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Bernie Nicholls; King for More than a Day


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Bernie Nicholls and daughter McKenna

Golf is much sweeter with a Stanley Cup in your bag. A championship ring eases the swing as well …

This is how former Los Angeles King player and current L.A Kings coaching consultant Bernie Nicholls feels. In a phone conversation from a golf course in L.A – Nicholls could not be happier as he prepares for his day with the Stanley Cup.

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” I get the cup on the 1st of August. I am taking it to my hometown of Haliburton, Ont”. Says Nicholls as he directs his buddies on the course. ” I am planning to spend the day with my Mom, Dad, brother and Stanley. We are taking the cup to my minor league rink. The local papers and tv stations will be there along with hundreds of people I have forgot I knew!” He laughs.

Nicholls career is no laughing matter.

Drafted in the seventh round by L.A in 1980, 73rd overall – Bernie’s transition from a scoring sensation in junior to the big leagues was relatively easy.

” My first season, I had Jimmy Fox on my left wing and several players including Darryl Evans on my right. Jimmy and I played together for six or seven years. We had some real trying seasons in L.A but a lot of great memories.”

Jonathan Quick and Nicholls

One of those memories was the first time Bernie played against his hero; Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders. It was during his rookie season.

” I was a huge Islanders fan and they came into Los Angeles to play a game. I had every member of the team sign my stick. I still have that stick and Bryan and I are good friends. He’s such an awesome guy!”

Following two seasons of 41 and 46 goals,including a one hundred point season, Nicholls discovered himself playing on a team with Wayne Gretzky following the blockbuster deal with Edmonton. During the 1988-89 season, Nicholls became one of only eight players in the history of the NHL to score 70 goals. His 150 points the same season, places him among only five players who have reached the same plateau.

” People assume I played on a line with Gretzky – and that is why I scored all those goals.” Says Bernie. ” Luc Robitaille was my left winger and Dave Taylor was on my right most of the year. I played with Wayne mostly on the penalty kill and scored eight goals. Playing with Wayne anywhere gets you points!” He laughs.

Just as the Kings were about to shed their sad – sack image, Nicholls was traded to the Rangers in 1990 for Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom. Two players who contributed to L.A’s 1993 Stanley Cup run. Something which Nicholls does not regret.

” I had great years in L.A!” I got to play with the greatest player in the game. How can I look back and be angry or sad?” He says.

Nicholls was in his second season with Edmonton when Nicholls’ former team, the Kings, took on the Canadiens for the Cup. It was an Oilers career which got off on the wrong skate.

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Bernie’ swife Heather was pregnant when the former Kingston Canadian was dealt from New York to Gretzky’s former squad following three years in the Big Apple. The then 29 year old was exchanged along with Louie LeBrusk and Stephen Rice for another legend; Mark Messier. Nicholls refused to report until he knew his wife and soon- to- be twins were fine.

” I think the fans were understanding of me wanting to stay with my wife. ‘Slats’ ( Sather) was not happy at the time but we had a good run in the playoffs. We made it to the semi- finals so he ( Sather ) was a little more forgiving.”

The one regret Nicholls has of leaving New York was missing an opportunity to play with Mark Messier. A player most everyone in hockey holds in very high esteem according to the L.A King record holder for goals in a season.

” Wayne was a quiet leader – the ‘lead by example’ type. ‘Mess’ was both. Vocal and led by example. The two were great in their own ways.”

A two year Oilers stint led to an encounter with another legend. This time, the icon was behind the bench. Nicholls was traded by the Oilers to New Jersey for Zdeno Ciger and Kevin Todd on Jan.13 , 1993.

Jacques Lemaire was my coach in New Jersey. Obviously coming from the Canadiens’ system – Lemaire knew what is was to be a winner. Jacques taught me to be a complete hockey player. I learned how to play both ends of the rink”.

Being in the Devils’ system, a defensive one, did not stop Nicholls from being himself.

” Lemaire adapted to me and I to them.” Says Bernie. “It was a win – win situation. Any team including a defensive one needs offence.”

Bernie left the Devils just prior to the team winning a Stanley Cup. Marking the third time Nicholls exited a team prior to success. At no time did he think he was jinxed.

