In a place of honor atop the entertainment console is a family portrait: Bernie and Heather with their twins, who will grow up with dim or no memories of the brother they lost just before their second birthday.
Jack Jagger Nicholls—Heather is a Rolling Stones fan—was born on Nov. 25, 1992, four days days before the twins' first birthday. He was three weeks premature and had Down's syndrome. But his condition improved in the hospital; he put on weight and came home Dec. 18.
Five weeks later Heather took Jack to the emergency room. "He was fussy, and he wasn't eating," she says. After a seven-hour delay, the doctors performed a spinal tap, to check for spinal meningitis.
What happened next will be the subject of intense discussion in a Southern California civil court this spring. According to Heather and Bernie, who have filed a law-suit against the hospital and the doctors involved in the spinal tap, far too much of the baby's spinal fluid was removed. "As much as you would take for a grown person," says Bernie. Almost immediately Jack had a massive stroke, which left him brain-dead. He could not see or hear; he took nourishment through a tube in his stomach. He existenjd 10 months in this state before passing away.
Heather has no problems talking about Jack; she says it helps her. Bernie finds it more painful. "He's not a person who's real open with his feelings," she says. "One of his favorite lines is, 'I don't let anyone in my kitchen.' "
But what about his sociable on-ice demeanor—How's it goin', dude?—which suggests an open invitation to join him in his kitchen? It is a paradox, Heather agrees. She says her husband has been misunderstood for most of his career.
When Nicholls was traded from the Kings to the Rangers in 1990, he was dubbed Broadway Bernie by the Gotham press. "They wrote about the mansion we had lived in, the Rolls-Royces we drove. None of it was true," says Heather. "One phase of his life got blown out of proportion, to his detriment, I think. Because it clouds what a great player he is. He's one of eight players ever to score 70 goals in a season; he's scored more than 1,000 points in his career. How many guys have done that? But people want to talk about the pink suit."
The previous evening, on March 16, Nicholls scored twice in the Blackhawks' 9-2 humiliation of the Canucks in Chicago. Goal No. 1 came from a nearly impossible angle in the first period: From eight feet out Nicholls calmly and deliberately banked the puck off the leg pad of goaltender Kirk McLean and into the net.
In the next period Nicholls received a pass and carried the puck across the slot. The nanosecond McLean began moving to his left, Nicholls flipped the puck to the goalie's right, scoring on the short side. As with the first goal, he beat McLean clinically and casually. The two goals appeared to be the work of an extremely smart, extremely skilled player at the top of his game.
Sometimes appearances do not deceive.