For an undersized forward playing on a young and rebuilding WHL team, ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ is a pretty good mantra to live by.
Such is the case for Tristen Nielsen of the Calgary Hitmen.
The Hitmen are going through growing pains in their 2017-18 season, currently sitting outside of the playoff picture with a record of 20-33-8-2, but Nielsen is doing his part to ensure that the Calgary fans always have something to cheer about during home games.
The 5-foot-10 forward plays much bigger than his size, frequently using his impressive speed to build up momentum before throwing thunderous body checks on opposing players, getting the crowd fired up in the process.
“I’d say I bring a lot of energy,” Nielsen said of his contribution. “I can get in on the forecheck pretty quick, I would say I’m pretty fast. I’ve got some skill, but I can also play the physical side of the game. I like to take the body, especially on the bigger guys.
“I always got told growing up that ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall,’ so I take runs at them all the time.”
The native of Fort St. John, B.C., is far more than just a bruiser, however.
On top of his quick and powerful skating, he possesses sharp hockey IQ and the ability to handle and distribute the puck at full speed.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Hitmen coach Dallas Ferguson said. “You can see his speed, how he’s into the game. He shoots the puck really well.”
Nielsen has collected 28 points in 45 games this season, but he picked up 23 of those points in just his past 27 games, showing the continued growth of his game.
If a combination of speed, grit and point production sounds familiar, Nielsen confesses that he looks to a fairly infamous figure in the NHL as a source of motivation.
The pest who does it the best.
“I think no one’s going to like this answer, but Brad Marchand,” Nielsen said. “He’s tremendously skilled. He can do it all. He can score goals. He can get under people’s skin. Good forechecker. I idolize him.”
One of Marchand’s other calling cards — and arguably the most essential one to his success — is his unrelenting work ethic, which Nielsen has in spades.
Some players have a hard time bringing their “A” game on a shift-by-shift basis when they’re playing for a team that’s usually outgunned and doesn’t record a lot of wins, such as the Hitmen.
But not Nielsen.
Regardless of the opponent or the score in the game, you can set your watch to him hustling and making something good happen every time he comes over the boards.
Nielsen’s dedication to the sport doesn’t just stop when the game’s final horn sounds, either.
A perfect example of this came after he suffered a broken wrist on Nov. 22nd; not wanting to miss a beat in his development, he was back on the ice the very next day doing skating drills.
“When I was injured I was able to skate every day,” he said. “The injury happened, the next day I was on the ice working on my power skating, working on my endurance, just trying to keep my legs going at top speed all the time.
“I’ve always done a lot of power skating, but I really needed to get some more in. I wanted to get quicker on my crossovers and get more of a full extension when I come underneath… the extra skating I did really helped.”
Nielsen believes that the most important thing for he and his teammates is showing up for every shift, and that if they can make a habit of doing that, the wins will eventually come.
Perhaps not this year, but sometime in the not-too-distant future.
“We’re a pretty young team,” he said. “We have a lot of upside to us, and I think every day we come in prepared to work. We understand that we’re far behind in the rankings, but we don’t follow those. We try to win every game and just get better every day.”