July 23, 2024

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – Todd Nelson’s father took him to the hockey rink for the first time, sparking a career that has resulted in him becoming just the third person in AHL history to win the Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach, and head coach.

“My dad played hockey, my uncle played hockey, everybody plays hockey back home,” said Nelson. “My dad brought me to the rink when I was three or four years old and I just loved skating.”

Nelson was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where he said in the winter everyone played hockey to keep busy.

“It wasn’t a whole lot to do in the wintertime up there,” Nelson said. “It’s really cold up there. We only had two channels — we had three but one was French and I don’t speak French”

Nelson joined an organized team at five years old, went on to play junior hockey, and then was drafted by Pittsburgh.

Nelson said that getting drafted solidified what he wanted to do with his life.

“That took a whole new path for me where I wanted a life in professional hockey,” Nelson said.

Nelson played for 12 years in various organizations, mostly in the minors. Nelson hoisted the Calder Cup once as a player for the Portland Pirates in 1994. He also had a chance to play in the NHL for a couple of games where he scored his “one and only” NHL goal for the Washington Capitals in the 1993-94 season.

1995 Season: Todd Nelson of the Hershey Bears. (Photo by Jim Leary/Getty Images)

Although those achievements are some of Nelson’s fondest memories as a player, he really cherishes the times he got to play hockey with his brother. The two played junior hockey together as well as professional hockey.

“To share that with him was an unbelievable experience,” Nelson said.

Nelson decided to transition into coaching hockey after he realized he didn’t enjoy some of the coaching styles he experienced in his playing career.

“I had some coaches that tried to motivate in a style that didn’t suit me well,” Nelson said. “And that kind of triggered me saying to myself, there has to be a better way to motivate your players than beating them down.”Ethen Frank becomes fifth Hershey Bears player ever to be named to AHL  All-Rookie Team

Nelson said it was hard to get into coaching, but he had a lot of help along the way. It was especially difficult because his first coaching gig had him coaching guys he had played with just two years prior.

In his first years as an assistant coach for Grand Rapids, he was in the same situation leading players he had previously skated with.

“I had to separate myself from the players a bit, but also mesh with them at the same time,” Nelson said.

Nelson said over the past 22 years of coaching, he has learned how to have fun with his players while also holding them accountable for putting in the work it takes to succeed.

“Apparently people say that I have a gift, (but) I’m just being who I am,” Nelson said. “I’ve been very blessed with good players over the years to have success.

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