Clipper’s hockey career comes full circle

Five years ago, Michael Olson gave his graduating-player speech at the Nanaimo Clippers’ year-end banquet at the Bowen Park Activity Centre.

“This isn’t goodbye,” he said. “It’s see you later.”

Olson, the team’s former captain, all-star and champion, is a man of his word.

As reported in Saturday’s News Bulletin, Olson will return to Frank Crane Arena next season as assistant coach and assistant general manager of the Clippers.

The 25-year-old retired from professional hockey two months ago.

“It wasn’t injury, it wasn’t because I was cut, it wasn’t because I was released. It was on my own terms,” he said.

Olson, from Tisdale, Sask., played three seasons in Nanaimo, captaining the Clips to the 2003-04 B.C. Hockey League championship. He went on to play four full seasons at the NCAA’s St. Cloud State University, graduating in 2009 with a communications degree.

At his first pro camp in Boise, Idaho last fall, Olson broke his leg on the first day. He played through it for four days, not knowing it was broken, and made the 2009-10 Idaho Steelheads. The injury set him back until the East Coast Hockey League’s mid-season, but he came back, scored a couple of pro goals, and decided he’d had enough.

“It was just time for me to move on and pursue something else,” Olson said. “To be honest with you, I was really tired. I was going hard there for quite a few years. There were seven or eight summers there where I was taking maybe a week and a half to two weeks off.”

Now back home in Tisdale, Olson finally has some down time and he’s loving it.

“I can have a bag of chips every once in awhile,” he said.

Olson’s retirement wasn’t so much about resting as thinking about his future. All his coaches along the way thought he had a knack for the coaching side of things.

“Nanaimo was my in,” Olson said. “I have a history there and a good relationship with [Clippers GM Bill Bestwick] and with the community. It was the right place for me to get the opportunity on the other side of the bench.”

Already, Olson has done some scouting for the Clippers in Saskatchewan. He and Bestwick will begin working together in June, around the time of the B.C. Hockey League’s annual general meeting.

“The thing that I really want to learn and understand is the business side of things,” Olson said. “It’s going to be fun to learn that side.”

Bestwick has never worked with an associate GM except for Mike Vandekamp’s strange two-month stint in the summer of 2005, but the position has now been created specially for Olson.

“The motivating factor is to make sure Michael gets the chance to learn all sides of the business, not just at game time,” Bestwick said. “There’s a lot more that happens behind the scenes than the majority of the public realize.”

Olson has a little bit of experience in his new roles. While injured with the Steelheads this winter, he helped out behind the bench. He’s also participated in some Clippers training camps and said he’s patient with young players, even if they take a shift off.

“You take them under your wing,” he said. “You don’t yell and scream, you don’t get frustrated with them. You just give them constructive criticism and hopefully ease them into systems.”

Bestwick said Olson’s willingness to learn and work hard as a player will translate off the ice.

“He’s truly a champion at heart,” Bestwick said. “He comes with incredible character.”

Those attributes remain, even once the skates come off.

“Sure there’s still that fire that burns within you…” Olson said. “My passion now is helping kids out, and hopefully they can accomplish some great things.”

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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