The North American Hockey League (NAHL) has announced that Wenatchee Wild goaltender Robert Nichols has been named the Brian’s Custom Sports NAHL Goaltender of the Month for March. Nichols, 19, posted a 5-1-1 record in seven games played during the month. Nichols (5’11/180) also posted three shutouts during the month and stopped 131 of a possible 139 shots, which was good for a 94.2% save percentage and a goals against average of just 1.12.
“I think the backbone to any good team defense is your goaltending,” said Wenatchee head coach John Becanic. “We are fortunate to have two good ones here in Wenatchee and Rob has put together a season that will be remembered for a long time. He simply wants to win and that shows every day in practice and in games and he has gotten better as the season has gone along.”
Nichols posted three shutouts in a span of five starts. He posted shutouts in back-to-back starts in Dawson Creek back on March 8th and 10th earning him the NAHL’s #2 star that week. He then posted a shutout in his final regular season start back on March 30th, a 6-0 win over the Fresno Monsters. Those three shutouts helped Nichols set a new NAHL record for shutouts in a season with 10. Nichols also posted the lowest goals against average in the 36-year history of the league with a 1.49 GAA.
“I think it first starts with the team. Everyone buys into a concept and a plan to make us successful defensively,” said Nichols. “Whether it’s guys blocking shots, making the right passes or just taking care of the puck in their own end, everyone has done their job this season to make us successful. I think it is a great honor to be a part of something historical like that.”
Nichols allowed just three goals once during the month and has only had two games all season long in which he allowed four or more goals. It is a big reason why Nichols led the NAHL in both goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (93.8%) this season. Of Nichols 24 wins this season, 10 have been shutouts and despite splitting time this season with fellow Wild goaltender Greg Lewis (who won October’s NAHL goalie of the month), Nichols has managed to post an impressive 24-6-4 record this season.
Becanic believes that Nichols biggest improvement this season has been his ability to read the game. “You want your goalies to make all the saves, but you also want them to read what is going to happen and predict it so that the saves they are making become more routine. Rob has made his share of big saves this season, but he has put up the numbers he has because he has made it easier on himself to make those saves and not feel pressure all the time.”
Nichols agrees with his progress as a goalie this year while playing in the NAHL. “I think it is important to understand the technical side of the game, so that you are maximizing the work you put in. You don’t always want to be scrambling to make the saves. You want to understand the game, where the shots may be coming from and how to eliminate those second and third chances after the initial shot,” Nichols said.
Nichols came to the Wild after playing the last two seasons for the Colorado Thunderbirds Midget Major Tier I team. He signed a tender with the Wild last season, which ultimately lead to his spot on the team this season. Prior to playing in Colorado, Nichols was born and grew up playing hockey in Dallas, Texas.
Other goaltenders nominated were (alphabetical): Tyler Green, St. Louis Bandits – Greg Gruehl, Amarillo Bulls – Connor Hellebuyck, Odessa Jackalopes – Nick Kulmanovsky, Alaska Avalanche – Hunter Leisner, Texas Tornado – Ken MacLean, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings.
Previous 2011-12 Brian’s NAHL Goaltender of the Month winners - September 2011, Tony Kujava, Janesville Jets – October 2011, Greg Lewis, Wenatchee Wild – November 2011, Jacob Meyers, Alexandria Blizzard – December 2011, Peter Traber, Topeka RoadRunners – January 2012, Robert Nichols, Wenatchee Wild - February 2012, Jacob Meyers, Alexandria Blizzard.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)