Bernie Nicholls on playing for New York Rangers and the Messier Guarantee

Bernie Nicholls played 18 seasons in the NHL and had a amazing career. In his new book From Flood Lights to Bright Lights, he talks about his amazing journey with personal insights on his life and playing career few knew about until today.

An incredible career that spanned 1,127 regular season games and 1,209 points, Nicholls was a 3-time All Star. His 70 goals and 150 points during the 1988-89 campaign ranks 9th and 15th all-time respectively for a single season.

I had a chance to talk with Bernie about his new book as we discussed his time with the Los Angeles Kings and his shocking trade to the New York Rangers at the 1990 All Star Game.

We also talked about playing for the Blueshirts, being traded for Mark Messier and so much more. Enjoy this special look back at Nicholls’ time in New York where he quickly earned the nickname “Broadway Bernie.”

Bernie Nicholls on playing for New York Rangers

Bernie Nicholls
Bernie Nicholls: From Flood Lights to Bright Lights (Photo Courtesy of Bernie Nicholls and Triumph Books)

The setting was the 1990 NHL All Star Game with Bernie Nicholls ready to play as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. However, despite being assured by Kings owner Bruce McNall he wasn’t going anywhere, on January 20th he was traded to the New York Rangers for two young stars in Tomas Sandstorm and Tony Granato.

Nicholls tells me and writes in his book that it was goalie Mike Vernon who told him about the trade. Stunned that he was moved and saddened that he would no longer be playing with Wayne Gretzky, Nicholls told officials to announce him as a Ranger during the All Star Game because that’s what he was now.

In 32 games that season, Nicholls scored 12 goals and 37 points in 32 games to get the Rangers into the postseason. New York was eventually bounced in the second round by the Washington Capitals in 5 games thanks to John Druce’s 9 goals in that series.

“I tell people when I get there, we’re not even in the playoffs,” Nicholls tells me. It looks good on me but trust me, Mike Richter took over in goal and he was unbelievable. Brian Leetch, everyone knows how good he is. Having an opportunity to play with those two guys and playing in New York was extra special for sure.”

Bernie Nicholls on being traded for Mark Messier

mark messier
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Bernie Nicholls only played one full season with the Rangers during the 1990-91 where he notched 73 points in 71 contests. They were eliminated again by the Capitals, but this time it was in the first round of the playoffs.

There was a lot of talk that summer of change Nicholls recalled. He had heard Mark Messier wanted to come to New York but was assured by GM Neil Smith he wouldn’t be traded.

“So I talked to the Neil Smith about buying a house there. I get the same thing, ‘You know I’ll never trade you,'” Nicholls said.

Of course, that’s not how it ended up.

It seemed like Smith meant what he said. Summer ended and I remained a Ranger. We opened the 1991–92 season in Boston and we lost 5–3. I didn’t have a point and I was minus‐1. With 79 games to go, I wasn’t concerned about one poor performance.

But the phone rang at 8:00 am.

It was Neilson saying he wanted me to come and see him. Given the circumstances, I should have said, “Oh, shit.” But I really didn’t think I would be dealt. I wasn’t the kind of player who gets traded twice in 21 months.

I believed that until Roger told me I been traded to Edmonton.

Excerpt from From Flood Light to Bright Lights, by Bernie Nicholls

Well just one game into the 1991-92 season, Nicholls found himself on his way to a new team again. On October 4th, 1991 Messier joined the Rangers along with Jeff Beukeboom for Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk, Steven Rice, and David Shaw.

“Obviously, I was shocked because it was after opening night in Boston,” Nicholls remembers. “I get a call from Roger Neilson and he said, ‘We just traded you to Edmonton.” Once again I’m going ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Who it was for was the most disappointing part because I would’ve love to play with Mark.”

In his book, Nicholls also noted that aside from his desire to play with Messier, he knew the Rangers were getting primed to win a Cup.

“With the arrival of Brian Leetch and goalie Mike Richter, I had started to believe the Rangers could contend,” Nicholls writes. “Turns out “I was right about that, but I wasn’t around to see it.”

Bernie Nicholls on 1994 ECF and Messier’s Guarantee

1994 new york rangers
Rangers players pose for a team photo after defeating Vancouver 3-2 in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals at Madison Square Garden June 14, 1994. Rangers Win Stanley Cup

While Nicholls wasn’t on the team to see it, he got an up-close view of the eventual 1994 Stanley Cup Champions in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bernie was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the New Jersey Devils during the 1992-93 season. The very next year he was involved in what he says is the greatest playoff series he’s ever played in.

I asked him specifically to give me the Devils perspective when the NY Post’s back page read: WE WILL WIN TONIGHT! with Mark Messier’s picture. That became known as ‘The Guarantee’ but how did the Devils’ locker room react to it? His answer was surprising.

“There’s no reaction,” Nicholls admits. “We all know who Mark Messier is. We all know what he’s about. Basically he’s telling his players we can still win this. It wasn’t anything cocky. He believed in his heart his team could win and he wanted them to know it. This day we still don’t think they should’ve won Game 6…but obviously we didn’t.”

In the end, Nicholls writes in his book that despite wishing that 7 game series ended with a nicer goal, he still sees Stephane Matteau at Rangers alumni events and is happy for him.

Stéph Matteau scored from behind the net at 4:24 of the second overtime. He just sort of came out from behind the net, didn’t really get in front, and backhanded it through Marty somehow.

Their mucking line was out there. Keenan played it right. He was giving his big guys a rest. I can still see it today. You just want to end a series like that with a nice goal.

But what a great series. Madison Square Garden went crazy. What an atmosphere that was.

Excerpt from From Flood Light to Bright Lights, by Bernie Nicholls

For more clips from our interview with Bernie Nicholls subscribe to our YouTube Channel here.

You can buy Bernie Nicholls new book From Flood Lights to Bright Lights by Triumph Books at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other book stores.

Overview: Across more than a thousand games in the National Hockey League, Bernie Nicholls made his mark with flamboyant style and dynamic scoring prowess. In this new autobiography, Nicholls reflects on his life on and off the ice, sharing candid anecdotes and personal insights from across the hockey landscape. From his childhood in the small Northern Ontario town of West Guilford, to his sensational 70-goal season in Los Angeles, and his recent years in coaching and retirement, this is a refreshing chronicle of a legendary career.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore