Tristen Nielsen capped his five-year WHL career the best way possible earlier this week.
On May 11, Nielsen had four assists in the Vancouver Giant's 6-1 route of the Victoria Royals. It put an end to Nielsen's time in junior, which saw him record 175 points (82 goals, 93 assists) in 241 games with the Calgary Hitmen and Vancouver Giants.
"I look back and I'm satisfied," said Nielsen, who grew up in Fort St. John.
"My first few years, it took a while to get going and to develop. There are moments in time where I should have looked to other things to get better, but throughout my time in Vancouver I've been extremely happy with my development and how I played in the world of hockey."
Nielsen played two seasons with Calgary before being traded to Vancouver at the start of the 2018-19 season. Last year was his best season in the WHL, with 65 points in 61 games, including goals. This year, he actually had a better points per game pace finishing with 32 points in 22 games in a shortened bubble season.
"After I went to Vancouver, my game overall went up," Nielsen said. "My drive for hockey went back up, just getting away and living the junior hockey experience, learning how to grow up on my own, and the lone playoff push we had, were unbelievable experiences."
Nielsen does regret he wasn't able to leave junior hockey earlier, but is grateful for the experience overall.
"Everyone wants to be done at 19, and start playing pro at 20, but for some late-blooming guys, we need that extra year. I took advantage of the 22 games we played this season," he said.
On May 12, Nielsen left the WHL bubble in Kamloops for the first time in 64 days. The team had been unable to leave the bubble facilities before that, and had to quarantine for another period of time prior to entering the bubble.
Before boarding the plane to Calgary on Wednesday (Nielsen is currently resides in Airdrie), he and some teammates went to the mall to get some food, and were unexpectedly taken aback by the experience.
"It was surprisingly weird, just to be able to do whatever you want," said Nielsen.
Still, he was glad there was a season at all in 2021.
"It was a huge relief, in the sense that there would be a season, and I didn't have to worry as much about what I would do this year if I didn't play," Nielsen said.
"It was good to get the final season in even if it was just 22 games. I think our team would have done better and improved if we could have played longer, we kept getting better and better."
The Giants finished with a 12-10 record, second in the B.C. Division.
Nielsen is focused on playing pro hockey next year, though he doesn't yet know where he'll end up. He's excited about the next chapter in his hockey career, but looks back on the past five years fondly.
"Unbelievable experience to play five years. I wish everyone could experience what I did, the relationships, the brotherhood, all of it is something I will never forget," Nielsen said.
"These will probably be the best five years of my life."
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org