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Former great lends voice to Kings

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

EL SEGUNDO -- The Kings added 475 career NHL goals to the ice in practice Wednesday. Bernie Nicholls, though, wore a black warmup suit though, not a Kings jersey. No comeback at age 50.

Coach Darryl Sutter invited Nicholls, who holds the Kings’ single-season record for goals (70), to attend upcoming practices and games in something of a consulting role. The team stressed that Nicholls has not become a part of the coaching staff, and the length of his stint with the team is not yet known.

On the ice Wednesday, Nicholls carried a stick and joined in team huddles with the players, Sutter and assistant coaches John Stevens, Jamie Kompon and Bill Ranford, but on his first day, Nicholls limited his on-ice activity to chatting with players during drills.

``Darryl just wanted me to talk to the guys, individually or just talk to them, encourage them or, if I have any input, give it to them,’’ Nicholls said. ``For the most part, I think they’re playing great. If I can say anything to help them or create something, I’d be more than happy to do that.’’

Since retiring early in the 1998-99 season, Nicholls hasn’t held a regular role in hockey and has no traditional coaching background. He’s an avid golfer and hunter and spent a few years living in Texas before he recently made the move to the Toronto area.

Nicholls played for Sutter twice, in Chicago during the 1994-95 season and in San Jose for 70 games in 1997 and 1998 at the end of his career. Nicholls said that after he retired, he did some similar consulting with Sutter in San Jose. Sutter didn’t specify how long Nicholls would stay with the Kings, and said only that he would like Nicholls to ``watch a couple games.’’

``It’s awesome to have those guys that you’re comfortable with and that know the game,’’ Sutter said. ``Why not? Why not use that resource when you have it? ... It’s not about having the blinders on. It’s about using everything you can.

``He’s a good resource to have, you know? We’re still trying to find our way, to contribute more individually, offensively. I coached him in Chicago and San Jose and I obviously know what he can offer. He’s in town and available, so it’s nice to have that.’’

Nicholls got to know the current Kings, and vice versa, a bit in October, when he accompanied the team on its season-opening trip to Europe in a business-operations capacity, spending time with sponsors.

Anze Kopitar, the Kings’ leading scorer, said he has enjoyed the chance to get to know Nicholls and talk with him about the game.

``It’s a two-way conversation,’’ Kopitar said. ``Obviously he’s trying to give me some pointers, and through those pointers I kind of try to respond and tell him what I see on the ice, if the plays are there or not. If you have a conversation like that with Bernie, or anybody, it always helps and always gives you something to think about and try in a game.’’

Nicholls, who was honored by the Kings this season as part of their ``Legends Night’’ series, said he didn’t necessarily see himself joining the coaching ranks any time soon.

``I love consulting,’’ Nicholls said. ``Coming in and working with these guys, doing whatever it is, I really enjoy that part. Being involved, player-wise and stuff like that, it’s really good. On the blackboard, on the video and stuff, I don’t know if I like that that much. The other guys do a real good job. If I can just be kind of hands-on, player-wise, that way, I like that part.’’

Slava Voynov, who missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed injury, came onto the ice late in practice for some conditioning skating but did not join in any full-team drills. Voynov’s status is doubtful for the Kings’ home game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.

``It’s pretty much got to be full practice before he’d be ready,’’ Sutter said.

Alec Martinez is expected to remain in the lineup if Voynov is unable to play.

Nicholls played 118 games under Sutter, over parts of three seasons, and confirmed Sutter’s reputation as a hard-nosed coach but said he appreciated playing for him.

``I love Darryl,’’ Nicholls said. ``I had him in Chicago when he was a little younger. You guys will see that side too, at times. The one thing I’ve always said about Darryl is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. When you get him around the rink, and it’s hockey time, he’s as intense as anybody.

``My favorite story with Darryl, we had a game and it’s a quarter to 10 in the morning. We always had a stretch, and we were on the ice at 10:30. I’m there, I’m half-asleep, I think I’ve got a milkshake in my hand, I’m stretching. He comes in and he’s screaming. `You guys aren’t ready for the game. Look at you guys.’ And I’m going, `Hell no. It’s eight, 10 hours before I’ve got to play.’ But that’s Darryl. You get him away from the rink and he’s the greatest guy in the world. But he’s intense. He’s got one thing in mind, and it’s to win and work hard. That’s what I love about him. That’s what these guys [Kings players] love about him.’’

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