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Nystrom a man of many names and triumphs

by Mike G. Morreale

Bob Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 against the Flyers on May 24, 1980 began a four year Islanders championship dynasty.
If New York Islanders legend Bob Nystrom doesn't hold the record for most nicknames of any other player in the history of the game, than he certainly tops the list on Long Island. In addition to the ever-popular "Mr. Islander", Nystrom has also been dubbed "Thor," "Knuckles" and even "Niatross."

Niatross, you'll recall, was one of the greatest harness race horses of all time.

"I actually kind of liked it," Nystrom told "(Teammate) John Tonelli labeled me Niatross because he and the rest of the guys always said I was like a horse out there, never getting tired during the course of a hockey game. So John started calling me Niatross."

Nystrom is too humble a man, however, to admit to one other moniker -- Hero.

It was Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers on May 24, 1980 that began the run of four straight Stanley Cup championships on Long Island. Ironically, it was Tonelli who threaded the needle to "Niatross," who deftly tipped a shot over Flyers goalie Pete Peeters 7:11 into overtime.

Strangely, other than detailing the great feed by Tonelli, Nystrom really has no recollection of the game-winning sequence that transformed him into an overnight hero. He has, however, pondered the opposite side of the spectrum.

"Everything happened so quick on that goal," he said. "I think my feelings about the goal and the play in general came after the fact. You always begin to think what would of happened if I didn't score the goal. Would we have still won the game? Would we even have won the series? When you page through the history of sports, there have been guys who have been the hero, and guys who have just missed or couldn't get it done. And, believe it or not, that's probably the thing I think about the most. You don't really dwell on it or think about it when you're playing since it was such a bang-bang play. I suppose I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."

The scrappy right wing was drafted by the Islanders in the third round (33rd overall) of the 1972 Amateur Draft. He played his first full season with the team in 1973-74 and scored 41 points to earn consideration for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, which went to teammate Denis Potvin.

Over the next four seasons, the native of Stockholm, Sweden, became one of the steadiest defensive forwards in the league. He scored 20 or more goals in his first five seasons, including a career-high 30 in 1977-78.

"I've always said, even though I was considered a tough player, I was proud of the fact I scored 20 goals seven times over my career," Nystrom said. "My line was known to play against the opposing team's best line, but I also feel every one of our lines played that way because that's the type of defensive system Al (Arbour) wanted in place. Al always stressed no odd-man rushes and we really did cut back on our goals-against. He told us that if we did, we'd win hockey games. He was right."

Nystrom played 14 seasons in the League, all with the Islanders, and scored 235 goals (38 game-winning goals), 278 assists and 513 points in 900 career games. He also recorded 20 or more assists 10 times while averaging 89 penalty minutes per season. He tallied 39 goals, 83 points and 220 penalty minutes in 157 playoff games and currently ranks among the Isles' top ten in games played (third), goals (eighth), points (ninth), penalty minutes (fifth) and game-winners (fifth).

Nystrom, whose son, Eric, was drafted by the Calgary Flames in 2002, still enjoys watching the game and its electrifying athletes.

"I think the scoring isn't as high as it used to be," said Nystrom, whose jersey No. 23 was retired by the Islanders on April 1, 1995. "The goalies are so good and so much bigger today. They're able to cover more ground and it's really become impossible to score, so you're not seeing the type of scoring that you saw in the past, when four or five guys on the team were scoring 20 or more. I love the scoring, so I'm in favor of making the nets bigger. Hey, maybe it'll even bring in even more fans."

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