At the beginning of January Bernie Nicholls returned to the Los Angeles Kings. It wasn't in a management or ambassador role. Instead, he took on the role of consultant working with the Kings during practices, helping out head coach Darryl Sutter. He wanted to help because as he told the LA Times' Bill Plaschke during the Stanley Cup Final, "I was a King once, I wanted to be a King again, it was all fine."
The 51-year old Nicholls never played in a Final during his 18-year NHL career that saw him finish with 475 goals and 1209 points. He played in three Conference Finals, but when the Kings won the Cup in June, it was his first taste of a championship.
On Wednesday, Nicholls used his day with the Cup to take it back to his hometown of West Guilford, Ont., bringing it to a local hockey rink, a marina in nearby Haliburton, his family camp and his house on the lake.
"I just tried to give it back to the community where I played hockey," Nicholls told Puck Daddy on Thursday.
"Yesterday was kind of the icing on the cake. When Walt [Neubrand, one of the Cup keepers] opened the case up and I got to take it out, and my mom and dad see it, and my brothers and my sisters [see it], that was really pretty cool."
That photo above of Nicholls up in a tree, decked out in hunting gear, compound bow drawn and ready with the Cup on watch duty? It was posed, sadly. Nicholls didn't have time in the day to go out, where he hunts deer and moose, but still managed to get that badass shot.
In just over two months (let's hope) the Kings will open up the 2012-13 season and attempt to become the first NHL team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings went back-to-back in 1997 and 1998. The grind to earn the right to call yourself a Stanley Cup champion is worth it in the end, making the 24 hours players, coaches and staff get to spend with the trophy all the more meaningful.
"It's just so cool to see the thing passed around. It's the greatest tradition in sports," said Nicholls. "I can't believe other sports wouldn't do that for someone who wins the championship -- they get that trophy for the whole year and every player gets it for a day. To me that is the coolest thing that there is. I can't believe we're the only one that does that."
Asked about his future, Nicholls said he's under the assumption he'll be back working again with the Kings next season. Assistant coach Jamie Kompon, who didn't have his contract renewed at the end of June and moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks, was notified not long after the season concluded. Nicholls hasn't heard anything from the team one way or another at the point, believing he would have been told already if he wasn't returning.
"It'd be fun to do the same thing that I did last year, but obviously it's up to Darryl and whatever they want," said Nicholls.
"If there's a place for that again this year, I'd love to do it."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy