The picture went viral in a hurry, and rightfully so.
Caught to the right of Champlin Park goaltender Tyler Nelson, the photo froze what was arguably the best save of the high school hockey playoffs.
It came in the still decisive moments of the Section 5AA championship game, when a loose rebound was rocketing towards the right corner only be impeded by a cat-quick glove hand from Nelson.
The photo hit Twitter first. Then Facebook. By week’s end, chances are they were seeing it online in China.
“It was kind of crazy,” Nelson said. “A lot of people saw it. But it was a pretty cool picture.”
It was likely a topic of conversation inside the Section 5A/5AA locker room at Wakota Ice Arena in South St. Paul last weekend, when the best seniors from the section gathered to play in the annual Ted Brill Great 8 Festival.
Nelson was invited to play after a voting process taken by the opposing coaches from both Section 5A and 5AA designated him as an all-star. His body of work throughout the season, and to a greater extent the postseason, earned his this chance.
That save in the section final against Centennial might have played part. But there was no doubt the 33 he made in a 2-1 overtime victory over Anoka in the quarterfinals, and then the 47 more he turned aside in the Rebels 5-4 shocker over Blaine in the semifinals garnered the most attention from those in the know.
“He was arguably the best player in the section, period,” said Champlin Park head coach Pat Janostin. “He played such a huge role in the success we had. If we are back on the map, it is because of him. He was that good.”
The storybook ending Champlin Park closed its 2012-13 season with sent a reinvigorating jolt into the hockey program. Nearly a month later, Nelson said that is every bit as cool as what the team did on the ice.
He grew up in Champlin, playing youth hockey and committing to the high school program he was groomed to play in.
Some of his buddies form those youth days chose to leave, optioning for the private school route or even a transfer to another public school. The lure of the state tournament – even in the much less regarded Class A field – was a promise they believed Champlin Park could never fulfill.
And then this happened. Supported by a contagious combination of work ethic and commitment to each other, Champlin Park came within a game of playing in front of 18,000 people in downtown St. Paul.
The run catapulted the Rebels back into hockey conversations and into such respected events as last weekend’s Ted Brill tournament.
“I’m representing Champlin Park, and our entire community,” said Nelson. “That means almost everything, because everybody could take the easy route and go find success at Benilde or Breck or Hill Murray. It is a little different playing for your own town, where we had everyone cheering for you. The whole community was there in the playoffs. It was something else, something I’ll never forget.”
Few who experience the setting do. Boys hockey playoff championships in Minnesota are like nothing else in prep sports. The Warner Coliseum was full with the entire Centennial community on one side, and what looked like all of Champlin on the other.
In the middle of it all was Nelson, who was stellar throughout. The performance earned him the Ted Brill nod, and the hope is more follow.
His plan is to pursue the dream. It will likely start with a junior hockey stint next year, and then a chance to play net in college in the years that follow.
He already has the grades – Nelson will enter the final few months of his senior year with a 3.94 GPA – and the skills. He also has a belief in his abilities, something critical for the kid who followed his older brother’s footsteps into goalie pads in order to willingly stand in front of a slap shot from the slot.
“I know I can play beyond high school,” Nelson said. “My confidence is pretty high after this season, so we’ll see what happens, we’ll see where it takes me.”
Champlin Park goaltender Tyler Nelson stands in his net during the Section 5AA final against Centennial earlier this month. The Rebel senior was named to the Section 5A/5AA all-star team that played in last weekend’s Ted Brill Great 8 festival. (Sun Post staff photo by Nick Clark)
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