Q And A With Bernie Nicholls
Bernie Nicholls has broken a lot of records. Since 1989, Nicholls has held the Kings record for scoring the most goals in one season (70), and is one of 13 NHLers to score eight points in a game. During the eight-point game against Toronto Dec. 1, 1988, Nicholls recorded two goals and six assists, both also Kings single-game records. He also earned hat tricks in three straight home games during his rookie year in 1982.
Thirty years later, Nicholls plays a different role in the Kings organization, as a coaching consultant. He began his professional career in Los Angeles and post-retirement, continues to contribute to the organization. He played in 1127 NHL games, including 602 with the Kings, where he scored 327 goals. Nicholls, an active member of the LA Kings Alumni Association Presented by Toyota, has been a fixture this season in alumni events and is scheduled to participate at the San Manuel Poker Tournament and Fantasy Camp in March.
LAKings.com spoke to Nicholls on his records, his hometown, and what it was like beginning his professional career in Los Angeles.
Q: The San Manuel Poker Tournament is coming up on March 1. You will be joined by Kings and Ducks alumni in the tournament, which will benefit the Kings Care Foundation and the Ducks Foundation. Are you excited to participate?
Nicholls: Very much so. I’m a huge gambler to start with but I love Texas Hold’em—I love playing cards. I’m really excited to participate and it’s going to be fun.
Q: What are you looking forward to most with Fantasy Camp, which is set to begin on March 2?
Nicholls: I think it is just the excitement of the guys that come in—for them to have the opportunity to skate with us, maybe learn a little bit. It’s really rewarding for me and it’s exciting to see it. You get a lot of guys that keep coming back year after year, but it’s fun to see the excitement that they bring.
Q: You were drafted in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. What was that experience like?
Nicholls: It was different than it is now—we didn’t go to it back then. I remember getting a call— I’m from a real small town north of Toronto and all we really got to see when I was growing up was the Toronto Maples Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens—not that I ever wanted to play for them. When I got the call I was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, I didn’t know what to think, because I didn’t even know they had a team. I remember the first thing I did—I went and told my dad I got drafted. Once I knew a little bit about them, that they had Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Dave Taylor—guys like that—you kind of hope that they’re not really strong in the position you play or else you will never be able to make the team. Obviously getting here, coming to California, was pretty cool too.
Q: You were in your early 20s when you moved to Southern California to play for the Kings. What was it like for you when you first moved to LA?
Nicholls: Well the first time flying in was really exciting—palm trees, the whole bit. I’m from a town of no more than a 100 people—we have one garage, one store, a laundry mat, one restaurant in my hometown—so I went from arguably the smallest place in the world to the largest city in the world—there was a big culture shock for me but it was fun.
Q: You played for the Kings for nine seasons during your time here. What was the best part about living in LA?
Nicholls: It was absolutely great. The fans were great here. You know I really think coming from snow and cold, there’s nothing better going out after a game and it’s 60-70 degrees rather than going out and it’s -20 to -30 degrees. Your off days, you go out, you go to the beach, you go play golf—there is so much more you can do. LA brings so much more to an athlete than people really think. It’s a pretty cool place to live.
Q: It’s hard to believe you lived somewhere that was -30.
Nicholls: Back home, many nights were -30. When I was up in Edmonton, I remember after games they had electric car starters in their car—they’d have to start their car outside and let it warm up before they go out and go home. Out here it’s awesome.
Q: Describe your most memorable goal in your career.
Nicholls: It might have been my first one. I was in Colorado it was a short-handed goal. I had a breakaway and the unbelievable thing was about two weeks later I get an envelope in the mail with a picture someone had snapped just when I was getting ready to shoot it in the empty net so I actually got a picture of that, I got my puck—that was probably the most exciting goal. When I scored the 70th goal it was an empty-netter but that was obviously pretty exciting too. There’s a big difference in 69 and 70 and to have that, was pretty special too.
Q: You’ve played in over 1100 games in your NHL career—what was it like suiting up for your first NHL game?
Nicholls: Well, it was really exciting. My first game, I was called up from New Haven. I think for any kid that has always dreamt of playing in the NHL, your first game is really exciting. I don’t remember playing a lot that night, nothing really major happened other than the fact that I did play and it was definitely exciting.
Q: How did you come up with the Pumper Nicholl—your signature celebration?
Nicholls: It wasn’t me, it was actually Bob Miller. I was just excited to score. I love seeing players that really get excited when they score. To score a goal in the NHL is tough. I was so excited every time I scored and I just kind of showed it. Bob Miller named it the Pumper Nicholl, so it kind of stuck. There’s a couple times that in the playoffs against Edmonton that I did it for a long period of time down on the ice and Bob was screaming ‘do the Pumper Nicholl Bernie’ and he started saying it and it was pretty cool.
Q: You hold the team record for most goals in one season when you scored 70 during the 1988-89 season. What’s it like having a record that still stands over 20 years later?
Nicholls: It’s absolutely great. I think anybody that has a record of any kind is really unbelievable and to think of the talented guys we’ve had here—Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, guys that are unbelievable goal scorers—to still have a record here it’s pretty special.
Q: Describe your role today as a Kings consultant.
Nicholls: I played for Darryl [Sutter] twice—I played for him in Chicago and then San Jose. The year I retired in San Jose, I stayed on and kind of coached there with Darryl. I’ve always been a Kings fan ever since I retired and left here. I always watch them—they’ve always been my favorite team. They’ve just struggled in scoring goals, struggled on the power play. So once Darryl had taken over, I asked him if I could come out, maybe help out a little bit and he said yeah no problem, so I came here really planning on staying the one homestand. He asked me to come on the road with him, and then they asked me to stay the rest of the year. To me, it’s just a ton of fun. I love being around the guys. I love being around the rink every day, being involved with the hockey side—to have the opportunity to do that has just been a lot of fun. I just try to help out the best I can and try to help them maybe create a little more offense or whatever I can do to help them improve and win—that’s all that you want to do.