Linesman Thor Nelson hasn’t seen NHL ice in nearly two years. He’s hoping to bring that streak to an end this fall.
The veteran linesman has been sidelined with concussion-related symptoms since December of 2013. Nelson’s injury happened while trying to break up a fight in Winnipeg early in the 2013-14 season.
“I remember leading up to the incident,” Nelson told KX News. “I stepped in between two guys who were fighting and I don’t remember the rest which happened to be a right cross that caught me instead of one of the players.”
Nelson remained in the game, but later began to feel the effects of his head injury. He reportedly had no recollection of finishing the game, nor of his five-hour drive home from Winnipeg to his home in Minot, North Dakota.
The veteran linesman’s symptoms worsened to the point where he knew his health had to be addressed. That final outing came in Vancouver, with the Canucks taking on the Philadelphia Flyers on December 30, 2013. Nelson hit the ice alongside lineman Don Henderson and referees Eric Furlatt and Steve Kozari.
“I couldn’t see my partner [Don Henderson] across the ice. [My vision] was all blurry. I went to a team doctor and said ‘We’ve got to talk.'”
Nelson didn’t work another game that season.
Or the next.
Nelson’s head injury came just 11 months after Nelson was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms after being hit by a puck. According to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, the linesman had also battled concussion-related symptoms the year before.
Though he tried to remain in shape, the after-effects of Nelson’s concussion were far too severe. The linesman had to limit his physical activity. He couldn’t break a sweat without suffering dizziness and headaches. Nelson also said that, for the longest time, he didn’t want to go anywhere near a rink.
Nelson was facing a possible end to his professional career – one that spanned nearly 20 years and over 1,000 games. Those games included the 2004 All-Star Game in Minnesota and both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. In Torino, Nelson worked the lines for the Gold Medal Game between Finland and Sweden, alongside referee Paul Devorski and Slovakian linesman Milan Masik.
Thankfully, Nelson has recovered to the point where he can work towards resuming his NHL career. With his deibilating symptoms behind him, Nelson is once again working out and training for his eventual return.
“I finally got to get back on the ice after a long time where I didn’t even want to go to the rink,” said Nelson. “So now we’ve gotten to the point where I can run again, I can ride bike again, I can skate again, and I need to do all those things to get ready for the season.”
He’s already back on his skates. This fall, he hopes to also be donning the striped jersey and returning to his spot along the blueline.
“I just need to get back on the ice.”