He signed as a free agent in Chicago in 1994-95 and two seasons later with San Jose . It was with the Sharks, Nicholls decided to complete an almost twenty year career in 1998 – 99. A career which did not include hockey’s most coveted prize. A career which ended with 1209 points in 1127 games.

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Little did Nicholls know – his dream of winning a cup would be realized twelve years after he retired. Until this past season, Bernie had been working at the family hunting camp along with his Dad and brothers. The camp is in Haliburton, his home town. It is also where Nicholls resides with his wife and two kids; daughter McKenna and son Flynn.

Just after Christmas, with hockey forever in his blood, Nicholls decided to contact Darryl Sutter – the Kings’ new head coach. Nicholls had skated for Sutter twice before and developed a great relationship.

” The team had just finished a ten game homestand and were embarking on a three game roadtrip. I joined then as a special teams advisor on that trip. Darryl asked me what I thought when we returned to Los Angeles. I enjoyed it and was hired on the spot.”

Nicholls’ job consists of working with guys who need to hone their skills.

” I worked with Doughty and Martinez on their shots. Staying before or after practice to just kinda discover things they forgot. ”

The main difference between the young players of today compared to when Bernie was young? Size, strength and speed. Bigger, stronger – faster. Aside from that, hockey players are still hockey players.

According to Nicholls – today’s players still have the same passion and ‘ win at all cost ‘ mentality he and his peers toted back in the day. The only difference; lack of respect …

” These headshots and blindside hits are deplorable!” Says Nicholls.” Some of the guys don’t care about each other. I think Brendan Shanahan is doing a great job with cracking down. The only thing I think is that a stiffer number of games for a suspension should be handed out. Torres for example. This guy is a repeat offender. I would have been happy if Shanahan had given him a fifty game suspension. I think that plus hefty fines are the only way to deal with dirty hits.”

Bernie agrees with coaching being a huge part of a player’s progress and cites Darryl Sutter as an example;

“Sutter does not believe in cheapshots. It is not part of his make-up. He instills this mentality with his team and look at the results. Not one guy was suspended on the Kings this season. ”

Nicholls also believes in players taking responsibility for their actions.

” Eric Lindros is a perfect example. You cannot skate through the middle with your head down and expect not to get drilled. Scott Stevens was doing his job. He did not warrant any penalty for those hits.”

Another player Nicholls does not believe warranted any punishment was the Bruins’ giant defenceman; Zdeno Chara.

“Zdeno Chara should not have been suspended for his hit on Max Pacioretty a couple of seasons ago.” Says Nicholls.
” It was an unfortunate accident. If the hit happened on the boards and the stanchion was not there – it would have been a normal hockey play. Unfortunately for the kid’s (Pacioretty) sake – he was severely injured.”

Is the Los Angeles coaching staff surprised by the Stanley Cup victory? Not at all says Bernie .

” We came together during the season. A feeling of togetherness. When we met Vancouver in the first round – we had nothing but confidence. We beat them the last two times we played them and look what happened … Once we got going – we were good. We beat the hell out of them!”

Nicholls maintains a combination of ‘ peaking’ at the right moment plus Jonathan Quick’ s ability to keep them in every game – were large factors in the Cup victory.

” We never doubted. The young guys got nervous a few times – like when we got closer to the cup. It was normal but we prevailed.”

The only Kings’ alumni who joined Nicholls in the celebration was Jimmy Fox. A former player who still works with the team. Nicholls’ biggest supporter and fan of the team was his twenty year old daughter – McKenna.

” She’s a huge Kings’ fan and was by my side every step of the way. It was awesome to have her with me – very special!”

Nicholls’ son Flynn is not a hockey fan nor did he play the game which his Dad excelled at. Flynn is an avid guitar player and is enrolled at film school.

Perhaps Flynn should get out the camera and film his Dad, Mom, sister, uncles and grandparents on August 1st. He could chronicle what should be a heartwarming moment for the entire Nicholls clan.

Once Bernie finishes golf of course …

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Photos courtesy of Bernie Nicholls.

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Why the New York Rangers Won’t Win the Cup and Rick’s Picks – Round Three


Hockey is a funny game …

Just clear the track and ask Eddie Shack !

The first two rounds ended in surprising results.

