Kevin Soja

Nick Shackford '03

Hockey has always been a part of Nick Shackford’s life, and there were times in his later development when he yearned for someone to help him navigate the college hockey landscape. Now, as president of 85 Sports Management, he’s helping others solve that very problem, and then some. 

A captain of the varsity hockey team at Berkshire his senior year, Shackford played junior hockey after graduation and went on to play at Cortland State in New York as well as St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire. After St. Anselm’s, he returned home to Burke, Virginia where a local hockey coach convinced him to assist him coaching Team Maryland. 

Reluctant at first, Shackford eventually agreed and began video work with the team. He was struck right away by the immediate impact that the off-ice instruction was having on player development. Now it was time to venture out and gain more valuable experience. 

After eight years coaching and scouting in the North American Hockey League, in 2018, Shackford created 85 Sports Management through the partnership and support of Kraig Strong ՚04 and Nile Moore. For Shackford, building a business was a lot like building a team. Each of them would play a specific role within the company. Strong offered financial acumen, Moore would create and review contracts and legal matters, and Shackford would oversee hockey operations. 

Together, and each with a deep passion and appreciation for hockey, they created an agency to help young hockey players make informed decisions about their future. Whether advising or serving as an agent, one thing is sure: 85 Sports Management takes a personal interest in every player’s development and well-being, a refreshing change from the probability pool approach of larger agencies that focus more on numbers and revenue.

Shackford feels well prepared for this moment personally and professionally. His business is all about building relationships with players and families, something he credits to his experience under the Mountain. He is grateful to be using his skill set and love for hockey to help kids develop and grow.

Behind the bench for the NAHL's Keystone Ice Miners

Learn more about Shackford’s journey in the Q&A below:

At what point did your vision for 85 Sports Management become a reality? What are the agency's future goals?

After coaching Junior A hockey for years in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in Alaska, New Mexico, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, it was time to make the leap. The experiences I had were unparalleled—building rosters, coaching talent, advocating for players to achieve at the next level, whether NCAA or pro, were essential aspects of my job. This knowledge of the inner workings of junior, college, and professional hockey from behind the scenes was a catalyst for 85 Sports. Drafting players at varying ages and skill levels required intensive scouting, recruiting, and ultimately promotion to professional scouts. We always had a vision for a sports agency, but it became a reality in the spring of 2018 with support from former classmates and teammates Kraig Strong ՚04 and Niles Moore, an Ohio-based attorney. 

The goal is straightforward: to provide the best service possible to our customers at all hockey levels. We see many inflection points to disrupt the conventional agency model. Notably, we are incredibly agile compared to large agency institutions that dominate the top-end NHL talent. Our dynamic network of player reps and agents are establishing a deep pipeline of talent. We expect to compete by utilizing personal brand development to facilitate a smooth transfer from playing career to retirement. Also, merger and acquisition opportunities with other like-minded agencies, further overseas presence in Europe, and, of course, acquiring more clients are all key performance indicators for us.

What is the meaning behind the name?

Breaking down the game

We were having trouble finding a name for the company that wasn’t already taken or easily confused with another brand. One day I was driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike when I saw a billboard for “84 Lumber.”  I thought, “How about ‘85 Sports Management,’” for my birth year? A player’s birth year is a commonly understood reference in the hockey world. 

How did you get connected with Billy Zegras ’18? 

Billy sent me a message through Berkshire School Connect last summer, asking me about the possibility of interning with the agency. During a subsequent telephone conversation, I was impressed with his passion and knowledge of the game. A smart kid with a ton of potential, Billy gained valuable experience interning for our agency while completing his undergraduate degree at UCLA.  

In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today? 
Besides receiving an outstanding education and playing hockey, I learned the benefits of discipline and hard work. There are no short-cuts in life—getting up at a specific time every morning, cleaning your room, walking to breakfast, going to class in a shirt and tie, Saturday classes—all of that requires discipline, and it helped me develop habits that I still use today.  
What are your fondest memories of your time under the Mountain? 

Building relationships with great people—students, teachers, and coaches. Kraig Strong was one of the first classmates I met while climbing the Mountain during our new student orientation. Building a business is all about building relationships. Never underestimate the importance of your network.
If you could offer any piece of advice to today’s students, what would it be?
Surround yourself with good people. Being at Berkshire is an incredible head start. Take advantage of opportunities. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Find your passion, pursue it aggressively, and don’t look back. Times will always change on a personal and professional level. So adapting to change is paramount to your ability to thrive. I owe a lot of my success to my years at Berkshire. Be a pro at everything you do—from taking out the trash to studying for a difficult subject you are dreading. Habits sown today will reap benefits tomorrow.