Sean Nicholson is the new head coach at Lyons Township, bringing with him a deep history in Illinois hockey.
He started skating at age 3 on a backyard rink in 1987, which his dad built. By age 8, he was winning state championships with the Hawks. In fact, he was the captain of the team that went 35-0.
His playing career also included time skating for Team Illinois, often playing with and against older players.
He was the TI team captain for his peewee major season, winning the Bell Cup Championship in Toronto against Rick Nash and the Toronto Marlies, becoming first Illinois Team and fifth American team to win Peewee World Championships in Quebec in the same year.
During the 1998-1999 season, with TI, his bantam tier 1 team won the Silver Stick title.
Nicholson was the first Illinois MVP and fourth American at the time to receive the Paul Ward Memorial Award.
The 1999 -2000 season, still with TI, saw his team capture the St. Mike’s Tournament in Toronto, plus Oshawa Generals Tournament Championship and Tournament MVP.
Nicholson then moved to Connecticut as a 16 year-old junior in high school to play juniors in the ECJHL for the Connecticut Clippers.
In 2001, he was a National Champion.
He eventually returned to Illinois, where he attended Lyons Township.
Nicholson was the captain of the inaugural season of the Chicago Mission midget major AAA team, leading the team to state finals with Dustin Byfuglien, playing against guys like Zach Parise and Joe Pavelski.
Nicholson was the captain of the Central District team in the USA Select Festival in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was ranked No. 1 in the state all four years of high school in AHAI rankings and prospect camps.
“I went on to sign a tender with Springfield Jr. Blues of the NAHL in 2002-2003,” he said. “I suffered a bad hand injury, (a) fractured back and multiple concussions,” thus ending his playing career, except for a brief stint with the Chicago Hounds in the United Hockey League (UHL).
“After a few years away from the game and accepting that my (playing) career was over, I knew I could give back to the game by getting involved coaching. I was fortunate as a player to play for great coaches, and now I can give back to my community,” Nicholson said. “I’m very excited to be a part of turning the LT program around. My family has a lot of history at Lyons Township. My Dad was an LT hockey alum (in) 1977 (and) my grandpa ran the clock at the games. I know the history of the club very well and plan to bring it back to a great program.”
LT this season has 40 players, with a varsity and JV, competing in the West Division.
“This is my chance to give back to my community,” said Nicholson, 31, who lives in Crest Hill and works as a financial planner.
Nicholson’s coaching resume dates back to 2005, when he led the Orland Park Vikings squirts. He also has been an assistant coach for the Armstrong Falcons High School in Minnesota and the New Hope High School varsity coach. He was an assistant coach for Hinsdale Central last season.
“We have a good group of guys (this season) with a young team,” he said.
And LT is winning, already. The team captured an early-season tournament title in Ann Arbor, Mich., which Nicholson said was, “a great start to the season.”
That tournament “gave the team (an) opportunity to develop chemistry,” he said. “Winning a tournament out of state is always fun and good for the team to grow.”
Nicholson said the team’s goals this season start with simply building the foundation to turn the club into one that is respected on and off the ice.
“We have established one of the best off-ice programs in the state, using biomechanics of hockey, strength and conditioning, and the hockey treadmill, (and there are) only three active hockey treadmills in the state,” he said. “That is our biggest strength. No one can beat our off-ice program, not even AAA teams. What we are doing is next-level training.”
LT’s offense is “hard working and simple,” he said. The team’s defense is, though, “where we need improvement and (where we) are working hard to tighten up.”
Goalie Brian Roberts has all-star potential, Nicholson said.
Senior forward Lucas Lovelace has the potential to be one of the better players in the league. “He can score, pass and hit,” Nicholson said.
Sophomore Alex Conger also will put up impressive stats this season.
“I feel our league is a tough league this season, (with) some great teams,” he said. “LT is off to a slow start (due to) a tough schedule.”
LT recently defeated Lincolnway, 6-2. “It was a great win and the boys worked hard,” Nicholson said.
“Our philosophy is: hard work beats talent unless talent works hard. That is our highlight. To keep getting better with hard work,” he said.
- GAME SPOTLIGHT: Libertyville jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Evanston in a mid-October game, played in Vernon Hills. Mitchell Cox and Kyle Wooten scored for Libertyville, both coming on assists from Garret Crusey. But Evanston stormed back with three straight goals for the 3-2 win. Evanston goals were scored by Joe Epler, Dylan Rodman and Quinn Evans.
- BEST DRESSED AWARD (SO FAR THIS SEASON): The honor goes to Evanston’s Del Morris, who wears a bow tie behind the bench. But, ugh, the winter hat might cost him a few style points.
- AROUND THE RINK: Sophomore forward Michael Liszka (Nazareth) has 12 goals, 12 assists in 9 games, leading the Sterling Platinum Division…Senior forward Jaret Pernice (Kings) has 14 goals in 8 games…Senior forward James Weichbrodt has 7 goals in 3 games for Leyden – and has tallied the game-winning goal in all three games…Glenbard has returned to championship form this season, with a 6-2 record in the IHSHL West Division…Neuqua Valley stands at 4-2 in the West, but has already scored 33 goals in league play…Upper Fox Valley is 3-1 in Metro Girls, with 24 goals scored in 4 league games, led by 5 tallies from senior forward Katelynn Russ…Senior forward Trevor Hansen has 11 goals in 7 games played for Sandburg, including 2 powerplay and 2 game-winning goals.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.