Lindsay Kramer | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 15, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
The first time that Chicago Wolves rookie defenseman Nathan Oystrick plays in a NHL game, he’d like to raise his stick in tribute to someone he’s never known, but without whom he wouldn’t be around.
“That’d be awesome,’’ Oystrick said. “It’d be almost like a dream come true. That’d be something that I’d want to share.’’
What other players take for granted, Oystrick can only cross his fingers about. Oystrick’s biological mother gave him up when she was about 16 and he was a little more than two months old. He didn’t know his birth parents and was raised by adoptive parents in Regina, Saskatchewan. He was never bitter about it, and said he got everything he could ask for from his adoptive family. As his hockey career at Northern Michigan University progressed, though, he felt a sense of perspective that pushed him toward finding his birth mother.
He started the paperwork last year, but understands that this is one goal that’s out of his control. The final answer will be up to her.
“It’s kind of a long process,’’ said Oystrick, 24. “Someday I definitely want to meet my mom and say hi, tell her I understand what she did. I don’t hold any grudges. She gave birth to me. She went through with it. I have a good life now.’’
And it’s getting better every game.
Oystrick, a seventh-round pick by Atlanta in 2002, is second among AHL defensemen in goals (nine) and tied for third in points (25). He’s also tidy in his own zone, with a plus-10. Sometimes he’ll sit with his defensive partner, Brian Sipotz, who is a shiny plus-22, after games to go over their running competition about who had the better plus-minus effort.
"We always end up checking on each other,’’ Sipotz said. “He’s a solid two-way player. He’s good enough defensively that he can cover for me if I make a mistake. He’s never in a huge hurry to get places. He just seems to be in the right general area. He has no panic button.’’
He also gets a ringside seat to one of the greatest hockey shows on earth. The Wolves roll out a tidal wave of offense, allowing Oystrick to chip in at will and virtually eliminating the cost of any defensive mistakes.
“There’s times on the bench where guys make a play out there, I’m like, wow,’’ Oystrick said. “It’s almost an honor being on a team with so many skill players. When you have guys on your team who can score goals, all you have to do is put the puck on net or make that first pass.’’
But he’s becoming a well-rounded player by doing so much more. Although Oystrick had a solid career at Northern Michigan, Chicago coach John Anderson sees his prospect as truly built for the pros.
“I think he’s probably more suited to the pro game than the amateur game,’’ Anderson said. “His maturity level has helped him a lot. He understands when and when not to (join the rush). He sees the ice well. He’s got a big shot. He’s out there to win, and that’s a quality that’s hard to instill in a person.’’
Sometimes that means taking on a heavyweight like Milwaukee’s Sheldon Brookbank in defense of a teammate, as the 5-foot-11 Oystrick did earlier this season. Sometimes it’s a matter of overcoming rookie nerves to yell at and with your teammates.
“I’m always talking. I’ve never been one to really keep my mouth shut,’’ Oystrick said. “I have to know when it’s right for me to say something and when it’s not.’’
Oystrick’s 40 games this season already match his career high in college. The fatigue issue doesn’t concern him. He rebounded from a bout with mononucleosis last summer with a strong conditioning effort in training camp. The possibility of losing his mental edge has him on guard, though. With his team constantly up by three or four goals, the temptation is strong to shrug off the odd defensive lapse here or there.