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Nystrom Seeking Stanley Cup in Minnesota

Wild forward talks about his Jewish roots, college days and NHL career

By: Sammy Hudes
Published: August 24th, 2011 in Culture » Society » Interviews
Minnesota Wild forward, Eric NystromPic: Minnesota Wild photographer, Bruce Kluckhohn

Heading into his fifth season as an NHLer, it is very clear that Eric Nystrom has the drive and will to stay around a lot longer.

Nystrom, 28, was born in Syosset, New York while his father, Bob was playing for the New York Islanders. Eric, whose mother is Jewish, grew up celebrating a few of the Jewish holidays, and fondly recalls his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13. But hockey was always Nystrom’s passion. He cheered for the Islanders from a young age, and idolized players such as Pierre Turgeon and Pat Lafontaine; current Philadelphia Flyers winger, Jaromir Jagr; as well as former Calgary Flames stars, Theo Fleury and Gary Roberts.

Despite growing up with a former NHL player as his father, the younger Nystrom says that he was too young to ever watch his dad play professionally, although having him around made for a great resource. And while some of the hockey traits that he learned from his dad may have been passed down, Nystrom says that he has mostly tried to develop his own game.

“Any time you have somebody around you that’s won the cup four times and played in the NHL for 14 seasons, you’re going to listen to what they say,” Nystrom tells Shalom Life. “I was really fortunate to have my dad be that guy. He never pushed me too hard, he was always very positive and encouraging and always gave me great advice. I was really lucky to have that during my upbringing.”

Nystrom took the college route to reach the NHL and is an alumnus of the famous University of Michigan Wolverines hockey team. After playing and studying at Michigan from 2001 to 2005, he became one of the few NHLers to achieve a university degree, graduating from a liberal arts program. Over six years later, Nystrom speaks very highly of the Michigan hockey program.

“In college, you play fewer games but you get more practise time and I thought that would really help me develop my game,” he said. “It seems that on every team we play against and every team I’ve been on in the NHL, there’s always a Michigan player. Clearly they’re putting guys in the NHL. But also, it’s a great school and a great education.”

After his freshman year in Michigan, in which he scored 30 points in 39 games, Nystrom was drafted 10th overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-1 left winger turned pro during the 2005-06 season, scoring 33 points in 78 games for the Flames’ then-American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. After an injury-plagued 2007 season, Nystrom split time between Calgary and the AHL in 2007-08, and finally became a full-time NHLer in 2008-09.

Thus far in his NHL career, Nystrom has amassed 23 goals, 28 assists and 51 points in 286 games played, however he is more known for his two-way game, often relied on to kill penalties, block shots, or throw a big hit.

“Obviously, numbers are nice and I would like to put up some solid ones, but there’s more to my game than that,” he says. “There’s definitely a way that I want to play and there’s a mindset I like to go into games with and what I need to do to be successful whether I score or not. I pride myself in being a hard worker.”

Nystrom’s outgoing nature, hard work and gritty, defensive abilities made him a fan favourite in Calgary, where he played for three and half seasons. As a player whose career high for points in a given season is 19, Nystrom credits his work ethic for helping him achieve that feat.

“I think the fans really appreciate a player that’s going out there and giving their all every single night because they’re spending their hard earned dollars to watch the team play. I just try to give it everything I have so the fans know that it’s not because of lack of effort if I maybe miss the net on a shot.”

Following the 2010 campaign, Nystrom became a free agent and signed a three-year contract with the Minnesota Wild, although he says it was a hard decision to leave the Flames.

“I was definitely sad to leave. I had a great experience there. That’s the organization that drafted me and I learned a lot from all the coaches and some of the older players. I learned how to be a pro and they were great at developing me. They gave me an opportunity to play in the NHL so I’m forever thankful for the time I had in Calgary.”

Now living in Minneapolis, Nystrom says that he is happy to be back in his home country and thoroughly enjoyed his first season with the Wild. Although he struggled early on and only put up four goals in 82 games, he feels that he has settled in and can now focus on his role next year.

Nystrom is hoping to improve on his play heading into his fifth season, and is currently training hard to stay in shape. While he would not set a target for 2011, Nystrom admits that he would like to score more than he did this year by burying his opportunities.

A strong season would likely please the solid fan base that exists in Minnesota, which was one of the main attractions that brought Nystrom to the Wild.

“The fans are awesome,” he says. “I’m been very fortunate to have played in Calgary where fans are obviously amazing. They live and die for the team there and it’s the same thing in Minnesota. They’re really knowledgeable and they’re there in numbers every single night. I’ve been very fortunate to play in two markets where they’re studious and they’re knowledgeable about the game.”

Minnesota Wild fans would undoubtedly appreciate a successful season after watching their team miss the playoffs for the last three years. They would most likely be more than satisfied if Nystrom even managed to achieve his career aspirations with the team.

“Just like anybody else I want to lift that cup over my head. That’s the ultimate for any hockey player.”

A Stanley Cup victory would also certainly mean a lot to the global Jewish community, as Nystrom is one of just a few Jewish hockey players in the NHL.

“There are only a handful of us,” he said. “I’m just proud to be one.”

Related articles: NHL, hockey, hockey player, Eric Nystrom, Michigan, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, sports, sports series, Jewish, New York
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