Thursday

Eric Nesterenko

Of all the hockey players, Eric Nesterenko has had perhaps the most interesting, if not most unconventional, lives on and off the ice. He's of course best known as a hockey player, but he's worked as a disk jockey, a stock broker, a travel broker, a freelance writer, a university professor and a ski instructor. He's done odd jobs such as driving a loader and diesel Cat in the arctic. And he's even tried his hand at acting - he played the father in the Rob Lowe hockey movie "Youngblood."

Nesterenko was unorthodox in his hockey days as well. He was one of the first to be inspired by Canadian fitness guru Lloyd Percival. He concentrated on his diet and conditioning years before it was common for NHLers to do so.

Eric was born in the mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba, where his parents settled fleeing their native Ukraine. They were political refugees who escaped to Czechoslovakia because of the Russian Revolution, and later moved to Canada.

Eric's father was a highly educated man, working as a chemist at the mine and was fluent in 6 languages. All the children were raised with a thirst for education, including Eric. But Eric soon fell in love with the Canadian game of hockey - but he never stopped learning.

Eric played on the frozen ponds in remote Manitoba from age 5 through 11. He really learned how to skate and stickhandle in these unorganized games. Eric suggests that this is what kids nowadays lack - the natural skills that organized hockey doesn't develop.

At age 11 Eric's family moved to the Toronto area. It is in Toronto where Eric first really started playing in organized hockey. He quickly established himself as a top level peewee and bantam player. Soon enough word got out to Conn Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected him to play in their junior system. Nesterenko stepped in and became one of the top junior aged players in all of Canada.

When the Montreal Canadiens signed graceful giant Jean Beliveau, Smythe, always looking to upstage his arch rivals, boasted about their emerging star named Nesterenko. The comparisons between Eric and Jean began there. Because of his large size (6'2" 200lbs) and good skating ability, Nesterenko was compared favorably to Jean Beliveau early in his career. However no one confuses the two now that all is said in done.

Nesterenko turned down a four year hockey scholarship to the University of Michigan in order to play for the Maple Leafs beginning in 1953. However over 4 years with the Leafs, all parties involved were very frustrated. The man once compared to Jean Beliveau was doing little much to the disappointment of the Leafs and their fans. Nesterenko was upset that Toronto would not let him have a chance to excel.

"The problem was they tied my game down," said Eric in Charles Wilken's book Breakaway. "They wouldn't allow any free-wheeling. No imagination. You had to stick on your wing. Detroit and Montreal were playing much more imaginatively. Toronto had been a great team in the past, but at that point they weren't doing much."

"Eventually I got into a big fight with the Leafs about how they were playing me. In those days you didn't question management at all, and in 19554 they got rid of me, sold my rights to Chicago."

Nesterenko would be a long time member of the Chicago Blackhawks, but he never fathomed that immediately after the trade to the Windy City. Fearing his career was over, Eric enrolled at the University of Toronto. But the Hawks desperately wanted Nesterenko in their lineup, and by January finally came up with an unusual agreement

Nesterenko agreed to play for the Hawks, but only if he could continue his education. Eric is probably the only full time university student to play in the NHL! He would travel back and forth between school and the site of the Hawks next game, but rarely would he travel with the team or even get in some good practice time. He pretty much arrived in time to play the game and left quickly afterwards. Needless to say, the accommodation for Eric was not well liked by the Hawks coaching staff.

In Chicago Eric was transformed into a valuable defensive forward. His skating ability and hockey sense made him into a superb penalty killer and shadow of the league's better players.

By 1956, Nesterenko was having some problems coming to an agreement with the Hawks on a new contract. So he left the Hawks training camp and tried out for the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts. Eric had been a star football player in high school and college. The Argos even offered Eric a contract, but he used that as leverage to get the Hawks to improve their contract offer, and he returned to the Hawks.

While Eric was excelling as a defensive forward in Chicago, he took in everything the city of Chicago could offer him. Unlike most hockey players, he would frequent theatres and operas, the symphony and art museums. He even took some part time university literature courses. He was even present at the now-famous anti war demonstrations in Chicago in 1968.

Though Eric enjoyed the big city, he loved to escape it as soon as the NHL season was over. He'd pack up the whole family and they'd go out into the wilderness. They would often find their way to the quietest ranches and mountain slopes.

