March 1, 2012

GetRealHockey talks with hockey legend Bernie Nicholls

Hockey fans all over the world remember hockey legend Bernie Nicholls.  The man was a beast on the ice and he has given NHL fans many highlight reel moments.
I was able to talk with Bernie yesterday and get his feedback on all things hockey.  

QUESTION: It was great to see the Kings honor you in their Legends Night ceremony this season. What sort of emotions does a former player like yourself go through in an event like this? Being away from the spotlight for a while… were there any jitters?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Well… I was nervous, obviously.  But I was definitely honored.  I had my daughter with me who had never seen me play in LA and I had my two sisters down who had never been in LA.  The whole night was great.  You know, the Kings, it was first class.  They treated my family good and my daughter had a great time being there on the ice.  The whole night was really really cool.

QUESTION: You were born and raised in Canada, where hockey is widely popular. How did it feel playing in Los Angeles, where you are not nearly as recognized in public. Many players say it is a good thing not to be recognized in public and prefer to have the privacy.  

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Well, I've actually played both.  I've played in Canada and I've played in Los Angeles.  I came to LA a Canadian… none of us really knew we had a team.  From such a small town in Canada we used to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens and all of a sudden I get a call from the LA Kings and I didn't know a whole lot about them.  Coming out here I was from the smallest town in the world.  I think there's about a hundred people in my home town and I come to Los Angeles where there's ten million people.  So, it was obviously a culture shock.  Yeah, the people at the time didn't know a whole lot about hockey.  You know, but the thing about LA though… we had 12 thousand loyal season seat holders every night and they were great.  Obviously now after Wayne came here, they've done much better.  I think everybody knows a lot more about hockey now than in the 80's.  Playing in Los Angeles, it was great.

QUESTION: How has hockey changed in LA since you were drafted in 1980? Is there a difference in the popularity of the sport in the city?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Yeah, no question.  I think there are a lot of kids who play hockey here in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California.  I've played up in Northern California… youth hockey is pretty good up there.  It's come a long way.  Like I said, there's more people that come to games now than they did in the 80's.  I think they're absolutely more knowledgable about it. And for kids, I think the youth hockey in Los Angeles, they do a great job.  I think the kids are learning to play here and I don't think it'll be much time before we see kids in the NHL from Southern California.

QUESTION: When you were traded for the first time to the New York Rangers, what sort of emotions did you feel? You were an LA King for quite a while before that happened. I imagine there had to be some frustration. How do pro athletes react to being traded?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Absolutely.  I think, the first time traded… if you're not wanting to be traded or expecting it, it's really tough.  You know, sometimes guys are in a situation where they want out and they're looking forward to it.  For me, I was shocked.  I just finished playing one year with Gretzky.  It was unbelievable.  It was an honor to play with him and so much fun.  I was looking forward to playing with him for five, six, ten more years.  But, I did get traded.  It was a shock.  I was angry, disappointed, all of the above… and… it was really tough.  It's hard when you're not expecting it.

QUESTION: … and you eventually get over that especially when you join your new team, right?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Yeah, and you know, the thing is… that's the business side of it that a lot of people don't understand.  You're traded, you move on, you go to another city who wants you.  Obviously they want you bad.  They traded for you.  You want to go there and you want to be the best player you possibly can be for that organization, for the group of players you're going to be playing with now.  Once you get there, the past is gone, and you move forward.

QUESTION: While we are on the subject of trades, the NHL trade deadline came and went recently. The Kings acquired Jeff Carter in exchange for Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick. What does Carter bring to the Kings in your opinion?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Wow, he's the player that we really don't have… that real high scoring right winger, you know that we needed to play with a guy like Mike and Kopitar… either one.    We've been kind of trying to fill that void.  We've obviously struggled with goal scoring.  Now that Mike Richards has a player that he's really comfortable with and a real good goal scorer, I think you'll see that line really improve.  When you don't score a lot of goals and you struggle that way and you get a guy who can score goals, it makes your whole team feel that much better and even play that much better.  They got the confidence that if you do get scored on one or two goals that you're capable of coming back.  So, that's a big plus.

QUESTION: The Kings have had a lot of problems scoring goals this season. For anyone who watches this team, it is obvious that it hasn't been a lack of effort. Is the problem more mental, technical, or just pure bad luck?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Well, I think you can put all of that into the equation.  When you don't score goals, a lot of times, whether you are a gifted goal scorer or you're not, you have to go and want to get into the tough areas… the goal scoring areas and do the right thing.  I find a lot time with our guys, they do a lot of missing the net.  They don't shoot the puck at the right time.  They don't get available in the scoring areas.  They don't create scoring opportunities for one another.  And when they get them, they miss the net.  You know, I don't know many, with the statistics... on shots at the goal, shots that don't get through, and shots that miss the net… and you'd be amazed to know how many shots that don't get through to the net.  They either get blocked or just miss the net.  That there is a big part of it.  Any player can work on that.  Work on hitting the net.  Work on getting available in proper scoring opportunities.  That's what we have to do better collectively as a group.

QUESTION: What sort of changes do you think the Kings can make during the summer to resolve the scoring problems?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: They still have a couple of kids who are out that are injured.  Gagne is out who is a really good goal scorer.  They've got some young kids coming up who are skilled.  Obviously, you evaluate your team at the end the season.  Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter will evaluate it and if they think they need more of this and more of that, then they'll probably try to do the best they can to go get it.

QUESTION: Some fans may not know this, but you've been working with the Kings this season as a consultant. Can you give us some insight on what sort of things you work on and who you work with mostly?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: I just work with anybody.  You know, I think when I came here it was the part where they had trouble scoring goals on their power play and struggled.  I just asked if I could put an input, give my two cents, try to structure, make it easier for them to create some opportunities to create more scoring chances, and then just talk to the guys.  You know, a lot of times it's a confidence thing or tell guys and help them out with maybe positioning… and like I said, to get in the right scoring areas and shoot the puck hard at the net.  Just little things like that that guys who are struggling need to be aware of. And you just try to do all that.

QUESTION … So you were approached by the Kings or did you reach out to Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter to offer your help?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: I had talked to Dean for the last couple of years because the power play had struggled a little bit at times.  Just wanted to give my opinion.  When Darryl came in January, you know, I've worked with Darryl before… he coached me for two different teams, I know him real well.  I just asked him if he thought it would be beneficial for me to come out and try to help out any way I can.  He thought it would be a good idea for me to come out and they asked for me to stay for the rest of the year.  So, hopefully if I can add anything to help, that's what you want to do.  Just try to help out as much as you can.

QUESTION: How long do you plan on being with the Kings and would a permanent coaching job be something that might interest you in the future, not necessarily with the Kings?

BERNIE NICHOLLS: Well, it's the Kings I was interested in working with because I know the players, I've played here, this is the team I've always like to play for, and to work for.  So, I'd like to do whatever they need me to do as long as they want me to do it.  It's obviously up to them in the summer time at the end of the season.  You know, for me, it's whatever I can do to help.  I'm more than happy to.  As long as they want me to, I'll be here.  

- Mike Torosyan

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