The pride of West Guilford, Ont. is Bernie Nicholls, one of only eight NHL players in history to score 70 goals in a single season. Nicholls played for six NHL teams in a 20-year-career, but he defines himself mostly as a Los Angeles King, where he broke in during the early 1980s and had his finest season - 150 points - during Gretzky’s first year in Lalaland.
Nicholls always was good around the net, scoring 1,209 points in 1,127 career games, and so when he saw the Kings struggle to score goals this season, he put in a call to new coach Darryl Sutter and volunteered to help out. Nicholls finished his playing career in San Jose, which is where he and Sutter crossed paths previously.
And so, as the Kings ventured across Western Canada, where they completed a three-game road trip in Vancouver Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout win, Nicholls was unofficially playing the part of assistant coach, trying to help jump-start a Kings’ offence that was 30th in scoring and 30th in even-strength scoring when he arrived.
“I always do a lot of things with the Kings,” said Nicholls, in an interview. “I love being around the players. It’s such a talented group, but I think we’ve averaged two goals a game since forever.
“I just asked if I could help out, maybe help out with the power play and add my two cents, and Darryl said yeah, no problem. They’ve allowed me to come around and it’s been fun. The guys are great to be with. Anything you can add to help out, I wanted to do that.”
Nicholls has been staying in L.A. these past three weeks, but mostly lives in Ontario’s cottage country, just west of Haliburton, where he says: “I do a lot of hunting in the fall. We have our own camp there; and we guide and stuff. I enjoy it back there. I have a house there, I gave it to my mom and dad and so when I’m there, I stay with them. It’s great.”
Sutter took over from Terry Murray, who was fired in December, and essentially inherited Murray’s staff. Nicholls is the only change and for now, it is just a day-to-day thing. The Kings are 8-1-5 in their first 14 games under Sutter after taking five of six points in Western Canada and surrendered two or fewer goals in 12 of those games, heading into Thursday night’s home date with the Calgary Flames, Game 2 of the Sutter vs. Sutter coaching match-up. Defensively, the Kings are fine. Of late, they are occasionally showing offensive flashes. If that continues, maybe Nicholls will get to stick around.
“I think so. I hope so. I’ll be there until they tell me to go home, I guess.”