Eric excelled in the NHL for 20 years, including a Stanley Cup championship year in 1961. Towards the end of his career he admitted he wasn't as good as he was earlier in his career, he said it was easier because of the diluted talent in the league because of expansion.

After retiring from the NHL in 1972, Nesterenko had a cup of coffee in the WHA with the Chicago Cougars in 1973-74. He spent a year coaching in Lausanne, Switzerland and also enjoyed a season in the Western Hockey League in 1975-76, skating with famed Trail Smoke Eaters. Between the Swiss Alps and the BC mountains, Nesterenko developed a love of skiing, and perfected his skills on the slopes.

He eventually ended up in Colorado, where he did a number of odd jobs, including helping to set up a hockey program for the locals. And he's a bit of a celebrity in Vail, where he earns a good living as a ski instructor. In a town known for celebrity appearances from Hollywood and the rich and famous, Nesterenko is not a celebrity because of his hockey past. In fact, many of the people in Vail have little idea of his past!

There is no doubt that Eric Nesterenko is one of hockey's most interesting people - but it is perhaps is non-hockey stories that are the most interesting part of his life.

37 comments:

Anonymous,  12:09 PM  

Eric Nesterenko was a great hockey player both Junior & Professional!!

Sincerely,

B. McCormick

penaltykiller9,  2:52 PM  

" Pester-em- Nester" a great defensive player who always gave his all.He was equal to any of the defensive forwards of the era.

GHCH 10:31 AM  

I knew Eric when he was in Lausanne, Switzerland.
As a player/manager he would rarely be on the ice -
But when he was, with that huge frame bent low and such speed.... a goal every time. Unforgettable.
And the Anglophone crowd enjoyed the post match beers.

GHCH

Anonymous,  12:39 PM  

Had the nickname of "Elbows" Nesterenko, at least from the Rangers fans. Tough player who always skated hard.

Anonymous,  5:25 PM  

"Elbows" will be at Brampton Shoppers World On July 17 for an autograph signing. I'll be there! What a great, hard-nosed player he was, and I loved to watch him take care of the "prima donnas" on the other team!

SLT 10:37 AM  

I knew Eric during the '78/'79 season when he was the player/coach of the Aspen Leafs in Aspen, Colo. He also set up a house league for the less skilled players of the town of which I was one.
And even though I stunk up the ice pretty good Eric let me practice with the Leafs dispite some of the grumblings from a few of the players. He saw my love of the game and was not going to stop me from playing.

The man is an amazing skater. Even after all these years I still remember him besting all the Leafs' players in across ice wind sprints, his long legs covering the entire width of the rink in five strides. Never did he lose.
And in coaching the four team house league he never missed a session, his commitment and love of the game was phenomenal; and although he could be a bit rough in his coaching (he once picked me up and tossed me over the boards for missing a check) when he corrected you, you did not make the same mistake again.
All the guys knew that he had their best interests at heart and if he said something you knew to listen. At the time I knew nothing of his educational background and very little of his NHL career, I just knew he knew the game of Hockey.
I wish him well in whatever he is doing now and I know that he'll be successful.
God Bless Eric Nesterenko.
Steve Taylor

Anonymous,  9:57 PM  

Grew up and played hockey with his son Paul....was always great when when he would hit practice and give pointers to us kids...

Anonymous,  4:20 PM  

Eric Nesterenko was one of the most graceful and beautiful skaters the NHL ever had. I have been a Blackhawk fan for nearly 50 years and nobody was as smooth on the ice. "Nester" as we fans referred to him was always in motion, circling, cutting so low he would touch the ice with his glove never stopping and starting as many players do, an absolute joy to watch! All the Best, Eric

Anonymous,  8:22 PM  

When I was born on jan.29/1966 my father was watching the blackhawks game on tv ch.9 . During the game I was born my mom asked my dad about a name ?He named me after Eric nesterenko! So my name is Eric becouse mister nesterenko ! Thank ,Eric serchuk (sawchuk) tarry sawchuck great cuz.

Kristin 8:40 PM  

As a young boy growing up in Chicago I loved to watch my Blackhawks. One of my absolute favorites was Eric Nesterenko ... as a youth hockey player I had a similiar skating style and because of this I was given his nickname "Swoop" by my buddies.

I hope the Blackhawks some how create an opportunity to remember this great player ... we miss ya Swoop!

