BEHIND THE NUMBER: #23
Islanders legend Bob Nystrom has his number hanging from the rafters. Find out why he picked 23.
Monday, 08.23.2010 / 9:00 AM / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
“Seeing my number in the rafters definitely still has meaning. Every time I come to the building, it’s kind of like I don’t believe it,” Nystrom said. “There are many players that have played with the Islanders that have certainly had more points and goals and things like that. So, to be recognized for my work ethic and also for the work in the community, I think that was just a tremendous thrill for me.”
Nystrom, who played his entire 14-year professional career with the Islanders, couldn’t have been more proud watching his number raised to the Coliseum rafters.
“I was absolutely thrilled when they asked to retire my number. The primary reason is because my mom and dad and my sister came down,” Nystrom said. “Just from my parents’ standpoint, to see the pride in their eyes when they lifted the number to the rafters was an incredible experience. My dad’s buttons were popping off his shirt. That in itself was just a huge thrill for me.”
But the native of Stockholm, Sweden didn’t get his start with the Islanders without a two-year stint in the Western Canada Hockey League. In 130 games for the Calgary Centennials during the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons, Nystrom scored 42 goals and 41 assists for 83 points, earning 331 penalty minutes along the way.
Nystrom was selected by the Islanders in the third round, 33rd overall, of the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft and the 19-year-old did what every other new draft choice would have done, he moved his life from Calgary, Alberta to Long Island.
When he arrived on the Island, Nystrom chose to wear his childhood sweater number 14. “I have always kind of been number 14,” Nystrom said. “I always wore number seven or 14 when I was really young.”
But after camp, Nystrom quickly snatched up a different sweater number for the 1972-73 season – the number five. “The reason I liked the number five was because I was a real big fan of Boom Boom Geoffrion (Joseph André Bernard Geoffrion),” Nystrom said.
Geoffrion was a right winger who played for the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. As a six-time Stanley Cup Champion, his claim to fame was his roaring slap-shot, which he claimed to have invented while playing junior hockey. Geoffrion was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – the same year Nystrom was drafted by the Islanders.
“I got the nickname Boom Boom from my coach when I was younger because I was a right winger. I always wore the number five from that point on,” Nystrom said. “But it wasn’t until the second year that I was with the Islanders that I started wearing sweater number 23. The reason that I took 23 was because even though I wanted number five, Denny Potvin came in the second year and he asked if he could possibly get five.”
I got the nickname Boom Boom from my coach when I was younger because I was a right winger. I always wore the number five from that point on. But it wasn’t until the second year that I was with the Islanders that I started wearing sweater number 23. - Bob Nystrom“That’s the number he (Denis Potvin) wore in junior if I am not mistaken,” Nystrom continued. “To me, it really didn’t make much of a difference. It was not that I was really tied to that number. So I just made the change to 23 just because the two individual numbers added up to five.”
So in less than a year with the Islanders, Nystrom changed his number three times – from 14 to five to 23. But Nystrom wasn’t the only Islanders player to sport the sweater.
Garry Howatt, the first Islanders player to wear sweater number 23, changed his sweater number to eight after Don Blackburn was traded to the Minnesota North Stars mid-season. Howatt joined the Islanders after being selected in the 10th round, 144 overall, of the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft.
He played nine seasons with the Islanders helping them win their first two Stanley Cups.
Once Nystrom retired, Randy Hillier took over sweater number 23 at the beginning of the 1991-92 season where he played in eight games and earned 11 penalty minutes before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres to conclude his 11-year NHL career. Later that season, Rick Green closed out his 15-year NHL career by playing in his last four games wearing Islanders sweater number 23.
Vladimir Malakhov was the fifth and last Islanders player to boast the number 23. In three seasons for the Islanders, Malakhov played in 166 games, scoring 27 goals and 98 assists for 125 points and 171 penalty minutes before a mid-season trade to the Montreal Canadiens.
Sweater number 23 was retired in honor of Nystrom on April 1, 1995.