By Suzanne Grove
A broom. Two cones. Rollerblades.
This was Casey Nelson’s introduction to hockey. He credits his brother, who had crafted his own makeshift game with these materials in their driveway, for sparking his interest in the sport. It’s a setting not unfamiliar to the legions of both fans and players who first took a slap shot or pretended to deke a goaltender in a game of street ball on the paved surfaces of their childhood neighborhoods.
Now, Nelson’s natural talent and dedication have carried him from the driveway of his family’s home in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. to the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown. Like his teammates, Nelson is both proud and excited to play in a city so steeped in rich hockey history and filled with diehard fans.
“It’s a fast, physical game with a lot of hitting,” Nelson said, describing why hockey first garnered his attention and later made him pursue it at the junior level.
So far, he names winning the state championship with his Lincoln High School Red Raiders as his favorite hockey memory. “We were the underdogs of the conference and ran away with it,” Nelson said with a smile.
And now, a few years later, the 6-1 defenseman is a veteran player of the NAHL. He played the previous two seasons with the franchise’s Alaska Avalanche, where he tallied 19 assists and 20 points in 2011-2012.
With his new team, Nelson has already contributed with two goals and one assist. He not only leads his team in shots, but currently leads the entire league in shots by a defenseman with 33.
While this is Nelson’s third season playing in the league, lacing up the skates in Pennsylvania has been a new venture. Easing his transition to life in a new state is friend Codey Hansen. The two were teammates in Alaska last season. Their friendship is immediately evident by the quick wit, banter, and laughs the two share when they are together.
But their billet home isn’t complete without one more person: Cody Boyd. General Manager and Director of Hockey Operation Rick Boyd and his wife, Tammi, house the three players.
Nelson says he loves to be outdoors and on the lake back home in Wisconsin Rapids, spending his free time tubing and wakeboarding in the summers. But at the Boyd home, after working hard on the ice, he just enjoys the company surrounding him, watching movies, playing Xbox, and talking with his billet family.
“We have a good family at home here,” Nelson said. “When we’re together, we laugh a lot. Every minute.”
Nelson also likes to keep people laughing in the Tomahawks locker room, saying he works to keep everyone positive and get a laugh going whenever he can. But, like his teammates, he’s all business on the ice.
However, one thing he doesn’t like about game days is the required attire. Part of his pre-game routine involves changing into his warm-up gear immediately upon arriving at the rink, saying he’s not a big fan of his dress clothes. Discounting himself, Nelson gives the team’s best style honors to Cody Gylling. And, despite blonde hair peaking out from beneath his helmet during games or the Tomahawks hat he wears off-ice, he also denies having the best flow on the team. He says Brandon Brossoit has the nicest hair.
“But, I’ll take that role over in a few months,” Nelson promises with a grin.
Without a doubt, his offensive-minded defensive skills and longer locks will be something to look forward to as the season progresses.