Eric D

Anonymous,  9:46 AM  

Isn't this also the guy who busted Willie O'Ree (the first black NHL player) in the face and called him the n-word?

Marc 7:26 PM  

He certainly is the guy who busted Willie O'Ree (the first black NHL player) in the face and called him the n-word. He also laughed and taunted as O'Ree lay wounded on the ice after Nestorenko had broken his nose and knocked out his two front teeth by hitting him on his blind side (O'Ree was blind in his right eye) with the butt of his hockey stick. It's amazing that this racist bully is still celebrated as a "great" athlete and sportsman in spite of this disgraceful and disgusting incident. Full coverage of it can be heard on Terry Gross's interview with Willie O'Ree on NPR's "Fresh Air" of December 16, 2008.

SLT,  9:24 PM  

When Eric played the game the attitude of the players was that it was war, and that any means necessary to win was allowable --'old time hockey' the Hanson brothers would say.
I spent nearly a year with Eric and in all that time I never once heard him say a disparaging remark about blacks or any other ethnic group.
If he did something in a game that would be considered 'politically incorrect' these days -- too bad. It was a different game then, I could not have survived it. And only about one hundred players ever did at any one time.
Also, during the time he spent running the house league in Aspen Colorado he never once allowed any fisticuffs, and never showed us any of the 'tricks' to take other players out. He taught recreational hockey and kept it clean.
So to the people who want to denegrate Eric without ever knowing him or even having a real understanding of how ice hockey was once played I say -- get a life.

Greg G,  11:51 AM  

I agree 100% with the last comment by SLT! First of all Eric Nesterenko was not an enforcer with the Blackhawks and was not considered a mean or dirty player. Nester was a defensive specialist who played a lot on the penalty kill when the Hawks were short handed. If he hit O'Ree so what!Right away it's a racial issue!O'Ree was nothing but a fringe player who could not stick in the NHL. The "old time" 6 team NHL was NOT FOR PANSIES! This was tough hockey. I don't know if some of the skill guys now could survive the grind of the NHL of the earlier years. All I will say about this is I hope to God the NHL never gets anything remotely like the NBA or the NFL with all that shucking and jiving and show boating and poor BEHAVIOR going on because it makes me sick! That is exactly why the NHL and hockey is the greatest sport because the NHL doesn't have that garbage going on!...Greg G.

Bruce13 7:03 AM  

#15 for the Blackhawks was my favorite. I grew up listening to Lloyd Pettit on the living room hi-fi waiting to call out Eric Nestereko's name and the infamous "shot and a goal!" I always picked the #15 in whatever sport I could play, and collected Blackhawk player cards and photos with his smiling face. To this day, I hold him in absolute high regard as my very favorite of all Hawks players, despite the lofty accomplishments of his teammates. Thank you Eric Nesterenko for capturing the imagination of a young hockey fan, with some lasting memories!

Anonymous,  2:25 PM  

Eric,
In 1984 I was a new player in training camp with the Vail Mountaineers. You were coaching. I gave you a shot in the corner during a scrimage and you ended up knocking me on my ass! I am not sure how old you were then but the guys had to convince you to keep me on the team. I do remember you giving me advice about hockey but most importantly life. God Bless old mentor... Edward Charpentier ( The little guy that took out your skates) I'm headed back to Vail for the Alumni Weekend against The Red Wings Alums Jan 22 2010

Anonymous,  9:53 AM  

Had a flashback to the ice-rink at Keystone. We played tag. 30-40 ski instructors and we could not touch you. And, up on the mountain, what a blast skiing with you. Hope you are well. Thinking of you wherever you are -
Uwe Ehrlich in North Carolina

Anonymous,  6:10 PM  

Mr. Nesterenko at one point in his life lived in Evanston, Illinois across from a park called Larmer. I think it was in the 70's. As a kid I remember him walking across the street with his skates and then joining us kids. Great time!

