Mike Nicholls’ passionate following of the Michigan hockey team has brought him everywhere from Alaska to New Hampshire.
Now, it’s taking the Allen Park, Mich. native into downtown Detroit.
Nicholls was named the CCHA’s Super Fan representing Michigan last week, and he’ll be rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to the league playoffs’ finals at Joe Louis Arena on March 22-24.
Typically, the free trip would have made him giddy.
But this hasn’t been a typical season for the Michigan hockey team (“22 years worth of bad bounces,” Nicholls said), which will enter the CCHA playoffs on March 8 as one of the conference’s longest shots to make it to Joe Louis Arena, where the final four teams compete for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
So when he was named Michigan’s CCHA Super Fan representative, Nicholls accepted with a hint of reluctance.
“I’ll go, but it definitely won’t be as interesting without (Michigan) in there,” he said.
While the Wolverines’ NCAA-record 22-year NCAA Tournament appearance run is set to come to an end in the coming weeks barring a miracle, so is another long streak. Nicholls has been in the stands to see Michigan play 407 straight times, a streak that dates back to Jan. 23, 2004. It’d be even longer, but the 1972 U-M Dearborn grad missed an exhibition game to go to Panama. He expects the run to end next season with the transition to the Big Ten hockey conference.
“At this point, I’m going to keep my tickets at home but as far as going to every game, probably not,” Nicholls said. “Four hundred is a lot (of games). I had my fun.”
It’s not just Yost Ice Arena where Nicholls has become a fixture — it’s every CCHA rink. Between the home and away games — he’s been to Alaska six times to watch the Wolverines — it’s practically a job for Nicholls. But he also is retired from General Motors and now captains a passenger boat for Diamond Jack’s River Tours on the Detroit River.
Nicholls originally was a season-ticket holder in the late 1970s when Michigan was a member of the WCHA. But after the birth of the first of his three kids, he gave the tickets up, only to purchase them again in 1996 to spend time with his children.
Eventually, Nicholls began making road trips, like the ones to Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette he said he’ll miss so much when the CCHA dissolves after this season.
“Before I knew it, I had been to 100 games in a row, home and away,” Nicholls said. “My daughter kept all the programs. She put them all together at 100 games, and gave it to me and got a card signed by (Michigan coach Red Berenson) and (assistant coach) Billy Powers and the captains. I just kept going.”
Now, he has binders full of programs — eight of them, to be exact. But this has been the hardest season for the 62-year-old Nicholls to watch.
“You have problems all over,” Nicholls said. “Scoring is a problem. Defense is a problem. They don’t seem to jell. When the goalie lets in incredibly easy goals on a terrible shot … I think the team just loses its momentum.”
Now, with both his streak and the team’s tournament streak nearing their conclusions, Nicholls is able to be a bit nostalgic.
When asked what his favorite part of the ride has been, he said having his children alongside him at the rink.
“All the games are remarkable,” Nicholls said.