Brett Nicholson knew something was wrong with his dad as the two drove together, but he never for one second suspected he was suicidal.
Paul Nicholson was sitting quietly in the passenger’s seat of Brett’s car and was unusually fidgety. Then at a family gathering to celebrate Brett’s birthday, once again his father seemed distant.
Brett had no way of knowing his father would take his own life just a few weeks later at the age of 57.
“He was off in the distance, not there,” Brett said. “He was physically there, but not mentally there. He was very down and depressed. We just thought he was stressed or overtired, we had no idea the amount of pain he was in.”
The truth was Paul Nicholson, a former member of the OHLs London Knights who played parts of three seasons in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, was suffering with severe depression. He told his sons Matt and Brett that he felt he was a fraud during a random phone call that caught the boys off guard earlier that year. This was one of the very few indicators of a major warning sign to Paul’s family.
Nearly five years after his father’s death, Brett Nicholson said he believes his father and other athletes, amateur and professional, are not properly prepared financially or emotionally for life during and after the spotlight.
“Given some of the decisions these players make with money it’s obvious that their financial literacy is not very high in my opinion,” Brett said. “It is my view for a professional athlete or otherwise, when you increase your financial literacy you make more intelligent choices with your money. You’re also much more prudent when analyzing financial opportunities. It’s imperative that the players have an understanding of what is going on and assess the validity and suitability of the advice they receive.”
After a solid junior career with the Knights, during which Paul Nicholson scored 72 goals and 141 points in 212 games over four seasons, he turned pro having been drafted 55th by the Capitals in the NHL and 40th by the Michigan Stags of the World Hockey Association in 1974.
Nicholson split his first pro season between the Richmond Robins of the AHL and the expansion Capitals with whom he scored four goals and nine points in 39 games.
Ultimately Nicholson played 300 games as a pro managing 263 points. He had four goals and 12 points in the NHL. After his final year with the Port Huron Flags of the International Hockey League in 1977-78 he hung up his skates for good.
Paul Nicholson went on to find success in the business world as a graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s business program and remained in the hockey world as a facilitator in the National Coaches Certification Program.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“He was as passionate and dedicated toward his business as he was toward hockey but unfortunately he didn’t have the balance or structure in his daily life that he had as a pro,” Brett said. “He lost who he really was – a family oriented, small town farm kid.”
Brett Nicholson also said his dad made some decisions and investments without vision after his career as a player. Rather than, say, buy a Tim Horton’s franchise which were going for a song back then which Paul had an opportunity to do, or stay involved with pro hockey, he stuck with what he knew, invested in a hockey school and decided to stay close to home.
Since 2009 Brett has been in finance after attending UWO where he studied accounting and finance and in 2012, he founded his own company for which he is the president, Senatus Wealth, a unique wealth, health and lifestyle management firm that among numerous member categories specializes in helping athletes prepare for a professional athletic career and transition to life after professional sports. Nicholson will be speaking with multiple Canadian Hockey League teams this season in an effort to guide and develop young players.
“I’ve found with a few of the current and former pro players we work with, even in 2016, they’re reluctant to use their skills and leverage their network,” Brett said. “For whatever reason some hockey players aren’t confident enough to monetize their relationships as much as they could. My dad was the same way; he didn’t want to inconvenience people in his network that could have assisted him from a networking, business, financial or personal perspective. Along with many other valuable activities, we encourage our players to network and think about post career opportunities that interest them because inevitably their career will come to an end, but their life doesn’t have to.”
Nicholson said he is hopeful his father’s story will help people who might be in the same boat.
Brett Nicholson hopes to encourage athletes to prepare themselves for life during and after sports, to make meaningful contributions to their lives, the lives of their families and our world.