Sportscaster Stephen Nelson will be the first person to tell you that there’s no such thing as a perfect broadcast.
“You’re never going to call a perfect game,” Nelson said. “I’ve yet to have a perfect broadcast. Admitting there’s no such thing as perfection does not lead to apathy. If anything, again, it fuels that desire to attempt it.”
His latest attempt at perfection came doing play-by-play for NHL Network at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, which concluded with a brilliant 2-0 win by Team USA over Canada in the gold-medal game in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Just calling the World Juniors — just a prelim game — is a great honor,” Nelson said. “Calling a USA-Canada gold-medal game, that is on another level of special. It was just the thrill of a lifetime
“Hopefully, we gave hockey fans in the States a call and a moment that they’ll remember for a long, long time.”
A well-known studio host for MLB Network and NHL Network, the 31-year-old Huntington Beach, California, native pointed out that he has only called about 20 hockey telecasts dating back to his undergraduate days at Chapman University.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” Nelson said. “I have a long, long way to go. I seek out criticism, too. I don’t run from it. You’re not going to hurt my feelings.
“I have this just desire to get better. I can’t wait for next year’s tournament. I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily done Team USA or the tournament complete justice yet, but I do feel like I’m making progress.”
For Nelson, constant improvement is tied directly to preparation.
“Even when I’m doing studio shows, I am an over-preparation fiend,” Nelson said. “I will prepare notes and I will end up using two percent of them. I’d rather be ready.”
The final seconds of @usahockey's #WorldJuniors win from our set 2,500 miles away No matter where @DStarmanHockey & I are, it's one of the coolest honors to be part of the @NHLNetwork's WJC team. This tournament is so pure & special. pic.twitter.com/o4Vy0R3WBa— Stephen Nelson (@StephenNelson) January 8, 2021
He applied that approach to the 2019 World Juniors, the first of three he has called. It compensated for his lack of experience working hockey games.
“It was a daunting task,” recalled Nelson, who credited broadcast partner Dave Starman with helping him through it. “Nobody knows this tournament from a USA Hockey standpoint better than he does. Nobody has more experience doing the tournament than he does as an analyst.”
Nelson has come to love the challenge of doing hockey telecasts.
“Every other sport, there’s a lull, there’s a break,” Nelson said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also a rush. It’s a great thrill. I love it. It’s such a unique challenge in the world of broadcasting.”
Growing up in Southern California, Nelson didn’t have much opportunity to play ice hockey, but he was active in many other sports. His father, a Chicago transplant, taught him to follow the Blackhawks.
“I got my love of hockey from him,” Nelson said. “I never lacked a love of the sport.”
Ironically, after graduating from Chapman, Nelson secured an internship with the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ American Hockey League affiliate in north central Illinois.
“That was the foot in the door that I needed,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t glamorous. It was just a classic internship.”
One night during his internship, Rockford broadcaster Mike Peck was ill and Nelson had to call an away game against the Chicago Wolves of Rosemont, Illinois.
“So now I’ve got to do an American Hockey League game on the radio? This is terrifying,” Nelson said. “But you know what? It was a great experience. The community was very kind to me despite how bad that game was to listen to. I learned a lot.
“After that experience, it was abundantly clear to me that I would never call hockey again. I just don’t have this club in my bag. It’s just not in the cards for me.”
Or so he thought. Here he is now with three years of World Juniors broadcasting experience under his belt.
“If you’re a hockey fan, you know what the World Juniors are,” Nelson said. “I think after the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the World Junior Championships is the most prestigious annual tournament there is in the sport.
“It’s just a thrill … a tremendous honor that I don’t take for granted or don’t take lightly at all. It’s special.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo from Stephen Nelson Facebook