Since Bob Nicholson assumed the role of president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada on July 1, 1998, Canada has enjoyed an unparalleled run of success on the international stage, including:
As Nicholson gets ready to step away from the organization, he talked about some of the moments and events he remembers most.
QUARTET OF DOUBLE GOLD
When Nicholson became president and CEO, Canada hadn’t won Olympic gold in 46 years. Since, Canada has claimed two gold medals at every Winter Games. In 2002, 2010 and 2014, it was the men’s and women’s Olympic teams; in 2006, the women’s and sledge teams.
“In Salt Lake City in 2002, I remember [executive director Wayne] Gretzky leaning over when we scored the fifth goal against the U.S., and saying, ‘We might have fun yet,’” says Nicholson, laughing.
Double gold eight years later may have been even sweeter.
“Doing it in Vancouver on home soil was special,” says Nicholson. “And to go over and do it in Russia [this year] was a great way to finish what I started at the Olympics.”
HONOURING AN IDOL
In 2010, millions of Canadians gathered in living rooms, bars and city squares across the country anxiously awaiting the gold medal game against the Americans. Meanwhile, in a box at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, Nicholson was picking up the phone to call Jean Béliveau and thank him for being the team’s honorary captain. “He couldn’t believe I was calling two minutes before the game was starting,” says Nicholson. The members of the management team – Steve Yzerman, Kevin Lowe, Ken Holland and Doug Armstrong – all got on the line as well.
Months later the same group went to Montreal to give the Canadiens legend a ring. “Béliveau had never represented Canada as a player,” says Nicholson. “To do that for one of my idols growing up was a pretty neat thing.”
STARTING A STREAK
Canada has claimed 12 IIHF World Junior Championships under Nicholson’s leadership, seven as senior vice-president and five more as president. When asked if one stands out, he points to the 1993 title in Gävle, Sweden, the first year he took charge of the team – and the first of what would be five straight gold medals. That year’s team included Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya and Martin Lapointe. “We had a great team with a lot of great players,” says Nicholson. “That [year] really changed a lot about the way I thought of putting teams together.”
Jim Hornell, chairman of the Hockey Canada Board of Directors, spoke of how Nicholson is welcomed in dressing rooms from Buchans, N.L., to Penticton, B.C. It’s not surprising, as Nicholson spent 10 years with the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association, overseeing 50 clinics a year and spending days at a time driving to minor hockey associations across the province. He continued to take in games in small-town arenas from coast to coast as president of Hockey Canada. “It’s in the small communities where you really feel the heartbeat of hockey in our country.”
PROUD TO PLAY
When Nicholson first joined Hockey Canada (then the Canadian Hockey Association) in 1990, he created and wrote an initiation program that is now used in 40 countries around the world. It’s that program that Nicholson appears to be most proud of. “Grassroots hockey is more important than Olympic gold because it just gives so many kids dreams.”