Mike Nykoluk, a man whose behind-the-scenes work helped the Philadelphia Flyers win consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, died Monday at age 87.
A cause of death was not given.
When the Flyers hired him in 1972-73, he became the first full-time assistant coach ever named by an NHL team.
In a statement, the Flyers said the organization was saddened to hear of Nykoluk’s passing, noting he served under Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero for three seasons.
“He was a liaison between the players and Fred Shero,” said Bill Barber, the Hockey Hall of Fame left winger whose first season (1972-73) coincided with Nykoluk’s initial year with the Flyers. “Mike helped me out a lot. I was a green horn. Came in at 20 years old and ended up being on the team, and I remember Mike saying that Freddy would like to get me on the power play as time went on. He communicated with me and all of us. He was low-keyed and was a calming presence. Never too high or too low.”
Barber eventually played the point on the power play and flourished in that role. He said Shero and Nykoluk ran the power play and penalty kill together.
“We didn’t have iPads on the bench like they do now,” he said with a laugh.
Nykoluk later was an assistant with Shero with the New York Rangers for two years, and he served as a head coach in Toronto for parts of four seasons, compiling an 89-144-47 record from 1980-81 to 1983-84.
But his most memorable seasons were with the Flyers.
“We were very steady; there was never a roller-coaster ride,” Barber said. “I can’t say enough about Mike. He helped me calm down with his demeanor. When you’re a young kid like I was, you’re a little fired up, and if you were upset with how things were going, he would bring you down to another level, bring you off the cliff. I was on a lot of cliffs as a young age.”
It didn’t show. As a rookie, Barber scored 30 goals and had 64 points in 69 games. He never looked back.
“Mike had the utmost respect from everybody, and I know all the players loved what he stood for,” Barber said.
As player, Nykoluk starred in the AHL, but played just 32 NHL games, all with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He collected three goals for the Leafs in 1956-57.
In the AHL, he still holds Hershey’s franchise records for games (972), assists (636), and points (808), and he helped the team win the Calder Cup in 1959 and 1969. He was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in in 2007.