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Nick Nielsen's breakout role in SJHL trailblazes future

Former Scott resident, Nick Nielsen, is deemed a perfect fit for the SJHL's Weyburn Red Wings.

WILKIE — Nick Nielsen, a 2015 graduate of McLurg High School of Wilkie, has never forgotten his roots or those who encouraged him on his current career path.

Neisen has experienced a number of roles since he earned a diploma in Digital Communications and Media, specializing in Digital Journalism. College life is where he began his passion for play-by-play game announcing.

He now serves in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Richardson Pioneer Weyburn Red Wings as play-by-play broadcaster, complemented by his work as office and public relations manager for the Weyburn Red Wings. Neilsen is also tasked with managing social media, sponsorship, broadcasting, administrative work volunteer co-ordination, gameday co-ordination, in-house announcing, and a variety of other tasks that make the team tick off the ice.

Passion for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League comes naturally as Nielsen’s dad was a Battlefords Baron and even tried out for the Red Wings in the late 1970s. His uncle Lorne spent time with the Barons and the Estevan Bruins in the early ‘80s, while his cousin Russell was at one time the captain of the Humboldt Broncos.

The former resident of Scott, son of Les and Brenda Nielsen, began play-by-play experience with the Lethbridge College Kodiaks basketball and volleyball teams as part of his education. He was on the team that broadcasted the women’s basketball nationals where the Kodiaks finished their undefeated season as national champs.

“Originally, I was planning on being a TV news anchor but I tried it for a month with my college practicum and it wasn't really for me. I caught the play-by-play bug in college and when I got my first radio gig in 2017, I became the voice of the Big Six Senior Hockey League for the next season and really got to hone my skills there,” says Neilsen.

He says many of his skills have come from on-the-job experience.

Asked what makes him passionate about this role in hockey, Neilsen responds, “It’s the feeling I get when I'm on the call for a hockey game. I played a lot of sports growing up. The two I probably dedicated the most time to were with the wrestling and football teams in McLurg, and doing play-by-play is the only thing that still gives me that adrenaline rush that I used to get when I was getting ready to compete. “

Neilsen acknowledges that right before he goes on the call, he gets butterflies in his stomach and that energy is what makes him want to bounce around a bit.

“Whether it's for a radio broadcast or a TV broadcast, being the voice that helps paint the picture of the game to the people listening and watching at home, there's just something about it that I don't know how to describe to someone who’s never done it but it feels incredible.”

Nielsen also outlines his early beginnings, stating, “It kind of started when I first hosted a grad ceremony in Wilkie. I did some oratory/public speaking throughout school, but in Grade 11 the graduating Grade 12 class above me asked me to MC their grad, and that meant a lot to me. For a lot of people that’s their biggest accomplishment in life up to that point, and I got to be the one that walked everyone through it.

“It’s the same thing with play-by-play and PA announcing, the focus is on the grads or the game going on and it’s my job to take people through that experience and make it memorable when I can. And I love it,” exclaims Neilsen.

Former McLurg wrestling coach credited for contributing to Niesen's success

The McLurg alumnus says he played hockey up until his last year of U18, but never felt he was that good at it. He felt more comfortable and confident in his athletic skills in football and wrestling. Nielsen staunchly credits his Wilkie wrestling coach, Chris Kent, for his career path.

“He was always a huge supporter of me. He really instilled the belief in me that with enough effort, you can go after the things in life that you enjoy and still be successful. I would not be where I am without the six years, I spent with Gorilla Factory Grappling and the McLurg High School wrestling team.”

Nielsen also serves as the in-house announcer along with his play-by-play work and while he’s heard rumours that there is another guy somewhere in Saskatchewan undertaking a similar role, he hasn’t found out where. Aside from that, Neilsen believes he is the only person in Canada filling both roles, and if he’s not the only one doing it, he is nearly certain he is the only one filling this dual role for this level of hockey or higher.

“I love it, for the same reasons I said earlier but also helping fire up the crowd after a big goal or a big play, being part of the game day atmosphere, it’s a blast.” 

The full-time position takes him through the Weyburn Red Wings hockey season and during the off-season, he works at selling team sponsorship. His game-day operations include throwing on a headset and calling the game on FloHockey (online video streaming service) for home games on Big 106 FM for all road games. Neilsen also acts as co-ordinator for players volunteering in the community as well as running fundraisers for their team.

The 27-year-old’s energy is remarkable as is his ability to multitask. An article on the SJHL website contains several accolades including praise from the Weyburn head coach stating that they believe Neilsen’s current success will only grow in the business.

The online story states, “The SJHL constantly talks about how it wants to be a league that is ultimately player-first, and so the league must have personalities like Nick who are genuinely passionate about serving them, aiding and promoting them on their path to higher levels of hockey and education.”

Prior to his Red Wings role, Nielsen was credited with bringing the Kindersley Klippers back on the radio after a seven-year absence, working with Kindersley’s Goldenwest station. He also served briefly as program director at the station while hosting a morning show on Country 104.9. A call in May of 2022 with a job offer took Neilsen to Weyburn where he has been full-time ever since.

Nielsen was selected to be one of the broadcasters for the SJHL showcase in Warman which includes 12 teams in league play over a four-day period in front of scouts from colleges across Canada and the United States, as well as some NHL scouts. Folks with SaskTel Max TV can listen to Nielsen call through four games, along with two Red Wings radio broadcasts he will be doing from the event.

Nielsen shines in SJHL, sets sights on wider stage

The energy and enthusiasm of Nielsen were evident throughout the interview. Nielsen has career aspirations to end up in one of three spots: calling hockey at the NHL level, becoming the voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or doing play-by-play in one of the top MMA promotions in the world like the UFC.

“I would also love to do play-by-play for wrestling at the Olympics and give that sport the proper respect it deserves.”

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