UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Nashville Predators rookie and Long Island native Anthony Bitetto stood outside the team’s Nassau Coliseum locker room recalling memories of the old barn when he was a kid. For the 24-year old rookie, Thursday’s meeting with the New York Islanders will mark his first and potentially last NHL game at the arena before they move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
Then there’s Eric Nystrom, NHL veteran with nearly nine seasons under his belt, who shares a last name and blood with the man known as “Mr. Islander.” Barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Final, Thursday night will be his final game inside the Coliseum, a place that holds many memories for his family.
"It's always great to see Eric play at (Nassau), but the fact it could very well be the last time here is definitely a very emotional situation,” Eric father, Bob, told John Glennon of The Tennessean on Wednesday. “There are a lot of good memories there for Eric and I, so I'll have my camera in hand and I'll be taking plenty of shots."
On May 24, 1980, the elder Nystrom scored the Cup-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Coliseum for the franchise’s first title. Born three months before the Islanders’ fourth straight Cup in 1983, the younger Nystrom may not remember a lot from his dad’s career, but he has his own special memory of the rink.
“It’s a little sad to know what the future holds,” Nystrom said after Thursday's morning skate. “I scored in my first game here, that was pretty special. That’s kind of the storybook. My first game on the Island I think I had an entire section of family and friends here. To be able to score a goal, that was quite the thrill. Every time I come in here, it's a great memory. It brings back a lot of good feelings. I’m happy to be back here.”
The Islanders’ four straight Cups made a huge impact on the area, with a number of natives reaching the NHL over the years, including Nystrom, Bitteto, Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, and Rob Scuderi, among others.
The increasing number of NHL players coming from Long Island hasn’t gone unnoticed by Nystrom.
“I think part of it is those teams that won the Cups, the kids that are making the NHL, it’s their parents that lived through that era,” he said. “That kind of put Long Island on the map as a hockey city. There’s been some great coaches in the youth hockey programs here. It’s amazing to see we have another Long Island kid on our team who’s up.
"It's great seeing Long Island kids making it to the NHL."
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