Eric Nystrom

Eric Nystrom has eventful two shifts at the end of the first period Thursday

By Jim Diamond

Late in the first period of Thursday night’s game against St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro was sent off for a hooking penalty at 16:53. As is custom, Eric Nystrom was one of the forwards who got the tap on the shoulder to go out and start the penalty kill. One difference was that Paul Gaustad, Nystrom’s normal penalty killing compadre, was not out there with him due to the fact that Gaustad was scratched because of a lower-body injury. Mike Fisher joined Nystrom for the start of the penalty kill.

Things got hairy quickly for Nystrom early in that kill after his stick was broken after blocking an Alexader Steen shot and drifted harmlessly into the neutral zone. He was stuck out there sans twig, as heading to the bench for a change or a replacement stick with the puck in the defensive zone would have been akin to giving the Blues a 5-on-3 advantage.

“You’re just useless once you have no stick on a penalty kill, you’re just trying to get in the way out there,” Nystrom said. “Earlier in the season, I went to the bench to grab a stick and the guy went back door and ended up scoring. We decided it was probably best just have a body in the way out there. I battled it out. It was tiring.”

So Nystrom did what he could in trying to fill the passing and shooting lanes tried to make himself as big as he could.

“Lucky it was him, he’s one of our veteran PK players and kills a lot of penalties,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “That was one of the key kills in the game and overall, I thought that we did a really good job on PK.”

Later in the long 1:26 shift, Nystrom was able to chase down the puck near the left boards before clearing it just over the blue line with a jai alai type move with his glove. Soon thereafter, he was able to change and the penalty was over not long after that.

“Right at the end of the penalty kill and get it out,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he had a good game. Mike Fisher and Ny did a good job, penalty killers in general.”

After a brief rest, Nystrom’s name was called again, this time for a shift at even strength. It wasn’t nearly as long as his previous one, but it ended with him scoring Nashville’s second goal of the game, and it was the kind of goal that brings a smile to a coach’s face.

Let’s look at the photos:

Eric Nystrom open for a pass. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom open for a pass. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Fresh out of the penalty box, Ribeiro has the puck on the left boards, so Nystrom goes to an open space and gets into a good shooting position with his head up, shoulders square to the passer, and his stick ready for a one-timer.

“He’s such a good passer that he just put it right in my wheelhouse and I shot it as quick as I could and got lucky,” Nystrom said.

Eric Nystrom gets off a shot from the slot. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom gets off a shot from the slot. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Vladimir Tarasenko tries to close the gap on Nystrom, but he’s too late and the puck is already en route toward Blues goaltender Martin Brodeur, and yes, it’s weird writing that.

Eric Nystrom absorbs a hit from Vladimir Tarasenko (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom absorbs a hit from Vladimir Tarasenko (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Tarasenko continues on and finishes the hit, knocking Nystrom to the Bridgestone Arena ice. Nystrom takes a hit to make a play.

“I didn’t even feel it,” Nystrom said. “When you know they go in, you don’t really even think about that.”

Eric Nystrom pumps his fist in celebration of his goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom pumps his fist in celebration of his goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

While still on a knee, Nystrom gives a subtle fist pump in celebration of his fifth goal of the season.

The Predators celebrate Eric Nystrom's goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

The Predators celebrate Eric Nystrom’s goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

And then there was much rejoicing with friends.

Favorite Thanksgiving foods of some U.S.-born Predators

By Jim Diamond

On the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, many will gather around the dinner table Thursday to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. With a Thursday evening game against the Edmonton Oilers on the schedule, it is a workday for the Nashville Predators, so a gigantic feast and an L-tryptophan induced sleep is not in the cards for the players.

When asked about their traditional Thanksgiving routines, many of the American-born Predators said that when they were growing up, they were often away from home playing in hockey tournaments this time of year, so it was difficult to develop many family traditions revolving around Thanksgiving. For Seth Jones and Eric Nystrom, their fathers being professional athletes made getting together for turkey on the assigned day that much more of a challenge.

“It was pretty tough, but we tried to sit down as a family,” Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, said. “It’s not like an overwhelming meal, but we tried to sit down and have a nice family dinner together.”

