By Deborah Lew
This is the fourth feature of a special multi-part LAKings.com content series featuring various members of the Kings organization as the Stanley Cup makes its way around North America throughout the summer.
When the Los Angeles Kings won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, one of the most popular players in team history managed to have himself included in the historic event.
It wasn’t Gretzky, Dionne, Vachon or Taylor, but a name that often sneaks onto the list – and deservedly so – is Bernie Nicholls.
Nicholls played parts of nine seasons in Los Angeles, scoring 327 goals and 758 points in 602 games, which included a season of 70 goals and 150 points. Known for his famous ‘Pumper Nicholl’ goal celebration, Nicholls was easily a fan favorite, not only for his play on the ice but his infectious personality and his positive attitude.
After a career that saw Nicholls also play for the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Chicago
Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks, Nicholls retired at the age of 36 at the conclusion of the 1998-99 season.
“They always get me to come in and do their golf tournaments and fantasy camps,” said Nicholls of the Kings. “You always like to do alumni things for your teams, but LA is the only one I really do it for. Even when I left LA I always rooted for them.”
During the 2010-11 season when the Kings began struggling on the power play, Nicholls began offering Kings general manager Dean Lombardi his advice as to how they could improve. Without taking anyone’s job, Nicholls simply wanted to help any way he could.
“I kind of wanted to do similar to the goalies, where they’d come in, work a couple weeks on, a couple weeks off, part-time. Whatever they wanted me to do, I’d do it,” Nicholls explained.
Nicholls finally got his chance under coach Darryl Sutter in late-December of 2011, and his role was basically to work with the team on the ice during practices, and to serve as a coaching consultant.
“It was great. I went out with the kids, and I worked with them. I think I’m better communicating with the guys on the ice rather than with videos and chalkboards,” Nicholls admitted. “I’m more of a players’ guy than a coach.”
The feeling that Nicholls had the night before the first game of the playoffs could perhaps best define the connection and level of understanding that he was able to achieve with the players.
“We had a big meeting the night before Game 1, and I went for a walk after, and it was like I went right back to (being) a player. I was really excited, I had the butterflies, I was just so amped up, I was so excited – that was the first time for me in 12 years,” recalled Nicholls. “It was unbelievable. To have that feeling is great – athletes get it a lot before big games and I had it. I could have played that night, I could have played, I was ready to go!”
It wasn’t necessary for Nicholls to lace up the skates that night, or any night for that matter, as the Kings racked up an astonishing 16-4 record, winning Nicholls his first Stanley Cup – something he never thought would happen after his playing days were over.
Lord Stanley’s Cup came to the town of West Gilford, Ontario, about two hours north of Toronto. The entourage that followed Nicholls on his day with the Cup, which included a TV station and a local paper, nearly equaled the town’s population of 100.
The Cup’s first visit was to the family hunting camp, where the biggest priority was to get a photo of the Cup with Nicholls’ father and two brothers, who had never before seen the Cup in person. Nicholls then brought the trophy to the town’s store and garage, of which – according to Nicholls – there is only one of each.
From the garage, Nicholls brought the Cup back to his home for an hour where family members were able to take photos and spend some private time, before the Cup was taken for a canoe ride on the lake in a canoe made by Nicholls’ father.
The next stop produced one of the most widely circulated Cup photos thus far this summer, where Nicholls is posing in his tree stand, wearing his hunting gear and posing with a bow and arrow, the silver chalice beside him.
“That thing was all over the place – it was in the Toronto papers – it was actually pretty cool,” Nicholls stated, referring to the photo.
The tour stopped at a local rink before Nicholls’ daughter wanted to take the Cup for a jet ski ride. Rather than monetary compensation, Nicholls worked out a deal and was able to rent two jet skis in exchange for bringing the Cup to the local ski school so that the participants and employees could cruise with it in a large ski boat as well as enjoy photo opportunities.
Nicholls’ night with the Stanley Cup ended at his lakeside home, where he hosted a couple hundred people, many of whom he didn’t know, at an event that he had advertised in the local paper.
“I wanted all the kids in our town and anybody who wanted to come out,” Nicholls expressed. “For an hour while they were taking pictures, I didn’t know probably half the people.”
The generosity of Nicholls is something those who were present at his home that night will never forget, and it is the same generosity that enabled Nicholls to bring the Cup to West Gilford to begin with.
Remember, in the beginning, all he really wanted to do was help.
Join the conversation on Twitter with the NHL, LA Kings and the Cup Keepers for their summer with Stanley by using the hashtag #StanleyCup
LA Kings: @LAKings
Cup Keepers: @KeeperOfTheCup
Bernie Nicholls: @BernieNicholls9
Deborah Lew: @by_DeborahLew
For photos of the Kings’ summer with Stanley, view the Hockey Hall of Fame’s ‘Stanley Cup Journal’ CLICK HERE
You can also check out the Stanley Cup on Facebook at Facebook.com/StanleyCup and Facebook.com/TravelsWithStanley
To read about John Stevenss' ‘MY STANLEY CUP STORY,’ CLICK HERE
To read about Colin Frasers' ‘MY STANLEY CUP STORY,’ CLICK HERE
To read about Simon Gagne’s ‘MY STANLEY CUP STORY,’ CLICK HERE