  1. The Flyers and Pens scored more goals in one series than any two teams in the history of the NHL ( not counting the late 80’s and early 90’s Oilers  – combined with their one – ice goals and all the scoring they did off the ice ). By the time the Flyers did not get to Phoenix, the Philadelphia bunch were simply too exhausted to take on the Devils of Jersey. Add the ‘ Bill Clement curse ‘; the Flyers are home and the Devils are about to attempt a spell- casting on their cross – river rivals.
  2. The Caps did everyone in Montreal a favour and eliminated the Big, the bad and the ugly Bruins. The momentum from that series carried the team to a seven game defeat against the Rangers. A series decided by one goal in another game seven for both squads. A series that could have bounced either way.  The  New York team was surprised by the surging Senators and stuck to their game plan which now has allowed the team to ‘ squeak by’ two rounds.
  3. Le west is wild! No doubt about it as the eight seeded Kings have now upset the number one and two seeds. St.Louis was bit by the inexperience bug as well as the injury bug. Not having Halak to bail out Elliot – a blow to to the Blues chances. On the other side of the western coin, the Coyotes are doing their part to sell the team in Phoenix. Dumping the Hawks , then the Predators – a ‘Roadrunner’ feather in the Coyotes’ caps.

Rick’s picks after two rounds … Two wins – ten losses – zero ties ( wink, wink). On the bright side – I did not bet any money …

Round Three Picks

Devils – Rangers

                  Tough one. Boring but tough. Two teams – same system. A Caps – Rangers repeat. The exception? Goaltending. Will Brodeur’s age catch up to him or will his age help him. This should be the deciding factor along with the Rangers ability to corral Kovalchuk. The Devils have a better offence than people think and the Rangers have Lundqvist.  Devils in Seven

Kings – Coyotes

Quick and Smith… Sounds like a type of gun eh?  These teams are both in surprise mode and surprise  mode is relentless. No time to think as the two improbable teams are on a roll. The Kings are more rounded and if a goalie was to be chosen from the two … Quick is the pick. Shane Doan is on overdrive for the Coyotes. Problem is everyone is on overdrive for the Kings. The Montreal Canadiens of 1986 were on a roll and they won. Coyotes in six.

P.S   Kid Mercury put the hex on the Rangers !


 

Why the New York Rangers will not Win the Cup and Rick’s Picks


There will be a twenty – one foot cup erected in Times Square before the playoffs start. No, it is not Shaquille O’Neal’s jock- strap! The NHL, is placing a giant Stanley Cup on the streets of the Big Apple.

Karma beats the Rangers! Read all about it! Kharma beats the Rangers!

The field of 16 is set and all the first-round matchups have been made.

Just like George of the Jungle – I will go on a shaky limb and …

Rick’s picks

Western Conference

1. Vancouver (1) and Los Angeles (8)

The Canucks are a good team and mad! Angry for losing the Stanley Cup to Boston last year. These two elements will leave the Kings booking a beach vacation sooner than later. Vancouver should take six games to shake the Kings’ sand from their skates. Allow the Luongo factor to deposit two wins to L.A lore … Vancouver in six.

2. St.Louis (2) and San Jose (7)

The best first round match- up in the west.San Jose, following years of being expected to win – suddenly are the underdogs. This may work in their favor. They have more experience than the Blues and veterans like Thornton are aware of their mortality on a good team. If Blues’ goalie Elliot starts and fails – they have Halak. If Halak starts and fails – they have Elliot. Expect the limit here. The Blues are in foreign territory and have nothing to lose… St.Louis in seven.

3. Pheonix (3) and Chicago (6)

Les Coyotes are always skating on their final legs in Pheonix. The out- pouring of love the fans demonstrated last year goes a long way. Captain Shane Doan‘s heart and legs cannot carry the team past the Hawks. Unless … Never mind. Hawks in six.

4. Nashville (4) and Detroit (5)

Did I say the best series was St.Louis and San Jose ? Ok – Maybe not. The Predators are ready to pounce and the Wings are aware their time is limited to grab a Cup with the veterans in tow. This alone should propel the Wings higher unless Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne stands on his guitar case … Red Wings in seven

Eastern Conference

1 New York Rangers(1) and Ottawa Senators(8)

Aside from Kharma, the Rangers are not high in the goal scoring department which may be their biggest opponent. The Sens have nothing to lose and may ride the Alfredsson – train all the way (at least past New York). Ranger goalie Lundvquist is a factor as is Tortorella’s temper. The play- offs are a different animal as the Rangers will discover. Senators in seven.

