“At some point in time you have to step off the curb and cross the road,” he says.
Currently in his 16th season as head coach of the Brock University Badgers men’s hockey team, Nystrom knows what a winning formula looks like. Throughout his career, he’s achieved much in a variety of different positions.
He was a Canadian major junior player who became an international scout and then a winning coach. With degrees from the University of New Brunswick and the Western University Master of Arts program, Nystrom has been able to combine hockey and education in order to promote success on and off the ice in the Niagara region.
“Having played university hockey myself, it was a level I wanted to spend some time at as a coach because I had such a great experience as a student athlete,” he said. “I wanted to mirror that as a coach and create an environment that would allow future student athletes to have the same great experiences I did.”
Nystrom has always used his past experiences to excel in future endeavors.
In 1986, he also attended Buffalo Sabres training camp, where he took to the ice with legendary Sabres forward Gilbert Perreault.
“To be on the ice and in the dressing room with players like Perreault was a thrill of a lifetime. He was a player everyone was aware of and respected as one of the greats of the game,” Nystrom said. “It was an exciting time for me. The sense of accomplishment being in that NHL setting, even if it was for a short period of time is an opportunity not everyone gets to have as a 20 year old.”
Nystrom would go on to pursue an undergraduate degree in physical education at the University of New Brunswick while serving as captain of the team for his final two seasons before graduating in 1992.
Mike Johnston, his coach there, influenced him to continue with academics and pursue a coaching career.
Johnston helped Nystrom recognize the opportunities in life that become available when you fuse together hockey and academics.
“He had a Master’s degree,” Nystrom said. “I felt like I needed one too in order to separate myself from other people pursuing the same coaching positions.”
Johnston went on to coach in associate roles in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings and Nystrom saw a career path he would like to try and follow.
“Coaching hockey was definitely something I made a conscious decision to pursue and here I am 20 years later,” Nystrom said. “My senior year as an undergrad I formulated a plan to follow. If that led me to a career in coaching that was great. If that led me to a career in something else, I was comfortable with that as well.”
Nystrom has significant playing experience in both juniors and the pros. He played with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights from 1984-1987, where he served as the alternate captain for his final two seasons. Following that, he joined the Baltimore Skipjacks of the American Hockey League.
Nystrom was led back to London, Ont., where he started his major junior career. It was here where he obtained a Masters of Arts degree in kinesiology at Western University and landed his first coaching job in a graduate assistant role with the university’s hockey team.
He would return to the London Knights, this time in a coaching role as an assistant to current St. Louis Blues assistant coach Gary Agnew for the 1993-1994 season.
From here, Nystrom racked up some international experience coaching Team Ontario’s under-17 team at the 1995 Canada games, and helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal at the 1995 World Hockey Challenge in Moncton, New Brunswick.
He spent two seasons on the coaching staff of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves and as a central scout for Canada’s national men’s team before landing the head coaching job at Brock University in 1998.
To be on the ice and in the dressing room with players like Perreault was a thrill of a lifetime. - Murray Nystrom
Nystrom now owns the record for most wins in Brock's history. In 2007-2008, he led the Badgers to their first appearance in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) National Championships and was honored by being named the CIS Coach of the Year in the same season.
As a former student-athlete and seasoned university head coach, Nystrom understands what it takes to provide a winning culture on and off the ice. He believes the CIS is a perfect avenue for young players who are looking to continue playing hockey at a high level, while pursuing other life options.
“You are wearing so many different hats as a student-athlete. Balance is crucial to success at the university level,” he said. “Players are carrying full loads of academics, plus they have their normal lives. What I bring to the table for the players is a recognition that I know a lot of things are going on in their lives and I try to ensure that they are successful in every one of those areas.”
Just as his mentor Johnston did for him at the University of New Brunswick, Nystrom hopes to create a competitive hockey environment, while training his players to be connected members of the community at the same time.
His players are heavily involved in the youth hockey skills camp he has developed in the Niagara Region called “Shooting to Score.”
“What we try to do with our camp is emphasize to our players that it is a great opportunity to give back and help the next generation of players learn about a lifelong love of playing the game,” Nystrom said. “It is important that they give back, that they understand that some point down the line there was someone that helped them get to where they are.”
For Nystrom, the most important thing is making young players realize that they do not have to make the National Hockey League to have futures in hockey which will lead to promising avenues in other areas.
So many aspects of hockey are applicable to auxiliary aspects of life and he expresses this through his coaching philosophy.
“If you’re willing to compete on a daily basis, I think that puts you in a category where you can achieve a lot more. Sometimes at this level it has nothing to do with skill. It is who you are and what you are all about. Those are important values,” he stresses.
Nystrom’s philosophies are reflected by his players. Well after practice is over for the day and the coaching staff has reconvened in their office to review video, numerous players can be seen voluntarily remaining on the ice, maximizing ice time to work on their game.
As Brock University is in the midst of a monumental 50th anniversary year, Nystrom continues his own winning traditions.
The Badgers squad is fresh off clinching another playoff berth and will take on Ryerson University in the first round of a best-of-three series starting on Thursday, Feb. 20 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto at 7:30 p.m.
The Badgers will continue the series at their home rink, the Seymour Hannah Arena in St. Catharines, the next night on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:15 p.m.