From the South, in Tampa, Fla., to Northland, that’s the journey for Tampa Bay Juniors All-Star Forward Connor Nelson coming up.
Of course, the ‘02-born Nelson is no stranger to the north-south game, coming to Tampa two years ago as he did from Woodbury, Minn., and Minnehaha Academy. So, this is just like skating from goal line to goal line and skating back another 200 feet.
“I started talking to Northland at the end of March and waited until after Nationals to talk a little more in depth about visiting and committing,” said Nelson. “The coaches said they liked the offensive side of my game, my scoring ability and my work ethic.”
Nelson put up 30 goals as a 2021-22 rookie junior player and then followed that up with 26 more this year, in addition to compiling 103 points in 87 regular season games for the team out of AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla. He also posted 11 points in eight postseason games. This included nine points in five games during the Juniors’ aforementioned run to the 2023 USPHL Nationals. He’ll bring this all-around offensive attack to bear for the Northland Lumberjacks, located in Ashland, Wis., and competing in the prestigious Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAC) since 2019-20. The program was originally founded in 1997-98.
“Academically, Northland was a smaller school with good connections between professors and students. I plan to study a Business Management major with a sports management minor,” said Nelson. “I did get the opportunity to visit the Northland campus, and it was amazing. The very small campus right on Lake Superior interested me right away by how scenic and tightly knit it was.”
He’ll have to haul the winter parkas and snow boots out of storage, but that’s fine. He has experienced the best of all worlds, hockey-wise, the last few years – from the high level of Minnesota high school hockey to the intense USPHL Premier Florida Division battles with the Juniors. With TBJ, he worked under longtime head coach Garrett Strot, a Minnesota native himself who played for Bethel University and was an Osseo (Minn.) High School coach for nearly 20 years, 14 of those as Head Coach and all part of more than 30 years of coaching for Strot.
“The Tampa Bay Juniors are an amazing organization that takes great care of their players and has a development program that prepares those players for after junior hockey,” Nelson said. “Their program helps their players to visualize the game better and allows them to make faster and smarter plays. I know my decision-making and timings on the ice have greatly improved because of the Juniors. I cant imagine a better spot to have played my Junior Hockey years!”
”Connor came in and right away bought into the training and mental side of the game,” remarked coach Garrett Strot. ”Connor put the time in and has a tremendous work ethic. It is no fluke that he put up almost 60 goals the past 2 years, he is very smart away from the puck. He knows where to position himself He will be an impact for Northland right away!”
All of this preparation for Nelson will work towards helping Northland move up the WIAC standings as they continue to build up the program. There’s also more to come.
“In order to have an impact right away in college hockey, I need to be strong on my stick and fast enough to keep up with the new level of hockey,” said Nelson. “Therefore, I’ll be working on my speed on ice and my strength off ice.”
The Tampa Bay Juniors and USPHL congratulates Connor Nelson, his family, the Northland College commitment and want to wish him the best of luck in his college career!!
(D Dunn contributed to article)