By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
Leadership, it is a characteristic that is needed on any team, no matter big or small. It would be impossible for the Gators to find success without it, whether on the ice or off, and team president Connor Nicholson is a key leadership piece for this team.
The junior, majoring in accounting, currently calls Sarasota home; however, Nicholson’s roots start in St. Louis, Missouri, where he started learning to skate at the age of two. “I was barely able to walk,” said the center, “and she [Nicholson’s mother] had me skating. So, that was my first exposure to it [hockey] and then… they got me on a team when I was probably four years old.” Nicholson had a lot of inspiration to get into the sport from family members who were very involved in it. Connor’s older siblings, including his older brother Brendan, who is a former Gator forward and team president, were key factors in exposing him to the game. “I had older siblings who played,” said Connor on his two older twin siblings, “so, when they were out training, my mom would just go and have me skate.” Connor also has family in the media side of hockey. His uncle is long-time St. Louis Blues play-by-play announcer John Kelly. Kelly is also the son of former sportscaster Dan Kelly, who also called games for the Blues. Unsurprisingly, Connor Nicholson is a big Blues fan. “We had season tickets every year, so I went to a ton of Blues games back then.” Nicholson said.
So far, Nicholson has put up five points, three goals and two assists in nine games. Although he doesn’t put up flashy numbers every game, it’s what he does off the ice that really makes a difference. “This year, especially with the guys we have and how much talent there is in the locker room, I think I’m most needed to do some of the smaller tasks,” said Nicholson, “maybe sometimes which go unrecognized, which could be some of the different leadership things I bring to the table. I think that might be my greatest aspect.” Leadership is something that is very important to Nicholson and is an important skill to have when being the team president. “I think that leadership is such an important characteristics that a lot of people have the opportunity to develop through sports,” said Nicholson, “and I definitely think that this is one of the qualities that you can take away from playing with a team and playing with an organization; and it can really apply to real life and anything you do, whether your just starting out in a job or whether you’re an executive. I think there’s always room for leadership and all these different leadership opportunities really will arise.”
If he had to pick a player to emulate on the ice, it would be former Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. “Just the error free games he plays… and I think his leadership really showed through during games,” said Nicholson. “It was not just an individual effort all the time.” Although he was not on his home-town Blues, Datsyuk was also Nicholson’s favorite player growing up. “I was following the Wings as well growing up.,” said Nicholson, “I really liked all the things Datsyuk did for the team as a whole, not just himself. When you look at all these different highlight reel plays, you see all these crazy moves he makes with his hands and these crazy shots… that was awesome, and I loved that part of him, but there was a whole other part that people didn’t really see to the side of his game… how much all the different talents he has built the team around him as a whole.” This trait is comparable to Nicholson’s strengths. What he does for the team’s overall success makes a huge impact. Yes, goals and points matter a lot, but it’s what you do off the ice and the little things on the ice that can create a big impact; and Connor Nicholson embodies that so well.
Although they have done well so far, there is still a lot more of this season left to go, with a very important Savannah Hockey Classic tournament coming up in just a few weeks and a handful of road games. Although these trips are daunting, they are some of Nicholson’s best memories with the team. “I think it’s what really brings us together the most,” said Nicholson, “… we are put in these different situations where we are all together at all times and it’s just an awesome experience.” Since Nicholson is still a junior, he still has a full season and half to continue making these memories and contributing towards the team with his strong leadership ability.