Bernie Nicholls Personifies “Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler”

When Bernie Nicholls returned to Edmonton for the Farewell Rexall Place ceremony last month, it was his first time wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey in the historic arena since January 13, 1993. It was an evening he won’t soon forget.

“It was amazing,” Nicholls told Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED in Edmonton. “I still get goosebumps thinking about when they introduced (Wayne Gretzky) at the end. There’s nothing better.”

Nicholls played 18 seasons in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings (1981-1990), New York Rangers (1990-1991), Oilers (1991-1993), New Jersey Devils (1993-1994), Chicago Blackhawks (1994-1996) and the San Jose Sharks (1996-1999), tallying 475 goals and 1,209 points in 1,127 career NHL games.

Though he only spent parts of two seasons in Edmonton, Nicholls is very proud to have had the chance to play in his home country.

“For me, being Canadian, I spent most of my career in Los Angeles, I hit New York and I hit Chicago, which are three of the biggest cities in the NHL, but having the opportunity to play in Canada and to play in Edmonton was awesome.”

Nicholls was traded to the Oilers with Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice on October 4, 1991, in a blockbuster deal that sent Oilers legend Mark Messier to the Rangers. Nicholls was excited to be joining a perennial Stanley Cup contender, but was disappointed to the fact that he wouldn’t get to play Messier.

“I would have loved to have played with Messier,” said Nicholls. “He was one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the game.”

Oilers fans were first introduced to Nicholls as 20-year-old rookie during the 1982 playoffs when he and the Kings pulled off one of the greatest upsets of the decade, nicknamed the Miracle on Manchester, by defeating the heavily favoured Oilers in a five game series.

“Honestly, we had no business beating them. That’s the funny thing about sports, and we all know what Edmonton went on to do, winning all those Cups.”

Nicholls was already a two-time 40 goal scorer by the time Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 1988, but The Great One helped him take his game to another level by reaching the 70 goal plateau in 1988-89. Nicholls is one of only eight players in NHL history to score 70 goals in a season along with Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Teemu Selanne, Phil Esposito and Alexander Mogilny. Pretty impressive company.

“Great players bring the best out of everybody, and just playing with (Gretzky) was so special. He wasn’t a vocal leader, but every now and then he would give me a little tap on my knee pads and say, ‘we need you tonight’.”

These days, the 54-year-old Haliburton, Ontario native is part-owner of an interesting new website that that gives sports fans the opportunity to own a piece of their favourite pro sports team.

“We just recently launched the first-ever real money sports stock market. You can go to www.allsportsmarket.com and buy shares in any team,” Nicholls said. Each share starts at $2.50 and you get paid dividends on every win.”

Nicholls believes that the addition of phenom Connor McDavid will not only have an impact on the ice for the Oilers, but almost certainly benefit the team’s stock holders as well.

“Whether you’re an Oilers fan or not, if you hold onto a stock for a couple years and (McDavid) keeps doing what he’s doing, your shares are going to double or triple in no time.”

An entire generation of Oilers fans have been born since Nicholls retired from the NHL in 1999 and likely wouldn’t be familiar with his name, especially given his short tenure with the team. But players like Nicholls personify the organization’s proud and long-standing slogan, “Once and Oiler, Always an Oiler.”

“It was a special place to play,” Nicholls said.