Eleven seasons with the same team. This might not seem that significant until you consider that this is the ECHL and players come and go faster than the latest fashion trend. Former Colorado Eagles Captain Riley Nelson decided to hang up the skates at the beginning of this season after making a career with the team. The thirty-six year old Nelson finished his career as the team’s all-time leader in goals (303), assists (489) and points (792)
In addition, Nelson also ranks first in Eagles history in all-time plus-minus rating (+244), power-play goals (94), short-handed goals (29), game-winning goals (40), games played (657) and shots on goal (2,082). He also exited as the team’s all-time playoff leader in points (128) and assists (80) and is tied for first with 48 playoff goals. He served as the Eagles captain from 2009 to 2014.
The Colorado Eagles, proud affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Adirondack Flames of the AHL, are excited to announce the festivities surrounding Eagles legend Riley Nelson’s number retirement ceremony on December 12, 2014 (12/12) before the game against the Stockton Thunder.
The Eagles will honor Nelson along with his family for their long-time support of the team and community. All of the current Eagles players will sport #12 Nelson jerseys during pre-game warm-ups. The 18 jerseys the current Eagles players will wear will be sold at the merchandise stand for $250, on a first-come-first-served basis, while a 19th jersey will be auctioned off during the charity cowbell auction in the Water Valley Tap. The night will be complete with special videos to compliment the ceremony taking place in Nelson’s honor.
Time to Retire
At the end of the 2013-14 season, in an interview with The Pink Puck, Nelson said that he was determined to retire on his own terms, that he didn’t want an injury to stop his play. After dealing with a shoulder injury that sidelined his 2012-13 season, he went through rehab and came back to play another season.
“I came back because I wanted to play and I wanted to win another championship. I didn’t want to end my year and my career in Colorado that way.”
The Eagles made another run at the playoffs and Nelson finished the season. His decision to retire was a natural progression and he realized that he couldn’t play at the level that he needed to to be successful every night. From the press release announcing his retirement on September 16, 2014, the Eagles Captain stated:
“The injury I suffered two years ago set me back and I think every athlete gets to that point. I was lucky to play for as long as I did and Chris Stewart gave me every opportunity since I first arrived in Colorado. I will always hold him in the highest regard as both a coach and as a friend,” said Nelson. “I want to sincerely thank my family and most importantly, my wife Colleen. Without their love and support, my playing career would not be possible. I would also like to thank the fans for everything that they have done over the last 12 years. They have been incredible to me and to my family. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have continued playing as long as I did if I were playing anywhere else.”
The relationship between Nelson and Eagles Coach Chris Stewart runs deep. The two have known one another since Nelson’s hockey youth. Coach Stewart had nothing but praise for the his team’s Captain and friend.
“Riley truly symbolizes what the Colorado Eagles stand for as an organization; dedication, integrity, hard work and the drive to settle for nothing less than excellence,” said Eagles president and general manager Chris Stewart. “I want to thank Riley for not only his tremendous accomplishments on the ice, but for being a true leader and an asset to this community. We will miss seeing him in an Eagles sweater, but we are happy that he will continue to call Northern Colorado home and he will be forever honored with the legends who grace the rafters of the Budweiser Events Center.”
Nelson retires with quite a list of accomplishments and accolades. He is the only player that has worn the Eagles sweater in each of the team’s first 12 seasons. He scored the team’s first goal in history on October 17, 2003. While with the team, he captured two CHL Championships, was named the CHL’s MVP in 2011, was a member of the All-CHL team in three consecutive seasons (2009, 2010, 2011) and voted the CHL’s “Best Overall Player” in those same years. In addition, Nelson was named the CHL’s Man of the Year in 2007.
“Winning two championships certainly stands out when you look back at the last 12 years, but being able to compete for a championship every season and being part of an organization that doesn’t accept anything less was really amazing,” said Nelson. “Nobody is going to have success on their own and I’ve played with so many great players from the start. It was such an honor to play with guys like Ryan Tobler, Aaron Schneekloth, Brad Williamson, Greg Pankewicz, and the list goes on and on. I’ll never forget that. It’s been a great ride. My family and I have made our home here in Northern Colorado and this is where we are staying.”
Moving Forward Behind the Scenes with the Eagles
At the beginning of October, Nelson took on a new role with the team off the ice, as part of the coaching staff, serving as the team’s Video Coach and Special Consultant. His longevity with the team gave him tremendous insight to provide feedback on player development and advanced scouting. Coach Stewart said that even though Nelson would only be available on a part-time basis, it made him very happy that he would continue to play a major role in the Eagles Organization.
“I’m excited to learn the other side of things,” said Nelson. “I’ve been a player for a long time, so this is a good opportunity for me to get behind the scenes and learn a little more about the game.”
In the days leading up to his number retirement, Nelson spoke with Loveland Herald reporter Cris Tiller about his journey beyond retirement. The part time coaching gig gives him the opportunity to test the waters of coaching without all the headaches and stress which is just perfect for him right now. On his number being raised to the rafters, Nelson told Tiller that he was a little nervous about it because he would have to speak and he wanted people to have a good time.
“I haven’t really thought about the moment when I’m out there and they’re raising the banner. It’s probably going to be pretty emotional, so I don’t want to overthink it. Not a lot of people get to do it, so I’m very blessed that I’m in a position where the team would do that for me.”
The honor is well deserved, an honor the fans will truly appreciate and find emotional for themselves as Nelson moves beyond the ice and up into the rafters of Eagles history. #ThankYouNelly