“There’s not too many Thanksgivings that I can say that I have spent with the family,” Nystrom said. “The whole family goes to Florida for the holidays, so there is no way I was going to get them to come to some of the places I have played around the holidays. They FaceTime me, so that is nice.”

Despite the fact that their Thanksgiving routines may differ from the general populace, several of the American Predators weighed in on their favorite Thanksgiving food items.

Jones: “I would probably say the sweet potatoes. You put some marshmallows and brown sugar on top, makes it a little better.”

Nystrom: “I go for the dark meat turkey, straight for it. Protein all day. My mom makes a great apple crisp that’s amazing that I always dive face-first into. Maybe she will send me the recipe and I will make it this year. Just small portions though. I like to push away before I get to the point where I feel like I am going to explode.”

Matt Cullen: “I was a huge fan of the stuffing. When I was a kid, I used to eat it until I was sick. I do love it. I used to love Thanksgiving, I still do. We used to have huge meals. We play on Thanksgiving Day, so we always have to adjust our schedules a little bit. It’s a little bit of a challenge with the travel and everything, but we make time to do it.”

Paul Gaustad:  “My wife makes the whole Thanksgiving dinner. She’s fantastic at it. Her turkey is the best. Thanksgiving is my favorite.”

Laviolette had to get loud and bang on the boards to call his timeout Thursday

By Jim Diamond

Following Thursday’s morning skate, Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned that he would like to clean up some things in terms of the penalties his team took in Tuesday night’s shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators were whistled for five penalties in the game, four of which happened in the offensive zone.

Laviolette’s team did cut down on the number of penalties Thursday night against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, with Mattias Ekholm’s holding penalty at 13:07 of the second period representing the only time the Predators were shorthanded in the game.

With Ekholm in the box, Laviolette sent out forwards Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom along with defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. And for the next two minutes, the highly-skilled Blackhawks worked the puck around the Nashville zone. Chicago put three shots on Pekka Rinne, had two missed shots, and another two attempts blocked.

Since it was the second period, the Predators on the ice were a long way away from the team bench. And since they were unable to clear the puck, those same four skaters remained on the ice for the entirety of the power play and then some. After Ekholm was liberated, the puck remained in the Nashville zone, and the Blackhawks managed another shot on goal and another blocked attempt before the Predators were able to finally ice the puck.

“That was huge,” Nystrom said. “That was one of those shifts, they were shooting some pucks, but I thought we kept them to the outside for the most part. Anytime you get stuck out there for that length of time, it’s exhausting. The legs were burning. I’ve had worse ones than that though. Penalty killing is tiring, that’s just straight stopping and starting, but I’ve had some two minute shifts where they were really peppering. That one wasn’t the worst, but it was tough and then there was an icing, so we had to stay out there.”

The big PK ignited a loud ovation from the standing-room only Bridgestone Arena crowd, so much so that it almost hurt the team. Laviolette fully intended to use his only timeout of the game at that point, but he wanted to wait as long as possible to signal it, giving the fatigued foursome plus Ekholm some time to rest. The only problem for Laviolette was that he had trouble getting the attention of the officials.

“I was buying more time and then I couldn’t get him back, it was loud,” Laviolette said. “I didn’t want him to get too far away and then blow me off, but I was waiting to buy a little bit more time. They were tanked, so I figured any second we could get, but he didn’t look at me too long because we couldn’t change, really just kind of a gaze and went on his way and I was like ‘Oh oh,’ so we had to get him back to the bench. It was good. It was enough to get those guys a quick breath.”

Since the NHL implemented the rule that teams that ice the puck can’t change, officials rarely look to the offending team’s bench. With a raucous crowd and no officials looking toward the Nashville bench, Laviolette had to get creative, so he jumped down from his perch behind the bench and hammered on the boards with his fist loudly enough to garner the attention of someone with the authority to grant him the one timeout he had at his disposal.

Less than a minute after play resumed, fresh Predator bodies finally came onto the ice and James Neal scored his second of three goals in the game.

