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Wisconsin Success Story: Wil Nichol

By Matt Carey, Contributor, 04/26/24, 9:30AM CDT


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Matt Carey and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners.

Las Vegas Golden Knights Director of Player Development

An energizer is a person that radiates optimism and inspires others. Madison native Wil Nichol is an energizer. His positivity is contagious. Wil has a job that is a perfect fit. He is responsible for getting hockey players to maximize their potential.

Wil Nichol’s path to the NHL is full of accomplishments. As a senior in college, Wil was captain of his UW-Stevens Point team that advanced to the NCAA D-3 championship game. During his two seasons as SPASH’s coach, the Panthers made two trips to WIAA state and went undefeated in the Wisconsin Valley Conference. Wil was named USHL Coach of the Year during his tenure as head coach of the Chicago Steel.

Let’s hear from Will Nichol!

  • Congratulations on winning the Stanley Cup. Thank you!
  • Did you ever think your name would be engraved on the Stanley Cup? No, I didn’t. It wasn’t on my radar. Kelly McCrimmon (Golden Knights GM) and George McPhee (Golden Knights President) brought me into their office and told me my name would be on the Cup. I cried when they told me. There are a lot of people in the organization equally deserving without their name on it.
  • What were you feeling the first time you hoisted the Cup? I got real emotional. I lost my dad. You think about people not with us. I thought about Rob Andringa. I thought about my wife and all the sacrifices she has made. I thought about my mom and what she did for me. I thought about all my coaches, teammates, and friends. You don’t do this alone. I lifted the Cup for all of them.
  • What does a Director of Player Development do? I wear a lot of hats. My most important responsibility is to take care of draft picks and prospects. I am like a parent, a big brother, I am their personal coach. My job is to help them hit their ceiling. I am direct and honest with them. I am the truth.
  • What’s your favorite part of the job? Working with the prospects. I love it. If you are a coach, it is in your blood. I am always going to be a coach. It is in my heart. This is the best part of coaching. It is the player and his development and helping him reach his goal. It is priceless to see someone reach their dreams.
  • What prepared you for this job…education, experience, personality? All the above. The two years I taught high school helped me as well as anything. As a teacher the job is to get to know students. That’s what I do now.
  • What is your next job…GM, VP? I get asked that a lot. I don’t think about it. My dad was from Escanaba and he always said keep your head and your heart where your feet are planted. I try to be the best where I am at. I am really lucky. Kelly (McCrimmon-GM) and George (McPhee-President) are great people to work for.
  • What was your dream job as a kid? Coach the Wisconsin Badgers. I grew up watching Bob Johnson and the Badgers. I always wanted to coach college…I never thought about being in the NHL and really didn’t watch the NHL. It was all about the college game because I grew up in Madison.
  • Vegas Knights are a physically big team…is that by design? We got a team with size, speed, and skill. It is something we value.
  • Do the young, teenager, players get assigned a veteran as a mentor? We haven’t had a teenager make the team yet. But we have veterans like Martinez, McNabb, and Stone that provide great leadership. The teams that win have great veterans. And that’s something we fortunately have.
  • What is your favorite NHL arena? T-Mobile Arena in Vegas! Our home rink is the best. Other than our place, Montreal is unreal. When you see a game in Canada it is a different level for fan passion. Columbus is great-it has a good location in the city.
  • Are you married? Yes. My wife is Elyse. We have been married 13 years. People don’t realize how much sacrifice a spouse must make in professional sports. Elyse has sacrificed a lot.
  • Do you have kids? No. But we have rescued Great Danes. We love the breed and love the rescue part. Sadly, a lot of dogs, especially big breeds, need a loving home.
  • At what age did you start playing hockey? Age 4. My first youth coach, Gene Tempel, attended my Stanley Cup party.
  • Did anyone in your family play hockey? My older brother is six years older, and he played at Madison Edgewood. My dad played pond hockey growing up in Escanaba, Michigan.
  • Where did you play youth hockey? Westmoreland in Madison. It was the association for Madison West HS when I was growing up. Westmoreland eventually merged with other associations.
  • Where did you play high school hockey? Madison West. I played all four years for Lee Skille at West. It was a great experience. After West I tendered in the USHL with Caps (Madison Capitols). Mike Dibble was my coach and Bob Suter was the GM. Rob Andringa coached the second half of the season. I brought the Cup to Cap Ice to honor Bob Suter and Rob Andringa.
  • What memories from youth or high school hockey stand out? Not one memory, but my entire experience, especially at West (Madison West HS). My teammates and the journey we shared together.
  • Who were the coaches growing up that influenced you? Coach Skille at Madison West had a huge impact on me. He was a great coach. He was very tough, but fair. Having a coach like Lee Skille helped me with the hard choices you have to make at that age. Rob Andringa also.
  • When you were a young coach, who helped your growth or gave you an opportunity? I was Enrico Blasi’s assistant for two years at Miami University. That experience helped shape me. When I coached the Chicago Steel (USHL), Steve Richmond was the GM. Steve Richmond is who got me to the NHL. It was Christmas 2010 and Steve (Richmond) called me about joining the Washington Capitals. Then when I left to go to Vegas, I thought I was giving up the Cup because I felt if we could get past the Penguins, we would win the Cup…Washington did win the Cup after I left! I didn’t want to give up coaching but I still coach in this role, but without a scoreboard.
  • What is it like being a part of the Vegas Knights? It is cool to see how Bill Foley (Knights owner) has impacted hockey in Las Vegas and the entire region. There are new rinks, and more kids playing hockey now. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I joined an expansion team, but it has been incredible. Everything. The fan base is unbelievable. The organization is special. I work for great people.
  • What advice do you have for HS players that dream of playing at a high level? Dream. It is ok to dream big. Chase the dream. But it is also important to have other things you are interested in and want to do. The game will tell you where you fit. My dad always said go where you are wanted and where you will fit in. And remember if you don’t make it as a player…the game needs good people in a lot of different ways.
  • What advice do you have for young coaches? It is ok to pay your dues. I didn’t get paid to coach for two years at Miami University, but those two years shaped me. You learn from all the coaches, even the coaches you don’t agree with. Everyone wants it and wants it fast, but it takes time. Be the best where you are at. You get ready when you spend time with people that have been through it.

With overflowing positive energy like his childhood coaching icon, Badger Bob Johnson, Wil Nichol reached the pinnacle of hockey. We can all be proud of Wil. I am sure the man from Escanaba is!

Yours for hockey, Matt Carey



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