Legend has it that when Fife Flyers visited one school, the head teacher got all the kids into the assembly room to announce their imminent arrival.
A hand shot up and said ‘‘Miss, is big Matt coming?’’
She explained he wasn’t and the room sighed a collective ‘‘aww...’’
Matt Nickerson is, without doubt, the most recognisable hockey player around.
Six-four tall before he puts on his skates, his mohawk haircut has been coloured blue and gold, and his ZZ Top style beard has its own fanbase with ‘‘fear the beard’’ posters in the rink and on t-shirts in the club shop.
At the recent post-game skate with the fans he signed so many autographs and posed for so many pics with supporters he barely made it on to the ice before the event was finished.
Opposition fans who key in on his suspensions miss the full picture of what Nickerson has brought to Kirkcaldy this year.
He is here to enforce and protect - a job he takes seriously and performs with absolutely no nonsense.
But, he’s also aware of how much hockey means to the fans and his responsibilities off the ice.
Heading out to the recent skate with the fans, he doubled back to the dressing-room to leave his post-game beer behind, explaining he couldn’t walk around with alcohol in front of young kids - ask him and he’ll tell you of the days when, aged eight or nine he hung around the parking lot post-game to get the autographs of Hartford Whalers’ NHL players.
And yet, that same night he’d levelled Braehead’s Kevin Bergan in a fight which electrified the entire rink!
Todd Dutiaume recalled: ‘‘We were 4-1 up and going to the play-offs. Nicker has the fight, and raises his fist to the Gods like a gladiator and the place erupts!
‘‘That gave our bench such confidence too.’’
‘‘He’s a big guy and he’s tough, but he is also very honest.
‘‘Sure, he will intimidate guys on the other team and ask them to go, but he doesn’t go round cheap shotting.
‘‘As a result no-one has jumped our guys. You cannot under-estimate what he has brought to the team.’’
Those qualities extend far beyond just dropping the gloves and asking an opponent to dance.
He is a very solid blue liner who moves the puck well, keeps the traffic away from the goal , and covers a lot of ground during each game.
At the 75th anniversary dinner, Ted Russell, one of the finest defencemen of the 1990s and a huge part of the Grand Slam team, watched him in action and approved: ‘‘Sure, he can play ...’’
At the team’s annual awards dinner, Dutiaume touched on those qualities.
‘‘He is a very influential player. Our record when he plays speaks for itself - he keeps the other team in check. He’s a heck of a player.’’
As the team left the ice in Dundee on Sunday each of them fist-pumped Dutiaume standing at the door. Nickerson gave him a huge hug. ‘‘I felt like an eight year old!’’ the coach joked.
He is one of the team’s characters on the bus and in the dressing-room, and winning at Nottingham would mean everything to him.
‘‘We were a tenth placed team,’’ he said. ‘‘We were down and out and given no chance.
‘’We had to win so many games down that last run that I stopped looking at the standings. After six or eight wins we realised we were in with a real shot of making the play-offs - and that felt great.
‘‘It wasn’t too much fun when we were losing - I’d be lying if I said I had a great time back in December - but we won a game, then another and it rolled. When hockey goes well, life is good!’’
Nickerson savoured every second of the win in Dundee - a rink where the Fife bench always gets a hot reception from the fans sitting right behind it. The chirping that has gone on across the plexi has often been as enthralling as the games!
‘‘To win there was fantastic. I was so proud of the guys and Danny and Todd.
‘‘Stars have had a great season, finishing high up the league and winning the conference, but they missed out on the play-offs and I know the guys there will be hurt by that.’’
Nickerson has been to play-off finals before, losing in the final twice while in Finland but the series was significantly longer.
‘‘The first round was a best of seven and then a best of five - it took best part of two months and it was tough,’’ he said.
‘‘You got physically hurt and beaten up, fingers and shoulders broken.
‘‘It was tough, but play-offs are the most exciting part of the season for any player. To win them - that’s an accomplishment’’
And once the dust settles from Nottingham, Nickerson will return to Kirkcaldy to shave off his famous beard to raise a huge sum - £1800 and counting - for CHAS.
One fan will have the honour of doing the clipping, and whoever donates the most will get a signed stick. There will be no shortage of volunteers to act as barber ...
>> To donate, please visit: http://www.justgiving.com/Fife-Flyers1Nickerson