Anonymous,  12:44 AM  

Eric Nesterenko give away goal
Hello Could you get a question to Eric Nesterenko. That I have been thinking about--ever since the night Bobby Hull scored his 50th goal at the Chicago Stadium. I was there in person--and Eric was on the ice when Bobby Hull took one of his world famous slap shots as Eric crossed in front of the net and to me it looked like Eric tipped the shot in-?? But the Stadium crowd had been waiting for Bobby to get number 50 that when it looked like it happened and they screamed for about 10 minutes there was no way that the game scorer official was not going to give it to Bobby Hull--I would just like to hear from Eric himself that he did NOT tip that shot--because I think he did and just let it slide because of the Stadium crowd had gone wild. 50 goals back then was a real big deal. Thanks for a reply BILL KRUGMAN----unctass@aol.com

Anonymous,  12:08 PM  

A couple of notes about Nesterenko which add to those already listed.

A friend of mine who wasn't too shabby himself was invited to a rink to film a commercial or some such thing. Nesterenko was there -it must have been at the end of his career - and my friend said he left everyone behind. No-one could touch him, and he was at least 10 years older than all the others.

Second story. In the 70s there was a book titled "Working" by Studs Terkel, one of the great chroniclers of American life. He interviews all kinds of people about their jobs. Nesterenko is selected to talk about ice hockey as a profession. It's an amazing piece – it shows his independent streak – and ends with him talking about going out on the ice alone and skating for the sheer pleasure of skating and finding meaning in that quite apart from all the business stuff. Poignant and heart-stirring. An interesting man.

Anonymous,  8:12 AM  

I too played in the Aspen scrub league that Mr. Nestarenco ran. My favorite story was how Eric would play with us (usually on the weaker team) and pass the puck around. One day one of the cockier players tried to check eric into the boards. He turned to that player and said "there is no checking in this league" to which the player responded "can't you take it anymore". The next time down the ice Eric took one stride and like a lightning bolt knocked the guy over the boards and perfectly into the penalty box. Then glaring at him said "I can take it and I can dish it out; NO CHECKING" A classic moment.

VT 6:28 PM  

I just met Mr. Nesterenko yesterday in Vail, Colorado having lunch.. He is a very nice man.. Next time, I will have a Chicago puck in my pocket for him to sign.. I told him I was a Rangers fan and he told me Andy Bathgate was the best Rangers player he ever played against... He also told me that Gordie Howe broke 3 of his ribs in a game.. Ouch!

Donnie Mac Leod 3:47 AM  

I was always a Bruin fan. However I also cheered for Howe, Delveckio and Cape Breton's Parker Mac Donald. On the Hawks I was often in awe of Nestrenko's skills with the puck and his fluid ability to get his job done . He had superior cool thinking hockey SMARTS when other folks were rushing around looking to make plays. Loved his game and when I think of the original six it is guys like Nestrenko and Ralfh Backstrom that come to mind because they had that ability to take pond hockey skills and apply them to the NHL game.

unctass 5:45 PM  

I saw your comment in the article on Eric Nesterenko regarding your question about the
famous (infamous?) 50th goal by Bobby Hull.


Eric scored the goal.


I have known Eric for more than 35 years having lived across the street from him in
Evanston, IL, shared an apartment with him after we both were divorced, spent several years
back packing with him in the mountains of Wyoming, and have kept in touch after we both went our
different ways.


Two weeks ago Eric came to visit me here in Portland for 4 days for some golf and catching up for
the last several months.


One day while we shared the apartment we went to downtown Chicago to have some drinks at Ricardo's
(where we often saw Studs) and walked to the Chicago Sports Museum on Ohio. While in the hockey
area Eric said, "Come here I want to show you something interesting". It was a video taken from behind
the net of Hull's 50th goal. He told me to look really close, as the puck approached the net.


Eric tipped it in!


Your memory of that play, and your conclusion is absolutely correct.


After the weeks building up to this momentous event neither he, nor the goalie, wanted anything to do with
challenging the call. Eric said he was sick (as was most of the team) of being told to get the puck
to Hull so he could set the record. Even to the point of having lost some games in passing up scoring
opportunities in order to feed the puck to Hull.


Thanks for being the only person I have ever heard that has questioned that goal.


Kurt KLein
Portland, OR


BTW: Hull was all about himself. NOT a team player by any stretch of the imagination.

Bob 5:44 PM  

Eric worked with me as a Heavy equipment operator on the Distant Early Warning Line for a short while. I was his Station Chief and consider myself fortunate to have known him. A great guy, lots of fun, good worker.

calvin,  4:08 PM  

As I recall.Canadiens had brought Jean Beliveau up to the NHL..in his first game he scored a hat trick.Not
many days later Leafs had Nester in
the lineup for his first game.Foster
Hewitt was doing the radio broadcast
of the Leaf home game.Nesterenko
scored two goals and had several chances to get that third goal.What excitement for we Leaf fans Is there
anyone out there who might remember
this like I do?

