Not like his father's Isles

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Watching the New York Islanders take the pre-game warm-up, it would be hard for Eric Nystrom not to picture his dad out there, hair flowing freely, as if decades hadn't passed.

But these aren't Bob Nystrom's Islanders.

"It's disappointing to see them struggle the way they are," said Calgary Flames winger Eric yesterday.

"They have a lot of history there."

Ancient history, it seems, the way the last couple of seasons have gone for the Isles.

Sitting in last place in the league heading into last night's game vs. the Flames, the Islanders are a team torn apart by injuries and trapped in a rebuilding phase.

Veterans like Bill Guerin and Doug Weight can only add so much to the group, which stumbled to a 12-25-4 record over the first half of the season.

"It's brutal," said Islanders centre Mike Comrie. "Everybody wants to win. It doesn't matter what phase the organization is in, or where you are in your career, when you aren't successful, it takes a toll."

The glory days are gone. The younger Nystrom was born in New York at the tail end of a four-year Stanley Cup streak for Al Arbour's Isles.

He might have been a little too young to appreciate it then, but even after his dad's playing days were done, he was around some of the team's greats.

"I used to hang out with my dad there and met a lot of their old players. It's really special to be playing against them," said Nystrom, who was scratched last year when the Islanders came to town.

"There's just so many memories. I used to go into the equipment room and hang out, and they would sharpen my skates," Nystrom continued. "I got a pair of Bryan McCabe's gloves and thought I was the coolest kid around.

"Even just getting to hang out with some Hall-of-Famers who used to play for that team was special. My dad's best friend is Clark Gillies. Seeing Bryan Trottier and those guys around them just knowing who you are is just a privilege."

His dad watched last night's game on the tube back home in New York.

"Now that I'm playing his former team, I'm sure he's having a special feeling in his stomach," Nystrom said.

"It's a unique experience, and I'm just so excited."

Despite their record, Comrie says the Islanders are feeling some excitement, as well.

"We have some great young prospects who are learning as they go," said Comrie, an Edmonton native.

"It makes it tough, but it's also enjoyable when you win and you see the excitement.

"Hopefully, it's a valuable experience for them."

Nystrom hopes so, too.

The only time he wishes bad things for his former favourite team is when they face the Flames.

"They have a lot of young players who look good who can maybe turn the organization around," Nystrom said. "I still want to see them do well, except when they are playing the Flames, of course. Hopefully they get some good luck and good fortune in the future.

"I watched them going through tough times growing up, and it's cyclical.

"They'll be back on top soon enough."


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