As the New Jersey Devils prepare for Game 7 against the New York Rangers in the NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs, Nick Blackman carved out time before the Devils Game 1 to speak with Gill St. Bernard’s as part of our Alumni Spotlight Series.
What has your career path been like? How did you end up where you are today?
I dreamed of playing sports as a kid, but I always thought that if I wasn’t good enough to play on the professional level, then I couldn’t be involved. I never thought about the operations or business component, not until a family friend told me about an open Communications and Hockey Operations Internship with the New Jersey Devils. I played hockey at Gill under Coaches Pete Roslund and Bill Diamond and went on to play in college, so I had a good understanding of the game. Once I started with the Devils, I worked alongside the Manager of Hockey Communications writing games notes and credentials, and I realized the team side could be just as exciting.
Now after five-plus years in the department, I am the Senior Manager of Team Operations and Hockey Communications, and we are about to move into the playoff season. It’s a very exciting time!
How did your education/experience at GSB prepare you for what you are doing today, your career, or life in general?
I have to admit that even though I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Communications from High Point University, and I work in a communications department, English class was not naturally my strong suit. Gill forced us to write a lot (as my college did), and as I had to write more and more, I eventually got better at it.
But more than the “book stuff” that went on inside the classroom, it’s what Gill gave me outside of the classroom that set me up for my future. I went to Gill my entire life, and the way I learned to interact with faculty and staff at a very early age translated into my ability to have conversations with adults later. In real life, I have no problem meeting with General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald, or our Managing Partners, David Blitzer and Josh Harris, and I am able to have regular conversations with individuals who are senior to me without having to worry about each sentence. It’s the “little stuff” like this that Gill taught me—which is actually very big.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were so many teachable moments at Gill that made me who I am today. When you’re in school, you assume that the rest of the world is being taught in the same way that you are. The truth is that Gill is in its own bubble. It’s not until you get out of the bubble that you realize you are way ahead of the curve.
It’s been ten years since I graduated, which is hard to believe, and I’m so thankful for the experience.
What would be your advice to current GSB students?
Dave Pasquale coached me in baseball, and he always used to tell us to, “Be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The idea is that you need to get outside of your comfort zone in order to take advantage of everything Gill (and life) has to offer. Gill offers amazing opportunities; many of which I couldn’t appreciate until later. You may end up not liking something you tried—or maybe you will—but at least you can say you did it.
Do you have a favorite GSB memory you’d like to share?
I don’t have just one memory; I have a collection of them, and they all involve alumni that I’m still friends with today.
Moments like making the Prep B Finals in baseball for the first time and the State Championships in soccer and elevating the ice hockey team from the JV to Varsity level definitely stood out. But what made those moments special were the people I got to meet who I’ve stayed in touch with all these years. I’m thankful that Gill brought us together.
What is your favorite quote?
I was told once to, “Keep your shoulders low but your head held high.”
The idea is that you can and should be confident; you can keep your ears open and not be intimidated. But don’t walk around like you own the place.
What book(s) do you have on your nightstand right now?
I’m currently reading Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.
Life can be crazy day in and day out, and the habits you gain aren’t always the best when you’re just trying to stay afloat.
This book offers a solution to the downward cycle that can happen and explains how small things can compound. The idea is that if you focus on getting just 1% better each day, then over a long period of time, your life will go on an upcurve.
I have really connected with this idea, and I try to find things daily, no matter how small, that will help me to better myself and my team.
What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received?
Each day is a new challenge. Be open to opportunities and try anything.
At each stage, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that were offered to me, even if they weren’t in line with what I wanted to do. When I was an intern, I was asked to work events other than sports—like concerts—which weren’t in my comfort zone. But I stepped in where I was needed and went above and beyond for the company and the team. With time, I worked my way up. That internship turned into a part-time position and then into a full-time position at an organization that I love, and every step I’ve taken has gotten me to where I am now.
Do you have a personal mantra that you live by?
I write down what I’m appreciative of and grateful for each night—and they aren’t necessarily the same thing. It can get crazy working in sports—and in life itself—and I am my own harshest critic. This habit helps me to take a step back and to put things into perspective.