“It was a big kill, but for the team to respond with a goal, that feels really nice for the guys who were out there killing,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom, Gaustad, Weber, and Josi were all credited with a robust shift of 2:19 in the penalty kill plus the additional time.

Predators recall triumphs and heartbreaks of NCAA tournament

By Jim Diamond

Friday night marks the start of the NCAA’s Division I collegiate hockey tournament. No, Warren Buffett is not offering a billion dollars to anyone who fills out a perfect bracket. Since just 16 teams get in, all of the 16 in the draw are sweet, and the level of excitement far exceeds that of college hockey’s basketball-playing brethren.

Following this weekend’s action, just four teams will remain and advance to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, site of this year’s Frozen Four.

Several Nashville Predators came through the college ranks, and many of them got to experience the range of emotions related to playing for college hockey’s national championship. The old saying ‘It’s not hockey, it’s playoff hockey,’ takes on a different kind of intensity in college since there are no multi-game series like the NHL. The lose and you go home format of the games can make a season’s worth of work come to an immediate halt should you be on the losing end of a tournament game.

“It’s a great time of year,” Predators forward Eric Nystrom said. “There’s always a great buzz when you are playing those games. It’s that one and done format, so you’ve got to make sure that you are ready to go.”

During his time at the University of Michigan, Nystrom made Frozen Four appearances in 2002 and 2003. Those two trips both ended in disappointment, with the Wolverines being ousted in the semifinals by the University of Minnesota, both games ended 3-2 with the 2003 loss coming in overtime.

Though the bitterness of defeat still exists more than ten years after the fact, Nystrom is able to look back fondly on the two regional victories had enabling Michigan to advance to those Frozen Fours.

“We had a couple of regionals that we actually hosted at home at Yost,” he said referring to Michigan’s home arena. “We played both years in the second game to go to the Frozen Four. We played the number one seed and we knocked them off in our own building to go to the Frozen Four. To this day, it was 7,000 people, but that was the loudest I have ever heard a hockey arena. It was incredible.”

Colin Wilson is the only current Predator to have won a national championship. In 2009, Wilson’s second and final year at Boston University, the team traveled to Washington, D.C. and won an overtime thriller over Miami University in the championship game. In that tilt, the Terriers trailed by two goals with less than a minute remaining in regulation time before rallying for a 4-3 win.

Embed from Getty Images

“It is very exciting,” Wilson said. “If you win the national championship, it’s a feeing that you don’t get too often. You want to win at high levels. It was a very cool feeling.”

In order to advance to the championship game, Boston University had to survive another tight game just to make it to the final. That game was played against the University of Vermont, a team that featured Viktor Stalberg on its roster. The Terriers took that one 5-4.

Following Wednesday’s practice at Bridgestone Arena, Stalberg overheard Wilson discussing 2009’s triumph and couldn’t resist the urge to chirp his current teammate.

“So lucky,” Stalberg said.

Stalberg pointed out that the Catamounts were up two goals late in the third period, but Boston University got a couple of quick goals to grab the win. Now that they are teammates, Stalberg just has to look over a couple of locker stalls to be reminded of the anguish of that game since Wilson was the one who netted the game winner at 14:19 of the third period.

2009 was just the second-ever Frozen Four appearance for Vermont.

“It’s one of those things that you strive for in college,” Stalberg said. “For a lot of guys who don’t move on, it’s probably the biggest thing that they experience. It was a great way for me to finish my college career.”

Wilson broke the heart of more than just one future teammate that year though. In the Hockey East championship game, BU downed the University of Massachusetts-Lowell by a score of 1-0, costing the River Hawks the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament that went along with winning the Hockey East crown.

Although he didn’t play in that championship game, Carter Hutton was a member of that Lowell squad.

Hutton still keeps a close eye on his alma mater and he is excited about the River Hawks being included in this year’s field.

After this weekend’s action, the 16 teams will be paired down to just the four who will head to Philadelphia in two weeks. The small field and the intense action each and every shift are just part of what makes this tournament great.

“Everyone goes all out,” Stalberg said. “It’s what college is all about. You don’t play as many games as you do in other leagues, so you have to go after it every time you are out there.”