Grand Forks Central goalie Aaron Nielsen helps Knights become a complete team
Scoring for the back-to-back Grand Forks Central state champion boys hockey team was never in doubt.
The Knights returned plenty of proven forwards and were adding a group of touted rookies.
The question mark was in net, where the Knights lost senior Kaleb Johnson, a UND commitment who opted to play with the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL.
Through five games, Aaron Nielsen has answered the doubters.
Nielsen let in his first goal of the season after four straight shutouts on Tuesday night in a 7-1 win over Fargo South/Shanley at Purpur Arena.
The fluky goal came on a deflection and triggered a sort of Bronx Cheer from the Bruins -- a reflection of Central’s dominant season and the difficulties every team will have scoring on the Knights this year.
“He’s been sitting behind a Division I goalie for two or three years,” Central senior forward Cole Hanson said. “Obviously, we knew what he was capable of from practice. He showed it to us every day.
“This year, everyone was kind of doubting that position because they haven’t really seen him and don’t know what he’s about. We knew he’d be a pretty good, lockdown goalie this season and he’s proven it already.”
Nielsen found out this summer after a night skate from a teammate that Johnson wasn’t returning for his senior season.
“It was life-changing news,” Nielsen said. “I went home and took a night to soak it in and went to work the next day. I decided to take it as inspiration. I knew the team needed me and I needed them and I would give it the best I possibly could.”
Nielsen doesn’t typically see much action for a team outscoring opponents 46-1 through five games this season.
But Tuesday against South/Shanley, Nielsen showcased his talent in an even first period in which he had to make a difficult kick save from a shot in close to keep the game scoreless.
“Aaron has done tremendous,” Central coach Grant Paranica said. “He hasn’t had a lot of shots and when he has -- and those are tough games to play in -- he’s been tremendous.”
The most saves Nielsen has had to make this season was 23 in a 10-0 win over defending Minnesota state Class A champion Orono to start the year.
Last year, Nielsen saw limited ice time -- playing in a reserve role in just two games -- the first two of the year for the 24-1-2 Knights.
Before tryouts this year, Paranica had a sit-down session with Nielsen.
“He brought me in the room and said the team needed you and we expect big things from you and we know what you’re capable of so just keep working hard,” Nielsen said. “It felt good to finally have some responsibility on the team and feel like I was important and a huge asset.”