Over the years, the Stanley Cup has traveled thousands of miles, but it may never have visited a smaller town than West Guilford, Ont., hometown of Los Angeles Kings coaching consultant Bernie Nicholls. A player for nine seasons in Los Angeles, Nicholls grew up in the town of roughly 100 people on his family's hunting farm, where his father and brothers have been leading hunts for bears, deer and moose for over 50 years.
So when Nicholls finally had his day with the Cup on Wednesday, it only seemed fair that he take it hunting at the Nicholls family camp.
"My dad makes canoes and we have a great picture of me holding the Cup out in the lake in the canoe," Nicholls told NHL.com. "We do a lot of hunting. I had my bow and it [the Cup] stood in the tree stand beside me. My dad has been there since 1961. I remember walking through the bush when I was 5 years old following my dad. I've hunted my whole life. I always had a passion for that."
For residents of the small town, located about 10 miles from Halliburton, Ont., where Nicholls played junior hockey, it was a remarkable finish to a memorable 12-month run for the former Kings great -- he ranks in the top five in team history in goals, assists and points. After staying involved with the club through alumni events, Nicholls spent parts of last summer lobbying L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi for a position with the team. While nothing came of the discussions with Lombardi, Nicholls was honored Dec. 10 on Kings Legends Night. Ten days later, Darryl Sutter replaced Terry Murray as Kings coach and brought Nicholls aboard as a consultant.
"For the last couple of years I've tried to do things with [the Kings]. It just didn't work out," Nicholls, who was coached by Sutter while playing with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1994-95 season, said. "When Darryl took over, I thought if I asked him for an opportunity that he would let me come."
For a player who scored over 1,200 points with six teams in a 20-year career, the return to the Kings also rekindled Nicholls' hopes of bringing the Cup to the family hunting camp.
"When I retired we thought the dream was over," he said. "Playing, you think about it all the time. This year when I went to L.A., with the run they had, it made a dream come true for a community. Not only me and my family."
That remarkable Kings run to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history helped to realize a dream for a small, tight-knit Ontario town. But Nicholls still slightly was dismayed to find that he wasn't the first person to take the Cup hunting. Apparently Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, another avid outdoorsman, did the same after Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2009.
"I heard Dan had it in a tree stand, too. He had it fishing and everything," Nicholls said. "I may send Dan a picture. He would appreciate it."