Anonymous,  7:15 PM  

Just got Nestor a glass of his favourite white wine and asked him a bunch of historical questions. He told me don't let anybody bully you ever. ThanksNestor .Paul is Nestor Eric is Eric.

Anonymous,  7:32 PM  

Of course it's not Nestor it's Nester. Doogler @vail.

Interestingblogs 8:44 AM  

Error!

in the beginning of the paper Eric is quoted as saying "... and in 19554 they got rid of me"

Langara libr students alive 2:06 PM  

Met & skied with Eric Nesterenko one winter at Red Mountain, Rossland BC. I barely knew of his name but he was a great athlete to ski with. On the long rides up the Granite Mountain chairlift he would tell me his formula for keeping up with the younger players challenging him for his job with the Hawks as he aged- his secret was to show up for camp 4 to 5 pounds lighter each year to enhance his speed & agility in keeping up with the younger guys at camp. Smart. He also logged a few games playing in the Cominco Arena for our Trail SMoke Eaters hockey club of the WIHL. He was a standout there as well. A great winter with him in our area. Circa 1975 or earlier. N. Barry

Anonymous,  11:01 PM  

I was in the same high school senior year as Eric at North Toronto Collegiate Institue in 1952-53. We had a very good high school hockey team but Eric couldn`t play on it because he was playing Junior hockey for the Toronto Marlies. His very good friend at that time was Roger Neilsen who was our high school goalie and who of course had a great coaching career with among others, the Vancouver Canucks.

Anonymous,  4:43 PM  

I met him on a Seabus in Vancouver just after Youngblood came out. We had short very pleasant conversation. He was a nice guy.

yoktomsquegee 9:01 PM  

He was a guest speaker at a company "smoker" dinner I attended with my dad in the late '60s. He told some very funny hockey stories. Everybody wanted to talk about Bobby Hull in those days, and he graciously fielded all of those questions as well. One lasting, fond memory I have of him as a hockey player had nothing to do with his actions on the ice. I remember watching the Hawks on WGN one evening with a good friend, and there was a break in the action. Instead of "going to commercial" like they would today, the camera would pan around the stadium. Goalkeepers weren't wearing masks in those days, and helmets weren't even in use yet. Anyway - they switched cameras from a crowd shot to an extreme close-up of something black that filled the screen. As the camera pulled back the object took a round shape that resembled the back end of a porcupine. As the camera pulled back even further, steam seemed to be rising from the porcupine. At this point, my friend said "what the heck is THAT?" Then as the camera pulled all the way back, we could see that below the object was the back of a Blackhawks' jersey displaying the number 15. Both my buddy and I shouted at the same time: "It's Nester's HEAD!"

He was a great guy and a very popular player on Chicago.

nickatnoon61 9:31 PM  

Interesting about Nester tipping Hull's #50 in? I will check it on youtube if it is available. I have been a Hawks fan for over 50 years, and I still remember listening to the Sunday night games on the radio from the Stadium as a kid. The wild crowd noise, and the P.A. announcer back then gave me goose bumps. I always remember Nester's swooping skating style. It was obviously very effective. I tried to emulate it when I played. In 1967 I cried when the Hawks were eliminated by the Leafs. That was the year they finished first place for the first time in their history, then traded Espo that summer. I was devastated!

Anonymous,  7:50 PM  

In the late 60's Eric would walk across the street and join us in a pick up game at a small outdoor rink. A couple of times he would give us a ride home to Evanston, where we all lived, after a Hawks game. Just a down-to-earth good guy. And keep in mind he was in a 6 team league...appreciate the quality of players then...

cynthia webber,  4:41 PM  

cynthia webber
when i was in gammar school, i would listen to the blackhaws on
radio and do my homework. eric nestereko was one of my favorite
as was moost vasko.d

Anonymous,  6:34 AM  

I will be very thankful for any contacts or information about relatives of Eric Jacob(Jakov) Nesterenko.

As I heard from my father, his cousen, Eric died in 1980-es, but we lost all the contacts while living in the USSR.

Please email any info to:
boris.nesterenko@mail.ru

Regards, Boris Nesterenko

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