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Nelson makes return trip to Olympics Print E-mail

Participating in the Olympic Games would be a thrill for anyone.

It's a thrill that Minot's Thor Nelson has already experienced, but one he is eager to resume.

Nelson, an NHL linesman, will be working his second consecutive Olympic Men's Hockey Tournament in Vancouver, Canada.

The Olympic Men's Hockey Tournament got started Tuesday and Nelson will see his first action of the Olympics today when Sweden and Germany face off in a preliminary game. The puck is scheduled to drop at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

A 15-year NHL veteran, Nelson worked the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. He expects this time to be a different experience, but equally as exciting. From working NHL games, Nelson is familiar with the city of Vancouver and Canada Hockey Place, the arena where the games will be played.

"There's not the nervous energy of going to a city I don't know anything about to a tournament I've never experienced," Nelson said. "Having been through it, there's not that (same) nervous energy. (Having it) in a familiar city and knowing how the whole thing works, (will be nice). I think having my family there will be more fun this time. Last time it was go over, try to adjust to everything and it was work, work, work and this time my family is coming, so it will be fun."

In 2006, Nelson was fortunate enough to be chosen to work the gold medal game between Sweden and Finland. Officials aren't eligible to work their home country's games and the process to determine the officials can be very political.

"The assignments come out very late at night because they have to go through this political process because every country votes to see who's going to work," Nelson said. "I got my assignment at 1 o'clock (a.m.) on Friday night and the game was Sunday at noon, so I didn't sleep for two days. There are nerves before the game, but once the game starts, it's a hockey game and that's what we do."

While he was proud to be able to work the gold medal game, he knew it there are a number of factors that go into the decision.

"You always want to work the last game," Nelson said. "You want to work the last game of the Stanley Cup finals. I'm going to go in and enjoy it, do the best job I can and just realize you don't control the process of who picks."

Just being asked to return to the Olympics showed that Nelson has done a quality job, both in Torino and in the NHL.

"We work in a profession where you're expected to be perfect tonight and better tomorrow," Nelson said. "We hear the negative a lot, generally from a team or the media if something goes wrong. To be selected to go back again, it makes you think you're doing things right. It feels good to be asked back."

One of the most interesting parts of the Olympics for Nelson is working with other officials from other countries. Sometimes the communication barrier is a little tough, although everyone on the ice is fluent in the language of hockey.

"Most of the guys speak a little bit of English, thank goodness because I don't speak anything else," Nelson said. "I did work with a Russian (in Torino) who didn't speak any English. That was really something. Positioning-wise we're pretty close, but there are times when we have to conference and you hope we are all speaking the same language."

One potential pitfall for international officials is working in on a smaller ice surface. The Olympic-size rink will not be used for the first time. The Olympic-size rink is more than 13 feet wider than the standard Olympic rink.

"The European guys work on International surface which is substantially bigger than an NHL-size rink," Nelson said. "In a three-man (officiating system), the referee always follows the play up, but in four-man, the referee is actually in front of the play. It ends up changing how they position themselves. Hopefully, that never has an affect on the game."

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