(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)
It is common to refer to a team’s home broadcaster as ‘the voice of the (fill in the team here)’, and nowhere is that more the case than for Nick Nielsen and his Weyburn Red Wings.
Nielsen is the play-by-play broadcaster for the club, sending his voice out for Wings’ games on BIG 106 FM in Saskatchewan and home contests on FloHockey.tv, but he also manages to simultaneously entertain and inform the crowd at Crescent Point Place as the in-arena announcer; and he does both as well as anybody doing just one of those jobs in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Weyburn has been as good a home team as any in the SJHL the past few seasons, and the edge they get from Nick is not lost on any of their players.
“Nick is truly incredible at his job,” says star Wings’ goaltender Dazza Mitchell.
“His ability to multitask, and run not only in-arena stuff but broadcast at the same time, receiving messages from the penalty box and the scores and all of that, it’s so impressive. When we hear all of our names and the emphasis and effort and that awesome voice he has in the arena, it’s really cool, and I don’t think anyone else could do it honestly as well he does.”
Along with his on-mic jobs, he is the team’s Office and Public Relations manager, handles social media, coordinates the club’s many volunteers, and helps ensure the players get out and give back in the tight southeast Saskatchewan community.
Nielsen, still only 26 years of age, is truly a jack-of-all-trades.
“I definitely did not see myself having all this stuff on my plate (when I started in broadcasting),” Nielsen laughs, “but I am glad things turned out that way.
“I’m a person who kind of has a hard time saying no so if there’s something that gets thrown at me I just kind of jump out at it. Sometimes it’s to my detriment, other times it works out, but I love the fact that I’m involved with the team as much as I am because I can earn a living by doing nothing but hockey. If you look at where the world of sports media is going, a lot of people now aren’t just broadcasters, they are putting on other hats, so I thought that when I started working here I had to diversify a little bit and give myself more options. I think that it’s worked out for me well so far.”
Nielsen left home as a late teenager and moved west to Lethbridge College in Lethbridge, AB for a Digital Communications and Media program, originally hoping to go into general TV news. While there, he was afforded the opportunity to do play-by-play for the school’s basketball and very successful volleyball clubs, and clearly, he got the bug then and there.
After graduation, he received a radio job in Estevan, SK, hosting an afternoon show there, and ultimately started calling senior hockey.
His first game on the air, in Oxbow, is one he’ll never forget.
“It was the Oxbow Chiefs playing host to the Yellowgrass Wheat Kings,” he says.
“And for some of those senior hockey ranks you’re not calling hockey in the best of spots. I was calling it in the middle of the stands, basically right behind the benches and my second microphone was picking up all the nastiness that was going on the ice and everywhere. It was 5-1 for Yellow Grass going into the third period, and Oxbow started to make a comeback. With about five minutes left, Oxbow scored to make it 5-4. They got back to within one, the opening game of the season, and the crowd was going nuts. And some little kid in the crowd ran right between me and the table I had set up to do the broadcast, tripped over one of my cables, and unplugged it and took me off the air for the final five minutes of the game. And yeah, I never was able to get back on until after the game was already over. So, I think that might have been the most disgruntled post-game show I’ve ever done.”
Yet while Nick might have been “disgruntled”, to those who know him it is hard to imagine him with anything but a tremendous attitude, seemingly at all times.
A native of Wilke, SK, a rural town of 1,300 about 50 kilometres southwest of North Battleford, Nielsen brings his small-town charm and Saskatchewan-style work ethic to all of his many roles with the Wings. As seeking out and developing sponsor partnerships around the community is a part of his job, the fact he possesses a ‘small-town Saskatchewan’ genuineness and other-centred attitude has clearly resonated positively with the Weyburn locals.
“For my own success here in getting sponsorship here,” he says, “I think a really big part of that is just because I fit into this community really well.
“Coming from my hometown of Wilkie, it’s a small farming community, everybody knows each other and Weyburn, while you know it’s about 10 times the size of my hometown, it still has that same small town feel, everybody knows each other kind of thing. Every day I’ve seemed to have one or two farmers that I talked to about how their crops are going, and how things are looking this year, and I think the biggest thing in the turnaround of the sponsorships here has been that we have been getting out, seeing people around Weyburn. It’s a really great community I see so many different volunteers all over the place, and I think that’s where I kind of shine the most: going and talking with people where they are at. I go and hype up how fun this season is going to be, and how fun this group is going to look when they get to the rink, and I think that that little personal touch of just going to see people has made a big difference.”
Nielsen’s passion for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League comes honestly to him: his father Leslie was a Battlefords Baron and even tried out for the Red Wings in the late 1970s, while his uncle Lorne ‘the Hornet’ Nielsen spent time with both the Barons and the Estevan Bruins in the early ‘80s. Nick’s cousin Russell was captain of the Humboldt Broncos, alongside current North Stars’ head coach Brayden Klimosko, when they won the 2008 Junior A National Championship.
Nick’s work in Estevan led to time spent as an in-arena host at Affinity Place for the Bruins, then to gigs with the Red Wings and closer to home with the Kindersley Klippers as their play-by-play voice for the 2021-2022 campaign. While with Weyburn in his first stint, he made good friends with Cody Mapes, their young assistant coach, and when the Wings’ marketing and broadcaster job came open during the off-season of 2022, Nick was the first person new Weyburn head coach Mapes called for the gig.
Based on genuine mutual appreciation and respect, that relationship has only grown in the last two seasons as the club’s fortunes have vastly improved under Mapes’ watch.
“I truly consider Nick as not just a co-worker, we are friends,” Mapes says.
“We have a lot of good chats about everything from hockey to life. I have a lot of time for Nick, I think he is going to be very successful in this business. He is a young guy, cutting his teeth in this business, learning lots as he goes. His passion for calling games and the success of the team, for the players and the community does not go unnoticed. Everybody you talk to talks about the in-house entertainment, the guys love it. I feel fortunate to get to work with Nick, he’s a great person, a good small-town kid, and I am lucky to call him a friend as well.”
The SJHL constantly talks about how it wants to be a league that is ultimately player-first, and so the league must have personalities like Nick who are genuinely passionate about serving them, aiding and promoting them on their path to higher levels of hockey and education.
For his part, Dazza Mitchell could not be more eager to underline what Nick means to the players in the Wings’ locker room.
“I’ve learned a lot from Nick actually,” Mitchell says.
“Last year when we weren’t doing so great at the start, the cold months, you know everyone’s getting sick this and that. We’re not doing so well in the standings. You come in, you see Nick in the office anytime you see him he’s got a smile on his face, he asks how your day is going and he’s always ready to give everything he has. We always say on the ice: ‘You want to give 110% of what you have’, that’s what Nick does every day. Not only that, but also that he’s being a great guy around the rink, he’s encouraging us, he’s talking to us and just making our lives better.
We could all learn a lot from Nick, there is no doubt about it.