It’s been a lot of years since I watched a Revenge Of The Nerds movie, but something about last night’s game between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames got my synapses thinking about those yuck-yuk flicks from the 1980s.
Eric Nystrom scored all four of his team’s goals in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Flames in the city where he started his NHL career. And although Nystrom isn’t a nerd, he is a grinder supreme and grinders aren’t supposed to score all their team’s goals, let alone four of them in a single game. After the son of Bob Nystrom scored his second goal in the second period, you couldn’t help cheer for him to complete an unlikely hat trick.
He reacted to his first two goals of the game with ear-to-ear grins and you could tell he was having a great time skating by his bench collecting glove-to-glove celebrations. The bottom-six grinder oozes personality and is a dressing room favorite wherever he plays. From that moment on, my eyes were affixed to Nashville’s No. 24 whenever he stepped on the ice. You could tell he was having one of those games for the ages.
When Paul Gaustad’s centering pass went off Nystrom’s skate and past Karri Ramo six minutes into the second period, the hat trick was complete. The goal was announced as Gaustad’s, but changed to Nystrom during the second intermission. No hats were thrown on the ice because you don’t see that for players on the visiting team, but grinders everywhere must have been taking their hats off at home.
Then mid-way through the third period, Nystrom re-directed a Matt Cullen pass between the legs of Reto Berra and this career grinder had a four-goal game. When’s the last time a mucker scored four goals in one outing?
Funny thing is, Nystrom’s reaction changed after his third and fourth goals. The big smile was there briefly, but the celebration toned down. (Don Cherry would be proud of that – I’d be shocked if Nystrom isn’t mentioned on tonight’s Coaches Corner.) Nystrom either didn’t want to show up the opposition or he didn’t want to draw attention to himself the way Tomas Hertl of San Jose did earlier this season during a four-goal game.
Calgary rallied from the 4-2 deficit to tie the game. Then in the final minute of regulation time, the impossible almost happened. Nystrom was sprung for a breakaway and a fifth goal looked possible. However, he was at the end of a shift and Calgary’s Kris Russell managed to catch him before he got a shot off. A grinder scoring his fifth goal to win the game in the final minute would have been absolutely incredible.
Nystrom didn’t get a second of ice time in overtime and he wasn’t one of Nashville’s four shooters in the shootout. That’s a darned shame. Karma might have been on the Predators’ side had coach Barry Trotz decided to go with the hot hand. I’m shocked he didn’t.
Nevertheless, it was a great game to watch strictly for the Nystrom theatre. This movie was called Revenge of the Grinder and it’s one he’ll never forget.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN