Many dream of making the NHL draft. Of the thousands of players across the great hockey nation of Canada but a handful will ever have the chance to represent their hometown on national ice.
For one lucky Red Deerian, this dream may one day be a reality after being selected as a third round draft pick, 65th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Andrew Nielsen, who was born in Eckville but later relocated to Red Deer, has been lacing up skates from the early age of four years old and has dreamt his entire life of playing NHL. On draft day Nielsen, a graduate of Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame High School, edged one step closer to that dream.
“I was just hanging out with my family watching the draft on TV. We were all checking our phones constantly for any news,” explained Nielsen “I was taking a break from watching TV and checking Twitter when I got a phone call from my agent,” he said. “He was yelling into the phone and I couldn’t understand what he was saying so I had to tell him to calm down – he told me I had been selected to Toronto and I didn’t even know what to do.”
Nielsen describes the moment as ‘utterly surreal’ and can’t wait to further his hockey journey.
He explained his hockey career start around the age of four while he was still living in Eckville thanks to a family friend who lived across the street, Tim Leer.
“I started learning to skate and play hockey from a young age from a really great teacher,” he explained of Leer. “He was big on making sure I knew the core fundamentals of the game at an early age and taught us how to use our edges to our advantage.”
Following a move to Red Deer, Nielsen began playing Bantam ‘AA’ hockey in Red Deer, however was disappointed he didn’t make it to ‘AAA’ in his first year. Again the same situation unfolded with Midget ‘AA’ in not making the ‘AAA’ team – leaving Nielsen worried about his career in hockey.
“It really taught me a lot about myself as a player,” he remembers of his earlier days. “It was a bit of a dagger not to make it and it showed me some adversity early on in my career, which in turn just made me work a thousand times harder and likely it’s the reason I am where I am today,” he said. “It made me question whether I was really as good as I thought I was and very much so humbled me.”
Following his first year of Midget, Nielsen began the season playing in the AJHL for the Drayton Valley Thunder, but decided to return home in hopes of playing his final year of midget in the ‘AAA’ league.
“It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to come back and play for Doug Quinn on the ‘AAA’ team – if I wouldn’t have come back and played that last year in Red Deer there is no way I would’ve been where I am today.”
This led to Nielsen being recruited by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL where he spent the last season honing his skills.
“The Hurricanes were a huge reason behind why I got drafted,” said Nielsen. “They gave me a large amount of play time and I could never complain a minute that I’ve been playing for them.
“I love the city, the team, the office staff, the other players and I’m really excited to head back – we’ve got a lot of new talent on the ice as well as a new coach so I’m looking forward to heading back to Lethbridge and getting the season started.”
He added he will heading to Toronto shortly to meet with the organization and is excited to see what kind of developmental plan they will have for him to prepare for a future in the NHL.
Check out his journey on Twitter by following him at his account @a_neilsen57.