Hockey has taken Penticton’s Bob Nicholson around the world.

And it may seem surprising considering the influential circles he frequents in the international game and the accomplishments attached to his name, but Nicholson’s strongest hockey memory harkens back to the early days when his father took him and buddies out onto frozen Okanagan ponds to play shinny until dark.

Yet maybe it makes sense. Nicholson has shared the same values instilled in him as a boy in those early sessions amongst every level of hockey he has graced around the world. His resulting impact upon the game has been immense.

Born in Vancouver, Nicholson was raised in Penticton, where he played all his junior hockey. An early coach and mentor was revered Penticton Vees goaltender Ivan McLelland, a fellow BC Sports Hall of Famer, who coached Nicholson’s midget team to a BC provincial championship. Like many on that team, Nicholson, a high-scoring forward, moved onto junior A and helped the Penticton Broncos win the BCJHL and BC-Alberta championships in 1973. From there, Nicholson played NCAA hockey for Rhode Island’s Providence College under coach Lou Lamoriello and alongside teammates Brian Burke and Ron Wilson.

Nicholson returned to BC in 1975 and took a job under Dunc Russell in Victoria, where a new recreation center had just been constructed. While working there, Nicholson quickly learned programming and built lesson plans to encourage young kids to play hockey just for fun and learn skills. 35 kids were involved that first year. The next, 300. He was clearly on to something.

This caught the attention of the BC Amateur Hockey Association’s Dave Andrews, future AHL president, who hired Nicholson in 1979 as technical director. To earn the trust of minor hockey association organizers, Nicholson and Bill Ennis packed their binders in the car and drove around BC giving presentations encouraging kids to develop playing skills. They managed to hit all of the province’s hundred or so minor hockey associations in an exhausting month-long stretch. After a decade in this position, Nicholson’s program became the blueprint of an initiation model licensed and later used in over fifty countries around the world.

Lured to the national level in 1990 by Murray Costello, Nicholson served as Canadian Amateur Hockey Association vice-president, overseeing the new women’s national program, the Canadian junior team, coaching and refereeing certification, as well as marketing and events.

In 1998, Nicholson became president and CEO of Hockey Canada, a position he held for 16 years. In that time, he guided Team Canada to over 70 medals in international competition, including 43 gold. Highlights included two separate five-year reigns as world junior champions between 1993-2009, double-Olympic gold medal performances by Canada’s men and women at the 2002, 2010, and 2014 Olympics, and Canada’s first-ever sledge hockey Paralympic gold medal in 2006.

Nicholson also helped maintain consistent Canadian minor hockey enrollment of 600,000 young players and was instrumental in convincing the NHL to allow its players to participate in Olympic competition every four years beginning with the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

In 2012, Nicholson was elected vice-president of the International Ice Hockey Federation Council. More recently, he became vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group in 2014, overseeing the construction of Edmonton’s new state-of-the-art rink and entertainment facility.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.