Nystrom's one proud father

By JEAN LEFEBVRE -- Calgary Sun

TORONTO -- Bob Nystrom was known as a cool customer during his playing days with the New York Islanders but yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, in a tense moment, he lost his famed composure.

A video camera clutched in his massive fist, the rugged former winger was at sixes and sevens when the Calgary Flames announced his 19-year-old son Eric was the 10th overall selection of the NHL entry draft.

"I didn't know what to do first," the elder Nystrom laughed. "I didn't know whether I was going to record him hugging me."

The poignant moment represented a sort of homecoming for the Nystroms. Eric was born and raised and Syosset, N.Y., but Bob grew up and played minor hockey in Hinton, Alta., and played junior hockey with the WHL's Calgary Centennials.

The elder Nystrom was visibly tickled by his son's selection -- although he wore orange-and-blue for his entire NHL career, yesterday he willingly wore a Flames lapel pin.

"I'm just thrilled for him," he grinned. "It's a thrill for him to be drafted by Calgary. First of all, because I played junior there and it's a great city. Secondly, to be drafted 10th overall is really a tribute to the work he's put in."

While he acknowledged he would have liked to go to his dad's old club, Eric says Calgary is not a bad alternative.

"It's definitely following in his footsteps," he said. "It's nice to go back and see where he started playing his junior hockey."

The 6-ft. 1-in., 195-lb. second-generation puckster amassed 18 goals, 13 assists and 32 penalty minutes in 40 games during his freshman season with the Wolverines and became just the second Michigan frosh to record a four-point game.

The other was Edmonton's Mike Comrie.

"Eric Nystrom is a really strong player in all areas of the game," said Flames GM Craig Button.

Comparisons to his father, who helped the Isles win four Stanley Cups and whose No. 23 drapes from the rafters at Nassau Coliseum, are easy but accurate only to a point.

"It's difficult because people are always making comparisons," said Bob, "but he's his own player.

"I think he has my intensity, I think he has my desire to win. As far as the skills, he's a much better skater and puckhandler and even a better scorer than I was," said the six-time 20-goal sniper. "I tried not to influence the way he played, other than the fact that I wanted him to play hard all the time."

He adds with a chuckle: "Once people see him play, they'll know he's not Bob Nystrom because he's not on his rear end all the time."

Eric has a long way to go to match his father's accomplishments but he already has him beat in one regard -- the kid was picked 23 spots higher than the old man, who 30 years ago was selected 33rd overall by the expansion Islanders.

"It was quite a bit different," says Bob of his draft experience. "I was actually framing houses out in Kamloops and didn't go home right afterwards because I stopped over with a couple of buddies. I was paged by my father and he told me I had been drafted by the New York Islanders and I said: 'Who?' "

Three decades later, Nystrom got a second opportunity to live the experience.

"To be here as a player, I'm sure is great. But to be here as a parent and your son is drafted in the first round, it's a big, big thrill."

There's a chance the younger Nystrom will some day play for Flames coach Greg Gilbert, his father's former Islanders teammate.

"I'm thrilled by that," says Bob. "I've had a chance to watch that team and I like the grit and I like the way they work. You look at a team and you see the character of the team and I think Greg really instills that in his players."

Last June, the Flames took another U.S. college player, Boston College's Chuck Kobasew, who bolted the books at BC to join the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.

Nystrom says he's considering all his options, including leaving school early.

"For right now, Michigan looks like the best bet," he said. "But I think I'm more open to other things. If college hockey is not challenging me as much as I would like, it might be time to move on to the next level. It's definitely something I'd consider."