Three weeks ago during practice, senior captain Eric Nystrom
came strong to the net, trying desperately to score on senior
defenseman Reilly Olson. Olson hit Nystrom across the chest, where
he wears no extra padding.

The hit sidelined the captain for the rest of preseason
captain-run practices, the exhibition games and the first two games
of the season last weekend.

“The injury made the summer even longer,” Nystrom
said. “You work hard all year to get back into the lineup,
but you get injured early in the year and miss the first couple of
games of the season.”

But the senior is making his comeback this week.

Nystrom spent the first two weeks after the injury doing
nothing. He said that he couldn’t move at all for the first
week, and essentially just stayed in bed all week. Last week he was
able to start riding an exercise bike and even got onto the ice a
bit to skate by himself.

He wasn’t able to play at all over the first two weeks of
the season, spending the time behind the bench — coaching the
white team during the Blue-White Intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 3
— and in the stands — watching the games last weekend
at the Lefty McFadden Invitational. Nystrom said he learned a lot
about his teammates while off the ice, but also began to understand
why the coaches get so upset sometimes.

“To see those bounces just bouncing over guys’
sticks, or guys just missing the puck, it’s so
frustrating,” Nystrom said. “But there is nothing you
can do about it, and it is totally frustrating.

“I can understand why (Michigan coach Red Berenson) comes
in sometimes into the locker room in between periods and just gives
us a reaming … He wishes he could be out there and making a
difference, but you can only tell your players what to do. If
they’re not doing it, it is the most frustrating thing
ever.”

But the wait is finally over for Nystrom — he can play
again. He still has pain in his ribs, but not the sharp pain that
he’s had for the past few weeks. Instead, it’s just a
dull soreness in his left side, and he will play this weekend with
extra padding on his ribs. Monday was the first day that he
practiced on the ice with the team. He said that it was good to get
on the ice, but admitted that he was tired.

Berenson said that Nystrom looked like he was a step behind at
practice this week, but added that that is to be expected after a
three-week hiatus.

“You can’t stay in skating shape when you’re
off the ice for two weeks,” Nystrom said. “It’s
just a totally different shape. You can ride the bike all you want,
you can run all you want, but once you get back on the ice,
it’s tough. The first day I was back on the ice, I was
skating for about 10 seconds and I was burnt out.”

But Berenson has limited Nystrom’s shifts in practice. He
plans to give Nystrom some playing time this weekend, but said that
he would limit Nystrom’s shifts in the game, as well.

“I wouldn’t play him as much unless he’s
having a strong game,” Berenson said. “He might be
really energized, and I’m sure he’ll be really anxious
to play. So we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll just read
that as we go along and play it by ear.”

Nystrom has even more work to do than a normal recovering player
because he is trying to adjust to a new position as well as make a
return to the ice. The lack of true centers on the team this year
has forced Nystrom to make the move from winger to center. Berenson
said that Nystrom is progressing at his new position, but wanted to
wait to see his captain in a game before making any true
judgments.

“It’s tough,” Nystrom said. “It’s
a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. But you get the
puck a lot more, so it’s a lot more responsibility. You have
to make good plays with the puck, and I like it.”

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