Interview with Nathan Oystrick

By Holly Gunning





Interview with Oystrick (#56)

Selected in the seventh round, 198th
overall, by the Thrashers in 2002, defenseman Nathan Oystrick is in his
sophomore season at Northern Michigan University. He has taken on a much larger
role with the team this year as several key players graduated. A two-way defenseman, his points are up
dramatically from 12 points in 32 games in 2002-03 to 22 points in 26 games so
far this season. His 2002-03 season
wasn’t helped by the fact that he broke his big toe taking a slapshot at the
beginning of practices and was in a cast for four or five weeks. He has been injury-free this season.

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Oystrick
explained why he might be doing better this year after a game at the University
of Alabama-Huntsville.

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“I think I
just worked hard this summer and got myself in better shape. I’m playing in different situations. This
year I’m on the power play and last year I wasn’t. I’m playing a bigger role on the team. Last year we were the second to last team in goals
scored. It was a point for me to play
better offensively. So far I’ve done
that and I’m pretty happy.”

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Oystrick is an alternate captain for NMU this year, a job
with even more responsibility on the ice than usual since the team’s captain is
goaltender Craig Kowalski. He feels that his role on the team is to “come out,
play hard every night, be a leader. That’s about it, play my game as hard as I
can.”

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He leads a defensive squad made up of all sophomores and
freshmen. While that makes for a lot of inexperience, he doesn’t find this to
be a problem at all for the team.

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“No, not really, the guys are a
great group of guys and I have Geoff Waugh back there to help me out, we played
together last year. Jamie Milam’s back
there, he’s doing a great job this year also.
The younger guys are doing a great job also and they work hard every day
a practice and that’s just what we expect of them.”

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Coach Walt Kyle took over from Rick
Comley at Northern in the summer of 2002.
Kyle has a distinguished coaching career, including time spent in the
WHL, AHL and NHL. Oystrick laughed a
bit at the question of whether Coach Kyle has told him anything in particular
that’s helped his game.

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Every day he tells me something!
There’s not really one thing that I can put my finger on, but Walt’s always
helping me and Coach Shyiack and John Kyle.
They’re always giving me pointers.”

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Coach Kyle is very complimentary of
both Oystrick’s character and abilities.

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“Nathan as a sophomore has really
developed an ability to be a leader.
He’s got a very strong character, he’s got a very strong
personality. He’s one of those guys
that the players on the team respect, he’s tough, he plays hard, he certainly
brings a lot of those elements to the game.
He’s also very successful this year offensively.”

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Kyle projects the well-rounded
Oystrick to be a two-way player in the NHL.

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“He’s a guy that will grow and
expand, as he has here. I think he’s a guy that will contribute at both ends of
the rink for sure.”

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Kyle pairs Oystrick with Dallas Stars
draft pick Geoff Waugh most of the time.
Oystick described their chemistry as a very easy one.

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“I think me and Geoff just know each other really well. We’re great friends off the ice and if I get
beat I know he’s going to be there to back me up and if he gets beat he knows
I’ll be there to back him up so I think that chemistry we have makes us two
guys who can play great together.”

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The pairing works because Oystrick and
Waugh complement each other.

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“I think Jeff’s more of a stay at home guy. Get the puck out, make sure you make good
plays. I’m kind of the offensive guy,
as you can tell by the points I guess.
He does a great job at defense and I try to do my best on defense and
when I have a chance to jump in the play I’m usually the guy jumping up.”

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Oystrick describes his game and what he tries to do on the
ice by saying, “I try to be strong in the defensive zone, play the body. When I get the chance to jump up into the
play I do. Just making the first pass,
that’s one of my biggest priorities, get the puck and make a good pass so our
team can get out of the zone.”

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Despite playing against opposing teams’ top
lines, Oystrick has stayed on the positive side this season, at +1. The 5’11”, 195-pound blueliner plays in all
situations and is rarely beaten.

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Oystrick was drafted out of South Surrey
of the BCHL. He the type of guy who
would fight in junior, and he admits the rule against fighting in college has
been a change for him.

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“There are some times I want to go out there
and drop the gloves with someone and rip some guy’s head off, but I have to
control myself [laughs]. But I have to still play the body and play hard on my
man. The only difference from junior is I can’t drop the gloves and go with
someone.”

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To take his game to the next level, Oystrick knows that he
needs to get quicker, stronger and in better shape. Besides those, he says “just different little things like
backwards skating, moving the puck quicker.”

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Oystrick plans to come to Atlanta for
prospect camp this summer for the first time since being drafted in 2002.

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“Last year I didn’t feel I was ready yet. I didn’t want to go there and — not make a
fool of myself, but, not make the best impression. This year my goal is to get in the best possible shape after the
season and then definitely go down there.”

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Being in the CCHA, Oystrick often gets to
play against fellow Thrashers prospect Jim Slater. He had nothing but good things to say about him.

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“He’s a great player.
He’s fast, he’s gritty, he’s not afraid to get in the corners like some
goal scorers might be. He’s got great
hands and can score from pretty much anywhere.
He’s got a great shot.
He’s a tough guy to play against and whenever he’s on the ice, it’s
usually me and Geoff [Waugh] against him and we have to do our best to try to
contain him.”

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Is he looking forward to when Slater
might be on his side?

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“Yeah, definitely,” Oystrick said without hesitation. “He’s a great player, so any great player
that’s on my side I’m looking forward to.”

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Oystrick wears No. 74, an uncommon number in hockey. He didn’t pick it though, it picked him.

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“Two years ago in baseball I wore the number and I actually
ended up winning the MVP of the league. So it’s sort of a good luck thing I
guess.”

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While there is no player that he patterns his game after,
there are players he likes to watch.

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“Scott Stevens, he’s a hard hitter, I like watching him,
Nicklas Lidstrom because he moves the puck well and he’s offensive. But there’s
not really one guy I try to pattern myself around. I just try to be Nathan Oystrick.”

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Oystrick is majoring in physical education at Northern and
concentrating on moving on with his hockey career. Asked what he might like to do after hockey, Oystrick didn’t want
to think about such a time.

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“Hopefully there is no after hockey,” he said
cheerfully. When pressed, he said, “I wouldn’t mind owning like a sporting
goods shop or opening a restaurant, something like that.”

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Oystrick described his goals for this season and the rest
of your college career to “just to get stronger and make myself a better player
and hopefully move on to Atlanta obviously.
I don’t think I have any goals for awards. I’d like to keep my points up because I think will help me down
the road to maybe sign a contract. Just
keep playing the way I’m playing and hopefully move on.”

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