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Nielsen excited to represent Wings, Denmark at ASG

Nielsen will also be reunited with former Islanders teammates Tavares, Okposo in Los Angeles

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Making your first All-Star team is always special but this year has been even more special for Frans Nielsen for many reasons.

The Red Wings were having a team dinner in Chicago on their annual fathers and mentors trip when general manager Ken Holland gave Nielsen the news that he would be the Wings' lone All-Star.

"I'm really proud of representing this organization," Nielsen said. "I haven't looked at the list yet but I could imagine if you go down the list over the years, it's some pretty good players representing this team. I'm really honored to represent Detroit and hopefully going to go out there and have fun."

Nielsen's father, Frits, was with him as he found out he was heading to Los Angeles.

"He was probably more proud than I was," Nielsen said. "He was pumped. I think it's always like that. We're really proud about being in this league, but I don't think there is anyone more proud than our dads when we're on the trip. It's special for them and it's going to be special for him out there."

Frits Nielsen will make another trip from Denmark to Los Angeles for the All-Star festivities.

Nielsen's mother, Hanne, has to work so she won't be able to come but his wife, Moa, their baby son, Leo, Moa's father and sister are all going to be there.

"It's going to be a long flight for a couple of days out there, but they're excited about it too," Nielsen said. "They wouldn't miss it."

Nielsen said he wasn't even thinking about the All-Star Game as he and his wife had a trip planned for Mexico during the All-Star break.

"I didn't give it much thought," Nielsen said. "Earlier years it has been kind of reserved for J.T. (John Tavares) in New York so I never really thought about it. Henrik (Zetterberg) has had a good year. (Thomas) Vanek has had a good year. It wasn't in my mind at all."

Tavares sent Nielsen a congratulatory text when he found out they would be in Los Angeles together.

"He said it was well deserved and he was happy for me," Nielsen said.

Vanek, who played for the Islanders with Nielsen during the 2013-14 season and is playing on a line with him now, thought the NHL chose well.

"I think he'll represent the Red Wings in a good way and I'm real happy for him," Vanek said. "He's a great guy off the ice, so it's easy to like him, but on the ice it's the way he thinks the game. He thinks at a high level and again, I think the success has shown here."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Nielsen was the first player they contacted when free agency started.

The team needed a center after the departure of Pavel Datsyuk.

"He's been able to come in and give us good stability at center," Blashill said. "He kills penalties for us, he's on our power play, he really does a lot. But he's also a great pro. One thing we've had here is great culture. I think our young guys learn how to work, I think our young guys learn how to be accountable, I think our young guys learn how to approach it in a professional manner. Certainly with Zetterberg and (Niklas) Kronwall and guys like that, but Vanek and Nielsen have both added to that, they've both added to the accountability, both added to the approach. Nielsen's the first guy here every game, he takes his job extraordinarily serious and I think he's a great example. So he's been a real positive for us."

Another positive for Nielsen is that his other good friend from his days with the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, also made his first All-Star team this year.

"When I saw he was on there, we texted right away," Nielsen said. "I met him for dinner in Buffalo the other day so we're all excited, get to be on the same team, too. It's going to be fun. Tavares is going to be there too so two of my really good former teammates, so it's going to be fun to see those guys again."

Nielsen spent the first 10 years of his NHL career with the Islanders before deciding he wanted a new challenge in Detroit.

It wasn't too long after signing with the Wings that Nielsen and his wife welcomed Leo.

"It's been crazy," Nielsen said. "I think the hardest part was he was pretty much born and I had to leave, we had Olympic qualification, and then I went straight to the World Cup after that. So I was home for five days and then gone for a month. That was probably the hardest part. Because of the bye week and the World Cup, I guess, the schedule has been pretty much every second day all year. So I've been trying to spend as much time as I can with him when we don't play. But yeah, it's been a wild year. It's been exciting, all good stuff."

It's going to be exciting not just for Detroit that Nielsen will play in the All-Star Game.

Although he is just 32, Nielsen is considered a trailblazer for Danish hockey players.

Paul Popiel was the first player born in Denmark to reach the NHL, even playing two seasons for the Wings from 1968-70, but his family moved to Canada when he was nine.

Nielsen is the first Danish-trained player to make the NHL.

"When you play, you're just worrying about yourself a little bit," Nielsen said. "But I talked to some of them, (Mikkel) Boedker and those guys that came right after me. I think it just gave a lot of belief in everyone if one guy could do it, they saw that it was open and it's possible. I don't really like people say it's because of me and stuff, I try to just worry about myself.

"But it's fun when you come home too and you show up at hockey camps with kids that are 10-12 years old and they all dream about the NHL now. It was a little different, we dreamed about it too but no one really believed that a Danish guy would ever make it so when you said anything, you wanted to play in Sweden or something, but everything has just changed now. Kids have bigger dreams than we had when we were young."

Nielsen said he first began to think of the NHL as a realistic goal when he was 17, playing in his first world championship.

"That was the first time I got to play against NHL players," Nielsen said. "You could see, OK, it's still some ways to go but at least I'm able to compete against those guys. Then I went to Sweden and there was the big (2004-05) lockout and it just poured in with NHL players in the Swedish League so you got the whole season playing against some really good players that came over that year. It kind of gave you that confidence that you could see that you were good enough and it wasn't that far away anymore. So step by step, year after year, you either played against them in Sweden that year or you went to the world championship and you just felt you got closer and closer to them. That's how I kind of tried to measure myself up against them."

Now Nielsen will get to measure himself against the best players in the NHL during both the skills competition and the All-Star Game.

The skills competition will have six events, the skills challenge relay, the four-line challenge, accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot and a shootout.

Nielsen said he'd like to be a passer but Blashill had a better idea.

"Shootout," Blashill said. "Isn't that one of them? I don't watch the skills competition the last few years. If they have any kind of breakaway, I'd certainly choose him."

Nielsen is tied with Radim Vrbata for most shootout goals in league history with 44.

For the second straight year, the All-Star Game will have the 3-on-3 format.

"It's going to be hard probably, 20 minutes of it," Nielsen said. "But it's going to be fun. I watched it last year and it's actually the first time I kind of watched it to the end because it felt like guys were competing a little more than they used to in the 5-on-5. It was fun hockey, back and forth. I think it's a great thing they went to a 3-on-3. It's good for the game."

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