By Ross Forman
Sean Nicholson is entering his second season as head coach at Lyons Township, and that’s just the start of his hockey duties these days.
For instance, on Monday, Aug. 22, Nicholson announced that he accepted a position with the Robert Morris D1 ACHA team as its skills, off-ice assistant coach. He will be conducting team workouts and on-ice skating and skills sessions.
Nicholson, 32, who lives in Plainfield, also is the Midwest Region Scout for the St. Louis Jr. Blues (NAHL3), a post he skated into last season in which he helps educate young players on what junior hockey is all about and giving them guidance on how to get there.
“I started coaching high school hockey in 2012 in Minnesota as an assistant for the Armstrong Falcons in New Hope, Minn., after not stepping foot in a rink for three years. It was there that I fell in love with the game again and had a bigger passion than ever,” Nicholson said.
During the 2014-15 season, he was an assistant with Nikos Tselios at Hinsdale Central. Last season he went to LT, which hired him “to turn around the program (and also) grow the program,” he said.
In his first season, Lyons Township won two Big Bear tournaments, and as a scout, he has already moved on two players from high school hockey to the St. Louis Jr Blues.
Logan Fennema is the first LT player to move on to Juniors while in high school since Nicholson, who was a 2002 LT graduate. “It has helped our program in such a short time show the community that we can develop and move players onto the next level,” he said.
Fennema got invited to the Jr. Blues’ rookie camp to give him the experience of what it’s like to play junior hockey, Nicholson said. “Getting to know Logan (last season during) his junior year, his character, discipline and passion got him the opportunity,” Nicholson said. “Logan worked hard all summer taking my advice and signed his first Junior A contract with St. Louis. He hopes to play Division 1 college hockey.”
Another local player helped by Nicholson is Naperville Central’s Jack Hatton, who was among last season’s leading scorers in the West Division.
“Jack has great skill, vision and tenacity. If he continues to develop, he will be playing Tier 2 and college hockey in no time,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson played youth hockey for the Chicago Hawks, Team Illinois and Chicago Mission, among others. He later skated for the Connecticut Clippers, Springfield Jr. Blues and Chicago Hounds. Injuries ultimately ended his playing career…but not his love of the sport.
“As a former AAA player, I know the spotlight and politics that are involved to get to the next level,” Nicholson said. “My goal is to give high school players and Central States players the same opportunity to develop and be as well prepared as AAA players. In my opinion, if you are good enough, we will find you. As a scout, I look for five things: character, size, hockey sense, skating and skills. If you have three of the five, you are doing OK.”
Most of his scouting is in the western suburbs.
The summer was busy for me mostly in my progression as a coach, working camps all summer with Christian Grunnah, skating specialist for Pro-Ambitions, and world-famous Sean Skinner, as well as off-ice and stick-handling clinics that I run. I focus a lot on developing athleticism off-ice related to on-ice movements,” he said. “Anyone can coach talented kids. Where I am succeeding is with kids who have started skating later in life, or have not had the experience to play on high level teams, or go to the super expensive showcase festivals and camps. To say that I can take an athlete or a team that has struggled in the past, develop them physically and mentally, is what I take most pride in. Whether they move on or not, I am trying to prepare these athletes for whatever their goals in life may be, if not (in) hockey. I believe in work ethic, chemistry and confidence. I follow the D.A.D rule with my players: Discipline, Attitude, and Desire.”
Nicholson added: “My goal as a scout and a coach is to become one of the lead developers in the Chicago area, giving these young athletes guidance and the tools to play at the next level and to grow the market of players moving on from high school hockey. With my experiences as a hockey player, both good and bad, as well as personally, and add my passion in the mix, I am confident I will continue to grow as a scout, and coach, and hope to be the man people want to call when someone asks, ‘Who is the best around when it comes to development, guidance, and knowledge?’”
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.
Photos courtesy, Sean Nicholson