said with a laugh.

The name Nystrom and Nassau Coliseum will always be tied together thanks to his dad’s service. It’s not out of the question Eric one day wears those same colours — he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer — but Eric doesn’t expect any sort of ovation from the Isles fans for this visit.

“I doubt it. I don’t know why there would be,” he said, grinning.

“Maybe from my little cheering squad.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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