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Nelson excelling at North Dakota

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders

New York Islanders prospect Brock Nelson is making significant strides during his sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. The Islanders’ first-round selection (30th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is ranked third in NCAA Division I hockey with 19 goals, while adding 12 assists in 27 games for the Fighting Sioux.

North Dakota Head Coach Dave Hakstol is most impressed, not by Nelson’s ability to put the puck in the back of the net, but by his reliability and humble attitude.

Islanders first round pick (30th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, brock Nelson, on the ice. (Photo credit: UND Athletics/Eric Classen)
“[Nelson] is a guy that goes out and does his job on the ice,” Hakstol said. “He’s gained a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates here by doing just that. But his humility and the quiet way he goes about his business shouldn’t be mistaken in terms of his competitiveness. He’s extremely competitive.”

Nelson also leads his team and ranks tied for first in Division I with nine power-play goals. The 6'4, 192-pound sophomore credits his teammates for that succes with the extra man.

“The power-play unit that we have has been clicking throughout the year,” Nelson said. “We have quite a few good players, so it makes my job easier, playing with them.”

While Nelson may not bask in the credit of a job well done, those around him are quicker to point out how good he has been on the ice this season. Forward Danny Kristo, a prospect in the Montreal Canadiens system, is Nelson’s roommate and linemate. Kristo believes Nelson is one of the most talented players on a team with 15 NHL draftees.

“As far as raw skill on our team, I’d say he’s definitely number one,” Kristo said. “He’s probably one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with. He definitely knows where to go on the ice to get himself open and knows how to go to the net.”

Nelson was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s co-Offensive Player of the week on Nov. 29 after back-to-back three-point games against Colorado College. The 20-year-old scored the game-winning goal in the Nov. 25 matchup and assisted on Kristo’s short-handed game-winner on Nov. 26. It was part of a stretch in which Nelson scored 18 points (12 goals, six assists) in 11 games, including four multiple-goal efforts.

Success at the collegiate level was not a given for the Warroad, MN native, who was a finalist for his home state’s Mr. Hockey Award after scoring 39 goals and 34 assists in 25 games as a high school senior in 2009-10. It took Nelson 10 games to notch his first goal and he had only five points (one goal, four assists) in his first 19 games for the Sioux. But after representing the United States at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, Nelson turned his freshman campaign around, posting 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the last 12 games.

As far as raw skill on our team, I’d say he’s definitely number one. He’s probably one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with. He definitely knows where to go on the ice to get himself open and knows how to go to the net.” - Danny Kristo, teammate of Nelson and Canadiens prospect
Kristo, who represented the U.S. the prior year in the WJC, believes that Nelson’s 2010-11 midseason turnaround was not a coincidence.

“I think going to the World Juniors last year kind of helped him with his confidence,” Kristo said. “I think the second half of last year, coming back from the World Juniors, he really started to turn it on. He got his confidence back up. He was making all types of plays all over the ice.”

After the Fighting Sioux made it to last season’s Frozen Four, Nelson carried that momentum into his sophomore season. On opening night against Air Force, with an assist already under his belt, Nelson scored the game-tying and game-winning goals late in the third period. This season, the pre-investments major is averaging over a point per game, and ranks tied for fourth in the conference with four game-winning goals. Nelson attributes this season’s success to his teammates, as well as his adjustment to life as a college athlete.

“It helps, I think, just knowing what to expect every weekend throughout the year,” Nelson said. “Guys like Danny and [Florida Panthers draft pick] Corban Knight – it really makes my job a whole lot easier playing with those guys, because they’re such good players.”

Success on the ice is a common concept to Nelson’s family. Brock’s uncle, Dave Christian, was a member of the famed Miracle on Ice team that won gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics. He’s also a veteran of over 1,000 NHL games with five different teams. Brock’s grandfather, Bill Christian, and great-uncle, Roger Christian, were members of the 1960 gold-medal winning U.S. Men’s Hockey team. All three are members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Having the sport deeply rooted in his family enables him to maintain the right attitude on and off the ice.

“Having that support system of all my family members who have played hockey in the past – they were very successful,” Nelson said. “Having those guys to be able to lean on and talk to everyday, it’s special for me to have that. I think that’s definitely helped me throughout the years.”

As far as the road ahead, Hakstol says Nelson is on the right track and has the ability to make an impact at the NHL level someday because of his work ethic and desire to become a complete player.

“He’s got a great goal-scoring knack,” Hakstol said. “He makes plays, but he’s also becoming one of our most reliable defensive forwards, one of our better penalty killers and he’s learning to play in all of those situations.”
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