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Aaron Nelson following coach’s footsteps in Bismarck

12/13/2013, 4:30pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

Layne Sedevie can relate to the challenges faced by one of his key players in Sedevie's three seasons as Bismarck Bobcats coach and general manager.

Aaron Nelson is following a path that Sedevie knows well.

About a decade ago, Sedevie was a somewhat undersized goalie from Bismarck, playing high-level junior hockey, trying to gain the attention.

He eventually went on from the United States Hockey League to play three-plus seasons at Bemidji State University before playing in two minor professional leagues. He has since launched what is quickly becoming a successful coaching career with two consecutive North American Hockey League Central Division titles and Robertson Cup Finals appearances.

Now Nelson, a 5-foot-9, hometown goalie, is hoping to follow a similar path through the ranks of junior and college hockey. Nelson has been a big part of Sedevie’s success in Bismarck, racking up impressive numbers over all three of Sedevie’s seasons running the Bobcats. The coach is hopeful that the latest streak will help Nelson take the final step in establishing himself as a Division I prospect.

“He just needs an opportunity,” Sedevie said. “I really feel like he can be a Division I goaltender and not just a back-up. I feel like he can be an All-American goaltender.

“He’s got all the tools. I really feel like he can have a lot of success at the next level.”

Nelson understands that part of the proof comes in consistently showing he can succeed at his current level in the only Tier II junior hockey league in the United States.

A current five-game winning streak and his status as the reigning NAHL Central Division Player of Week are just the latest accomplishments for Nelson.

“As long as we have team success, guys are going to get looks,” Nelson said. “I think that’s the biggest part: Guys understanding that without team success, we’re not going to get looks that we could. I think guys are understanding that now in this recent stretch.”

The Bobcats have moved to within three points of the first-place Austin Bruins in pursuit of their fifth straight Central Division title.

Nelson — and Sedevie — have been a big part of the most recent two.

After posting a 2.40 goals-against average in 20 games as an NAHL rookie, Nelson was second in the league last year with a 1.88 GAA last season, tied for second with five shutouts and fourth with a .931 save percentage. He has also proved valuable in the postseason, going 12-4 with a 2.25 GAA over that time.

Sedevie points to the playoff performances and three years of established success when explaining why he thinks Nelson has a promising future.

Nelson is thankful for the help he has received from direct input from a head coach who understands the goalie’s job.

“He kind of just understands what shoes I’m in,” Nelson said. “We’re both small. He understands my game. That definitely helps.

“He works with me before practice and after practice.”

Sedevie also knows the mindset of a goalie.

“I think that’s something I can offer as a head coach,” he said. “I feel like you try to understand systems and everything else you’re doing as a coach, but it is the one position that I can really relate to.

“In certain situations, I feel for a goaltender it’s the mental stuff. To be able to go through situations and talk to somebody, it’s something I hope I can provide for my goaltenders.”

On the technical side of the game, Sedevie says Nelson plays his angles well, uses his quickness and has put in the work to become strong at rebound control.

“I worked on it a lot as a kid, just drills in practice,” Nelson said of his positioning. “And a lot of it is battling. I’m not going to stop shots just by being big.

“Being in position, first and foremost, is important because I’m smaller. I have to take away as much of the net as I can.”

Nelson has stopped 148 of 155 shots during his five-game winning streak, putting up a 1.38 GAA and .955 save percentage. The team has gone from losing five of six to winning seven of its last eight.

The success has Nelson thinking big. He would not only like to see the Bobcats climb to the top of the Central Division, he says the team should be aiming to secure the best record in order to host the Robertson Cup finals that also serve as the USA Hockey Tier II National Championships.

“We’re 11-0-1 at home this year so I think securing home ice for playoffs would be two thumbs up,” Nelson said. “Every point counts.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials. 

USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?

Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.  

USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season? 

Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that. 

The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.

USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?

Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.

USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official? 

Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.

USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career? 

Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.

USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?  

Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.

USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?

Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.

USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career? 

Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.

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