Nickerson finds his hockey nirvana in Fife

Matt Nickerson Fife Flyers. Pic: Steve Gunn
Matt Nickerson Fife Flyers. Pic: Steve Gunn

Matt Nickerson is not just your ordinary ice hockey player.

First and foremost he’s the big defenceman with a crucial job to do, patrolling the blue line, and the enforcer responsible for sticking up for team mates on the ice.

Matt Nickerson

Matt Nickerson

But he’s also a showman, a box-office character who forces you to either love or hate him, and who can fill a rink simply by shaving his beard.

Fearsome on the ice, approachable off it, Nickerson is equally comfortable beating up anyone who dares cross him on a Saturday night as he is doing Flyers community and charity work during the week.

Such characters can often be misunderstood, but in Fife he believes he has found his hockey nirvana.

“I honestly feel at home in Kirkcaldy and on the ice because of the fans and their support,” he told the Press.

“When the CHAS beard shave raised almost £5000 I was shocked.

“But seeing their passion night in and night out, I really shouldn’t have been. It’s amazing.”

After a difficult start in Fife last season - some fans wanted him on the first plane home after his infamous match penalty in his debut against Cardiff - the 29-year-old American grew into his cult hero status.

He and his wife, Noora, developed a real affinity for their Kirkcaldy surroundings and, in the end, it was an easy decision to make to return for another season.

“Knowing that Kevin (Regan) and most of our team from last season had re-signed it was a no brainer,” Nickerson said.

“I didn’t talk to any teams in the UK but I had some options elsewhere that were obviously secondary.

“I’ve been playing pro since I was 20 and had the most fun last season.

“I met some great folks outside of hockey as well as amazing team mates and staff.

“And another huge bonus was my wife loved it. She was as excited as I was when we decided to return.”

Last season was something of a roller-coaster for Nickerson with the lows of costly suspensions mixed with the highs of an amazing run to the play-off finals.

“The first thing that sticks out was the first suspension I took against Cardiff,” he recalled.

“I really felt bad, not only for the player but most of all my team mates.

“It was a dumb move on my part and cost us two points.

“The booing and trash talk on the internet when we struggled was also difficult.

“We have some passionate fans and we understood their frustrations - we felt the same things.

“The high point?” Nickerson laughs. “I almost don’t even need to mention it - ‘the run’.

“I’ve won a silver in the Finnish Elite League, but that run was better than getting a medal.

“And making the play-offs on the last game against Braehead was awesome.

“Beating Dundee, then going to Nottingham .... we were close. One bounce and it could have been Fife versus Sheffield in the final, but that’s sport.”

Nickerson’s willingness to protect his team mates on the ice has earned him respect not only in Fife but across the league.

Last season he was involved in 12 fights and his favourite, he recalls, was against Tuukka Makela of Nottingham Panthers, which he described as “personal” from his time in Finland.

There has been something of an influx of players with a reputation for fighting into the EIHL this summer, particularly at Braehead, something Nickerson has noted.

“I’ve seen that, and I take it as a compliment,” he laughed.

“I’m going to make sure my guys are safe and the rest will take care of itself.”

While it’s inevitable Nickerson will spend time in the penalty box next season he insists his main aim is to avoid suspensions, and help the team win silverware.

“We proved we were close last year and it would be great to take that next step,” he said.

“My first goal is to help win games and second is to stay off Moray Hanson’s desk. I missed too many games last season.”

And the one question on all fans lips, will the iconic beard be making a return?

“Does Jordan Fulton have long hair?,” Nickerson responsed. That’ll be a yes then.