2 Boston Bruins(2) and Washington Capitals(7)

The defending Stanley Cup champs should commence their defence of the title easily. The Caps and their captain, Ovechkin , played tag all year with success. If Tim Thomas can avoid the CIA snipers but not the Capitals’ shots – an easy series for the Bad Bruins. Boston in six

3 Florida Panthers(3) and New Jersey Devils (6)

A strange match – up. The upcoming Panthers may be thwarted by their happiness. The final time the Cats were on the dance floor, the thought of a black President was as rare as a plastic rat on Panther ice. Martin Brodeur, the Devils’ legendary goalie may utilize this ‘end of a career’ series as one final kick at the puck. The Devils also have Kovalchuck. New Jersey in six.

4 Pittsburgh Penguins(4)and Philadelphia Flyers (5)

Let’s get ready to rumble …! An opening round series that is tailor made for everyone to be happy! The NHL brass will be smiling, the television networks and hockey fans ‘coast to coast’ will all be pumped in Pennsylvania! The teams hate each other and Mike Milbury did his job well in applying fuel to a Flyers’ fire. Unfortunately for Philly fans, coach Laviolette and his team’s ability to be undisciplined will cede the series to Pittsburgh. Pens in six

There you have it ! Enjoy the first round and remember to …

Watch out for that tree …!

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Sex , Lies and Hockey Tape – Part Three


The New York Rangers sucked . Then they re-called one of the biggest sucks in hockey ( Sean Avery) and suddenly they do not suck as much anymore. Go figure – eh ? Standing behind Avery’s shenanigans is the stellar net-minding of Henrik Lundqvist. The team,  with Henrik leading the way , are second only to Boston in goals allowed in the East. Thank the Statue of Liberty because their offense is scoring in the middle of the pack. The 71 goals for is only two more than the Habs’ anemic output and it will be their Achilles heal come play-off time should they make it. Glen Sather’s steal of the decade ( Scott Gomez , Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto for Higgins , Valentenko , Janik and McDonagh ) is paying dividends as Ryan is becoming the star the Habs let go and Valentko is a steadfast D-man. None of the players Montreal received are productive anywhere. Goaltending and defence means everything in the play-offs – if Lundqvist can pull a Halak come spring , a parade through the streets of Manhattan is possible.

$$$$$$$$$ screws up everything. Just ask Lou Lamiorello.

Lou has a few too many drinks – decides that his defensive -minded Devils need a goal scorer , and promptly ruins the franchise by signing Kovalchuk to a huge multi-year deal. The hangover will not go away for Mr. Lamiorello as his silliness has ruined his team, his salary cap , the minors and his fan base. There are no monkeys in Kovalchuk’s  sequel so the Devils will have to discover ways to amuse themselves as their goaltender ages. The best thing Lamiorello can do at this point is trade Martin Brodeur to a contender in March and amass some young prospects with offensive talent to add to Kovalchuk’s skill. If not – the Devils will prove that Hell can freeze over …

The New York islanders cannot win , they cannot score and they cannot draw people to their decrepit building.John Tavares must feel like a fish out of water as he skates alone on most evenings. A new building will improve the spirits of everyone yet a change of management must follow.

The Ottawa Senators do not have cheerleaders – so there is not much to cheer for. They cannot score goals yet somehow they are squeaking by and playing close to .500 hockey. The team has rid themselves of two poisons in Kovalev and Gonchar and the changes have made the Sens much better. This is a re- building year for the team and expect them out of the play-offs once more. Next year will bring and new era in Ottawa as the parity in the NHL will ensure the team rises higher than this season. Alfredson may call it quits unless he drinks something from Selanne’s secret vile. If management was nice – they would ship him to a contender this year so that Daniel can do his best Ray Bourque impression.

Stay tuned for part four and if you need Kleenex after watching the Habs fall to the powerful Blue Jackets last night – Uniprix is having a sale ….

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