By Mike Dougherty
Is there another player who got more attention on and off the ice this season than James Nicholas?
Not even close.
And somehow with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the elusive forward continually skated into a thicket of defensemen whose primary ambition was to leave a dent in the shining armor.
Is there another player who found a way to win more big games?
Nicholas delivered goal after goal when the spotlight was brightest, leading Scarsdale to a repeat Section 1 championship and then back to the NYSPHSAA semifinals in Utica. And for the second year in a row, the Raiders senior is the Journal News Player of the Year for Westchester and Putnam counties.
He delivered plenty in less important games, too, finishing with 51 goals and 35 assists.
“Every time we played, the other team’s game plan was to physically stop James, take him out of the game,” Scarsdale coach James Mancuso said. “He’s got about six different speeds. You think you’ve got him boxed in and he accelerates past you and skates away. You only get a small piece of him.”
The only team that succeeded was Bishop McQuaid, which sent the Raiders home last month.
“For some reason their big guys had more of an effect,” said Nicholas, who’s giving up hockey in order to play football and golf at Yale.
The other first-team, all-stars are forward Keith Lambert of Harvey, forward Devon Schell of Scarsdale, defenseman Ryan LeBlanc of Mamaroneck, defenseman Kenny McLean of New Rochelle and goalie Chris Stangarone of White Plains.
Nicholas benefitted from having two players on the first line capable of going tape to tape under any circumstance — Stephen Nicholas and Schell.
“I only had to get open for a split second because that’s all it took for Devon or my brother to find me,” he said. “It was a special line.”
Winning back-to-back Section 1 championships wasn’t enough for Nicholas and his teammates. A state title was the goal, and the extreme disappointment when they came up short each of the last two seasons was obvious as they exited the locker room.
There weren’t many setbacks during the regular season, and each one provided additional motivation.
“Anything we did, whether it was drills on the ice or games off the ice, James hated to lose,” Mancuso said. “Rock-Paper-Scissors, it didn’t matter what it was, he just hated to lose. James is a tremendous competitor.”
Nicholas visited with the officials from time to time, but did not complain out loud about the extra attention he often got from opposing teams. He did connect with the one person who could relate, sharing direct messages on Twitter with Suffern’s Justin Tiso several times during the season.
The conversation was always polite.
“I respect everything James does and says,” Tiso said. “We chatted every step of the way, and when Scarsdale beat us and went back upstate, I told him I would be rooting for them.”
Over the years, Nicholas was forced to make difficult sports decisions. He left basketball, lacrosse, basketball and swimming behind. And now hockey is done. There was no way to continue at the next level and play football or golf at the same time.
“For right now, I’m done,” he said. “I’ll go to our alumni games and play, maybe get in a pickup game when I can, but right now I have to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger before football starts.”
2015 Journal News All-Star Team for Westchester/PutnamFirst team
F — James Nicholas, Scarsdale, Sr.
F — Devon Schell, Scarsdale, Sr.
F — Keith Lambert, Harvey, Sr.
D — Kenny McLean, New Rochelle, Sr.
D — Ryan LeBlanc, Mamaroneck, Sr.
G — Chris Stangarone, White Plains, Sr.
Coach of the year — Jim Mancuso, Scarsdale
F — Ben Hurd, Pelham, So.
F — Christian Van Hecke, Iona Prep, Sr.
F — Stephen Nicholas, Scarsdale, Jr.
D — Matt Conroy, White Plains, Sr.
D — Seamus Carey, Brewster, Sr.
G — Gabe Harousseau, Scarsdale, Sr.
Honorable mention: Tyler Alfonzetti, Carmel, Sr., F; Will Arbo, Mamaroneck, Jr., F; Will Bock, Scarsdale, So., D; Rob Buckley, Mahopac, Sr., F; Richie Cantwell, Mount Pleasant, Sr., F; Mike Carrier, White Plains, Sr., F; Mike Ciofalo, Hen Hud, Sr., G; Nick Davidow, Pelham, Jr., D; Nat Deen, Rye, Sr., G; Matt DeRosa, Mahopac, Sr., F; Liam Donnelly, Yorktown, Jr., F; Alex Ewald, Mamaroneck, Jr., F; Lucas Gabow, Pelham, Sr., D; Michael Gamby, Carmel, Sr., F; Frank Gavigan, Yorktown, Sr., F; Abbie Ives, Fox Lane, Sr., G; R.J. LaSpina, Somers/North Salem Jr., F; Joey Livornese, Rye Town/Harrison, Jr., G; Oscar Marchi, Mount Pleasant, Sr., F; Mitchell Milbauer, Rye Town/Harrison, Sr., F; Sam Mishkind, Greeley, Sr., F; Derek Mullane, Rye, Sr., D; Adam Pesce, Rivertown, Sr., G; Hogan Peters, Pelham, Sr., F; Lucas Prestamo, John Jay, Jr., F; Tim Reilly, Pelham, Jr., D; Tyler Schunk, Hen Hud, Sr., F; Gibson Smith, Pelham, So. F; Tommy Spero, Mamaroneck, So., G.
(Selections made via poll on lohud hockey blog)
F — Stephen Nicholas, Scarsdale, 2,190 votes
F — Mitchell Millbauer, Rye Town/Harrison 2,165
F — Devon Schell, Scarsdale 968
D — Seamus Carey, Brewster 1,004
D — Nick Davidow, Pelham 149
G — Chris Stangarone, White Plains 678
Player of the year — Nicholas