Cracking a Memorial Cup-bound team’s lineup as a 16-year-old isn’t easy.
Host teams tend to load up on older players, knowing they have a chance to compete for the title. Defenceman Nelson Nogier knew this heading into training camp ahead of the 2012-13 Saskatoon Blades season. The Blades hosted the Memorial Cup in 2013 and Nogier knew he had a challenge ahead of him to made the roster.
Now a Red Deer Rebel, Nogier was taken in the fourth round, 71st overall in the 2011 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. He played a four games with them a year later and had a chance to crack the Blades’ roster in 2012 as a 16-year-old rookie.
The Winnipeg Jets fourth round draft pick in 2014 has a chance to bookend his WHL career with Memorial Cup appearances. Both times with the host team.
“It was a matter of making sure I worked hard and stayed focused and mentally strong to make the most of that opportunity,” said Nogier of the effort he put in to make the Blade’s roster.
He managed to stay with the Blades to start the season He played 10 games before the Blades trade for another, older and more experienced, defenceman. With his roster spot supplanted by Graeme Craig (a Red Deer born player), Nogier was sent down to the Saskatoon Contacts, the Midget AAA team he played with a season before.
But the injury bug struck the Blades and within three weeks, Nogier found himself back in the WHL team’s lineup.
“It was tough, obviously you don’t expect to make those teams being that young of a guy and it’s a huge opportunity when you get there,” said Nogier.
“I can’t thank the staff in Saskatoon at the time with Lorne Molleken enough, giving me the opportunity as a 16-year-old and getting that exposure and experience. It’s helped my game come a long, long way.”
He played 55 games in his rookie year with the Blades, scoring four points on four assists. A big, shutdown defenceman he also had a +7 plus/minus rating as a rookie.
Come playoffs that year, Nogier dressed for three games and had one assist. The Blades were eliminated in the first round by the Medicine Hat Tigers in four straight games. The Blades had to wait from March 27 to May 17 that year for the Memorial Cup to start.
Nogier also played in all four of the Blades’ games in the Memorial Cup, but he was held scoreless. The Blades lost the tie-breaker 6-1 to the London Knights, eliminating them from Memorial Cup contention. The Blades and Knights, coached by Dale Hunter, faced each other twice with the Knights winning both 3-2 and 6-1. Nogier said even though the coach is the same, he expects the 2016 OHL Champion Knights to play different with a new set of players from 2013.
“It’s a big stage,” said Nogier, remembering back to the emotions and nerves involved. “Playing in the playoffs here is one thing, but once you get to that tournament it’s a whole other level. The energy is amped up and you have to treat every game like it’s a Game 7. It’s pretty much a do-or-die situation.
“It’s a matter of managing your emotions and putting everything out there, because there’s nothing to save it for.”
He credits his experience playing in the Memorial Cup as a great benefit to his own hockey abilities.
“It has helped my game come so far, so fast,” said Nogier. “Being in a tournament of that pace against the champions of other leagues, it’s great for your development.”
As the only Rebel with Memorial Cup experience, Nogier tries to bring energy to the room. In the three weeks between the Rebels elimination from the WHL playoffs and the start of the Memorial Cup, he tried to support his teammates and help get them ready for the tournament.