Some call it an old wives’ tale. Other say it’s superstitious mumbo jumbo. Don’t tell that to NHL players. When it comes to the Stanley Cup, few will lay a hand on the holy grail of professional hockey until they have rightfully earned the honor. Anything else is considered bad luck.
So, if putting your paws on it is bad, what about sitting inside the silver chalice as an infant?
“Well, I certainly haven’t won it yet, but I’m not sure that’s the reason why,” jokes Eric Nystrom, son of “Mr. Islander” Bob Nystrom, who was cradled in the Cup after the Islanders won it in 1983. “And while I don’t have [a baby] yet, eventually I would love to do that if I ever win.”
The younger Nystrom was born months before the Islanders’ run for its fourth consecutive Cup win and grew up in the era of the Islanders dynasty that his father played a key role in creating.
And while hockey life in Long Island may have seemed prolific at the time, the youth hockey establishment had yet to reach the level of success it enjoys today. That led Nystrom to look west, to Ann Arbor, Mich., and the fledgling National Team Development Program to pursue his hockey career.
“Being from [the Long Island] area, it was not exactly a huge hockey area and there was only a certain level of hockey that you could reach,” recalls the 27-year-old Nystrom.
“The [NTDP] program was an opportunity to leave home and go play at an even higher level against some of the best kids in the country.”
More importantly, it was a big steppingstone to the collegiate level.
Playing with the NTDP from 1999-2001, the area began to feel like home, leading Nystrom to pursue his education down the road at the University of Michigan.
“After being in Ann Arbor with the NTDP, I was already there and familiar with the area,” Nystrom says. “Then after having a meeting with [Michigan Head Coach] Red Berenson I knew that the U of M was going to be where I was going to play.”
For Nystrom’s dad, the decision for Eric to go to college was just as straightforward and was one of the few things he had not explored in his hockey tenure.
“Having experienced the other side and coming directly out of Major Juniors and not having any college background, I thought it was important for Eric to have that education,” says the elder Nystrom.
“Although I really don’t think choosing the college route was an issue for him after all and clearly it has worked out in his favor, which I am thrilled about.”
Nystrom echoes the sentiments of his father, agreeing that college just seemed like the right place to go.
“Where I was at in my development, Major Junior wasn’t really even an option for me,” says Nystrom, who produced 111 points in his four years as a Wolverine.
Eric Nystrom #23
“I was still developing as a player, and I thought the college route was the easiest way to go. There’s more time to practice and not quite as many games. A lot of practice time helped me develop my skills and mature as well.”
Despite being drafted 10th overall by Calgary in the 2001 NHL draft, Nystrom utilized all four years of eligibility at Michigan, made easier with his class of teammates opting to do the same.
“Honestly, when I got asked to play at Michigan I didn’t even think about professional hockey,” says Nystrom, who earned a liberal arts degree.
“I had no idea where I stood on a national level, or international level even, I just played and I was enjoying where I was at, so I felt no rush to leave.”
“We were having so much fun and enjoying being in school that none of us wanted to leave… No doubt, if I could do it all over again I would be going right back to where I came from and do it all the same.”
Now in his sixth NHL season and currently adding a physical and offensive presence for the Minnesota Wild in the 2010-11 season, Nystrom still credits his father for the way his hockey dreams have unfolded, beginning with the Stanley Cup.
“Obviously [having my dad] was huge,” admits Nystrom. “It’s somebody that can teach you the game, that’s been through ever single level; been through the worst and been on the Stanley Cup Championship team.
“It’s a great person to have on your side…and I can’t wait to add another Nystrom name to the Cup.”
hometown: St. Louis
With today’s “win at all costs mentality” the art of sportsmanship can sometimes get lost in the
statistical haze of wins and losses. But that’s not how Billy Bandera saw it during a home game one December afternoon.
Bandera was the backup goalie for the Affton Americans Peewee team in a game against cross-town rival, the St. Louis Rockets. After learning that the Rockets starting goaltender had forgotten his skates at home, Bandera offered up his skates in a gesture of sportsmanship. The move allowed the Rockets to take the ice rather than forfeit the game.
“I am an Affton American, and we don’t win that way,” said the 12-year-old when questioned during the game about the move.
While the Americans went on to lose the game, 3-2, in the eyes of many Bandera had won the game for everyone.
“He taught a lot of players and parents a valuable lesson that morning,” said John Haubrich, whose son plays on the Americans team. “It was a true testament that good hockey programs not only teach a child to play hockey, but that they can also teach them the game of life.”