by Scott J. Powers || AHL On The Beat Archive
Nathan Oystrick joined the Chicago Wolves last season just as they were fighting for their playoff life.
The Wolves weren’t about to risk playing a defenseman fresh from college with so much at stake. Oystrick practiced with the team but had to sit out the games.
It wasn’t until the Wolves were outside the playoff picture in the season’s final week that Oystrick was given a chance. His debut was unmemorable. In his second and only other game — the season finale against Houston on Apr. 15, 2006 — Oystrick recorded an assist, took two shots and received a two-minute penalty for roughing.
Oystrick’s taste of pro hockey was momentary, but he had seen enough to know he could compete.
“Especially the second game I played against Houston,” Oystrick said. “That was the game I kind of felt, ‘I could do this. I can play here.’”
That feeling carried over to this season. If it wasn’t for teammate and roommate Brett Sterling’s campaign, Oystrick could have been the front-runner for the AHL’s rookie of the year.
Third among defensemen in points and already selected to the midseason All-Star Game, Oystrick was named last week to the AHL Second All-Star team and to the All-Rookie team. He added to the week by scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-4 win after the Wolves had blown a 4-0 lead in a vital division match-up with the rival Milwaukee Admirals.
It was another play that the 24-year-old Oystrick proved his game was beyond his professional experience.
“Nathan was a guy who throughout his college career was one of the top college defensemen,” said Wolves general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. “He’s always been able to adapt to whatever league and level very quickly. That’s what he’s done. He’s come in, he’s maturated and shown he’s a leader. He came in and found his way very, very quickly.”
Wolves defenseman Mark Popovic noticed as well.
“He had a great college career, but you never know with a rookie,” Popovic said. “But with him, he’s never played like a rookie.”
Oystrick can’t help but wonder where he might be this year if his off-season training wasn’t cut short due to mononucleosis. He was diagnosed with it in June and was forced to rest at home for nearly two months. This off-season he plans on making up for it.
“I think both, with the off-season I had last season not doing what I wanted to, gives me motivation, and the season I’m having now, I still think I can do better,” said Oystrick, who played four years at the Northern Michigan University. “This summer is going to be my biggest summer.”
Aside from training, Oystrick also has personal plans for after the season. He’d like to pursue his biological mother.
He was put up for adoption by his 16-year-old mother shortly after his birth and was given to a married couple in Regina, Sask. While grateful for his adoptive parents and all they’ve provided him, Oystrick would like to meet his true mother.
“I still look forward to doing it if that day ever comes,” Oystrick said. “It’s not totally up to me. I have to put in a request to the Canadian government. She has to agree to meet with me.
“There’s no hostility in my heart or in my mind toward her. She was 16 years old when she gave birth to me. I want to look at her and say, ‘I understand.’ I’m grateful to her going through the birth process. There’s a lot of 16-year-olds, especially back in the ’80s, who wouldn’t have done that. I’m grateful every day she did.”