Former Tomahawks Alumni, Casey Nelson, Retires from Pro Hockey
Written by: David Nicoletti
Casey Nelson, a young kid, born on July 18th, 1992, in a small town of Stillwater, Minnesota.
His older brother, Josh Nelson, was a former hockey player. Playing in the NAHL from 2007-2010 for the Marquette Rangers, Bismarck Bobcats, and Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Eventually, playing college hockey at Minnesota State University, in Mankato, Minnesota.
He then became a coach in 2015, starting off in the NAHL for the Wichita Falls Wildcats. Leading him to a coaching job with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Where he still remains to this day as an assistant coach.
Casey went to high school, and in 2009 played hockey as a defenseman for Wisconsin Rapids High. It was then a year later, in 2010, where Nelson would get his first shot at junior hockey. He came into the league as a defenseman, playing for the Alaska Avalanche.
He would be a part of the Avalanche for two seasons, taking part in 85 career games in the green and blue. His career numbers in Wasilla, AK included two goals and 24 assists. Though small numbers in that many games, the best was yet to come for Nelson. As it would be announced on May 3rd, 2012, that Johnstown Sports Partners LLC has completed the acquisition to relocate the Alaskan franchise to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. From there, the Tomahawks were born.
Nelson’s career now shifted 4,061 away to the small city. He would make the team and suit up for the Tomahawks inaugural season. From there, his career started to build. Like the previous year in Alaska, Nelson would take part in 56 games. This time it would be in the navy, red, and white uniform. His season numbers improved, 10 goals, 22 assists, numbers that would help lead his team to the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs in 2013. It was also numbers that would help lead him to an NCAA Division I commitment to Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN.
Nelson’s career was off and running, his freshman year for the Mavericks would take place in 2013-14. From there, he would appear in 19 games for the team, tailing a goal and four assists. It may not be that much, but regardless, he would be a part of Minnesota State’s NCAA (WCHA) Championship winning team. Building a dynasty for years and years to come.
The following season in 2014-15 would show Nelson appearing in more games from the following season. For his sophomore season, the right handed shot would appear in 40 games for the Mavs. Putting up his best season numbers in college, with seven goals and 26 assists. He was a part of another championship winning team and ultimately named to the NCAA (WCHA) Second All-Star Team.
His junior season in 2015-16 would show the now 23-year-old Nelson take part in yet another 40 games for the team. This time around he would only pick up six goals and 16 assists. But that wouldn’t stop the defenseman from being named to the NCAA (WCHA) All-Academic Team, NCAA (WCHA) All-Tournament Team, and NCAA (WCHA) First All-Star Team. He was named NCAA (WCHA) Defensive Player of the Year, putting an exclamation point on his college career.
After his junior year of college, Nelson was about to receive the call of his life that I guaranteed he or no one would expect to get. Nelson was about to take part for the Buffalo Sabres, and play in the NHL. On March 22nd, 2016, Nelson would sign a one year contract for the Sabres, taking part and playing for the team for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. He would suit up in the blue and gold for seven games, only to tally four assists in his short NHL start.
Nelson was ready to go for the professional level, and on June 29th, 2016, Casey would sign a two year, $1,300,000 contract for the Buffalo Sabres. A deal that would run from the 2016-17 season to the 2017-18 season. For 2016-17, he would only take part in 11 games for the Sabres, failing to find the scoresheet in each of those games. So for the first time in his career, Nelson would be sent down to the AHL, playing for the Rochester Americans. Fifty-eight games later, he would end the season with seven goals and 14 assists, ending his first full professional season of hockey.
Nelson would be frequently called up from the NHL to the AHL all of his career. The next season in 2017-18, would see Nelson suit up for the Sabres for 37 games. From there, he would score his first set of points in the NHL; three goals and five assists. He would still take part for the Rochester Americans that season as well. Playing in 40 games and scoring two goals and nine assists. His team would make the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs but would get swept 3-0 in the first round by the Syracuse Crunch. Nelson would appear in one of those games but wouldn’t get his name on the scoresheet.
The now 26-year-old Nelson was an unrestricted free agent, looking for a contract to play somewhere in 2018. He would in the end re-sign with the Sabres for another two years. This time it would be for $1,625,000, a small increase from his previous contract. But in the end, Nelson would stay and would take part in 38 games for the Sabres, games that would be his last in the NHL. In that time, he would score a goal and five assists, ending his time in the NHL. For Rochester that same season, Nelson would play in five games, only to tally one assist. Injuries would keep him out of the lineup for most of the season.
But then, on September 30th, 2019, Nelson, in the final year of his contract, would be placed on waivers. He would ultimately be cleared a day later but would spend the entire 2019-20 season in the AHL with Rochester. He would play in 48 games that season, scoring four goals and tailing eight assists. Ending his season and soon his time in the AHL.
Nelson, now 28, was once again a UFA, but in the end, would re-sign with the Sabres. This time it would be for one year with an average of $700,000. But things would take a turn, as the start of the season would get postponed. The start of the season would take place on January 13th; players beforehand were given a deadline whether to play or opt out. On December 27th, 2020, Nelson announced that he would opt out of playing the 2020-21 season. But 19 days later on January 15th, 2021, Casey Nelson took to Instagram and officially announced his retirement from hockey.
Below is his following statement:
It's that time for that post! I have hung up the skates officially. Hockey is something I've been fully indulged in for 25 years. It is something that has surrounded me with great people and experiences I will never forget. The relationships I have built over the years will last a life time. The game has also provided me with an education, as well as the dream of a profession. I want to say thank you to my family, friends, and great teammates/coaches over the years! My parents have sacrificed tremendous amounts of time and money over the years to not only myself but also my brother. They never said NO to any opportunity that has helped my hockey career, and can't thank them enough. My brother Josh is someone who has taken me under his wing for our entire lives. He has beaten me up in every square inch of the driveway playing roller but has always taught me everything he knows. He's been someone who has helped me perfect my craft over the years even being many states away. My friends have always kept in contact, even if some have only been over social media. The support has been overwhelming from you all and it has never went unnoticed. My teammates have always been something I have never taken for granted. The amount of laughs and jokes that have went on behind the scenes or on the ice sheet will always play in my mind. You guys will always be family, and can't thank you enough for everything you have given my family and me! My wife Ashley, has been my rock since we met in college. We have been on a heck of a ride around the country for hockey, and she has been there every step of the way. I know she is excited not to pack up all of our belongings twice a year, but I also know she will miss going to the rink. Love you all!
Stay tuned for the next chapter!
Nelson would end his NHL career, taking part in 93 games with the Sabres, ending with four goals and 14 assists to his name. His AHL career ended up with 151 career games, lighting the lamp up 13 times and tailing 32 assists.
In the end, Nelson had a great career, becoming the first Tomahawk in franchise history to suit up in the NHL. It is great to see players come from the junior ranks here in Johnstown and make their way to the top level with hard work and dedication.
Congratulations on a successful career Casey! Best wishes and good luck to whatever your future may hold for you and your family.
Nelson's career stats vis eliteprospects.com