While Tuesday night’s Sharks-Carolina game was unforgettable for most people, the night was special for Scott Nichol. That game marked Nichol’s 500th in the National Hockey League.
That’s quite a feat for anyone, but especially for Nichol. For the first six years of his professional career, he thought he’d play 500 games, but all of them in the American Hockey League.
“I guess how my career started, this is 500 more than I thought I would get,” Nichol said. “I was pretty close to 500 in the AHL. I played two NHL games out of my first 96.”
In those first six years, Nichol accrued five NHL games. Not the greatest path ever blazed to the NHL. While Nichol never doubted his ability, he was forced to deal with injuries that made him wonder.
“I’ve blown out both my ACL’s and my shoulder,” Nichol said. “There was doubt after my second surgery on my ACL. I was supposed to have it in a soft cast and I unlocked out and was hopping to the kitchen to get something and I rolled my good foot. I did a front lunge on my leg that was a week out of surgery and I thought I’d torn my graph out. If I did, I would’ve hung them up. That was a defining moment right there. If it was blown out, I’d probably be a policeman right now.”
But fortunately for Nichol, he overcame his bad luck.
During that rehab time, Nichol was playing with the Detroit Vipers and wasn’t even on a two-way contract. Then something beneficial happened to him.
“I was on an independent contract,” Nichol said about the year returning from a surgery. “It took me a good year to get my legs back under me. We didn’t have a very good team, but I played a ton. Right on July 1, Calgary signed me. I thought, ‘Hey, it’s a two-year, two-way deal.’”
Nichol believed even though he was skating for his hometown team, he’d be lucky to get the proverbial cup of coffee. Things worked out differently as he skated in 128 games over his two seasons with the Flames.
“Things worked out right and I haven’t looked back since,” Nichol said.
However, the bus rides weren’t over. After 75 games with Chicago in 2003-04, another injury forced Nichol to return to the AHL.
“I had a conditioning stint then came back up,” Nichol said. “I was out six weeks with a broken foot.”
He’s been in the NHL ever since and never looked back. That’s not to say he runs away from his AHL roots by any means. All his minor league time showed him that you have to be prepared when opportunity knocks.
“There are good players all over,” Nichol said. “When you do get a chance you have to make the most of it. Everyone in their career has a defining moment and if you miss that opportunity, you might not get another one. I just plugged away and it’s worked out great.”
Nichol’s path to the NHL and his drive and determination have won him over with his teammates.
“He’s fought for everything he has and he deserves it,” Patrick Marleau
said. “He comes to the rink every day, brings energy, works hard, fights and is a top faceoff man in the League. He has found a niche and he has taken it and gets better at it every day. Desire, perseverance, dedication, all those words apply to him.”
All those words also apply to the faceoff dots where Nichol is considered the NHL’s best. Not one of the best, but the best. He has a strong appreciation for those who help make him so strong at his craft.
“When I played in Portland, Brent Peterson was my coach and he’s the assistant coach in Nashville now,” Nichol said. “Faceoffs are how he made his living n in the NHL with the Sabres. When I got there as a 17-year-old, he instilled the puck possession game and (the importance) of winning draws. He showed me the proper technique to win faceoffs.
“When I was in the minors I was the checking center against top lines and I wanted the puck and didn’t want them to have it,” Nichol added. “I’ve had great coaches over the years that put a lot of emphasis on it. Brian Skrudland is another great faceoff man and he was my assistant coach my first year in Calgary. Then I went to Nashville and had Peterson back for four years. Then with Todd (McLellan) and Woody (Jay Woodcroft) and their emphasis on it here, it’s been great.”
The faceoff may be Nichol’s niche, but his sunny disposition seems to come through every day. That positive attitude has allowed him to keep a spot on NHL rosters. He’s never wavered from who he is and that’s a big reason for his success.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Nichol said. “I think I grew as a person and a player playing in the minors for a long time. I appreciate being in the NHL and how committed you have to be in the season and the offseason to stay in the NHL.”
At 35, Nichol is the second oldest player on the Sharks (Jamal Mayers is just a few months older than he). But Nichol doesn’t act like that elder statesman. He comes off like an enthusiastic rookie. Are there any other NHL milestones in his future?
“I was happy at 400,” Nichol said. “I just have to keep on plugging. I feel younger every year, so who knows? I have just as much in common with 22-year-olds as I do with 35-year-olds. Maybe I’ve got to grow up. Hopefully I’ve got a few more years and can keep it going.”
The Sharks will visit Colorado Thursday at 6 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.