OLDS — Olds Grizzlys forward August Olson has been nominated as the team’s greatest teammate.
Each of the 16 clubs in the Alberta Junior Hockey league nominated one player from their squad for the award.
The league announced the nominations in a news release issued Jan. 23. The award is sponsored by Dr. Oetker Giuseppe Pizzaria.
“The selected players will submit a short video on what it means to be a teammate with one player from both the Viterra AJHL North & South Division receiving a $500 scholarship as the Giuseppe AJHL greatest teammate,” the release said.
Olson chose to play for the Grizzlys for one main reason: it was close to home for the 19-year-old native of Trochu.
“I chose Olds because it’s nice and closer to home," he said during an interview with the Albertan.
"I got to know the coaching staff and sort of what they’re all about in the summer before I came here and I really liked where they were trying to take things.”
Olson, now in his second year on the team, is not the most prolific goal scorer on the roster.
As of two weeks ago, he had scored two goals and picked up three assists for five points in 23 games. He had been assessed 47 penalty minutes.
Last season, Olson scored six goals and got one assist for seven points and racked up 101 penalty minutes in 42 games.
But he brings another very valuable asset to the team.
Standing six-feet, one-inch tall and weighing about 192 pounds, Olson can be an imposing presence on the ice and he’s not afraid to go into the corners to fight for the puck.
Assistant coach and assistant general manager Pete deGraaf says Olson basically impressed the coaching staff so much they had to keep him.
“He's a kid who basically made our team as a walk-on last year through sheer effort and will,” deGraaf said during an interview.
“He worked really hard during the summer and came to some of our camps and development ice times that we run and just impressed us with his work ethic and his compete level.
“He made our team over some players that we had recruited and had a pretty good first season last year.
“This year, he just continued that. He’s consistently one of our hardest workers, most physical players.
“(He’s) a very good teammate. The players really like him and he was awarded our top teammate at the end of last season in a vote of the players. We just think really highly of him as a person and a player."
Olson said the first season was an adjustment for him, after having played U18 (formerly known as midget AAA) hockey with the Airdrie CFR Bisons.
“Coming out of midget, I was a pretty physical player and at the start of this year I wasn’t being as physical and I wasn’t as confident,” he said.
“But I think, just learning some more stuff about the league and sort of certain things that you can do and can’t do, going from midget to junior A.
Olson has learned he can contribute to the team in other ways besides scoring, simply by using his physicality.
“I think I’ve learned a lot about that and using my body way more, just in puck battles and one-on-one, instead of trying to stickhandle too much – just getting my body between the puck and the other guy. I think that’s a major thing.
“Like if one of their players passes the puck up and I just take him out of the play, then it’s easier on the guys going back, because there’s not as many of their guys," he said.
Olson believes that tough, gritty style of play can rub off on other teammates.
“If the whole team’s thinking that way, it will make you a really hard team to play against,” he said.
DeGraaf said he’s seen Olson’s play improve since he joined the Grizzlys.
"He’s always working on his skill level and he’s taken on a bigger role this year than he had last year,” deGraaf said.
“Last year I’d say he brought a lot of energy, but he’s picking up the junior hockey game and contributing more than a second-year player normally would.”
DeGraaf is also impressed with Olson’s work ethic.
“His strengths would be his physical strength. He’s a very hard worker off the ice in the gym and he’s very strong, so when he battles in the corners he very rarely loses a battle,” he said.
“He’s a very fast and powerful skater and he’s a good energy-line player.”
However, deGraaf would also like to see Olson work on finishing his scoring chances.
“That’s something that I think every player at every level deals with,” he said.
“But we think with his opportunities, once he starts to find the back of the net on a more regular basis, he’ll be a guy who can maybe play at a higher level.”
And Olson does indeed hope to play at a higher level when he ages out of Junior A hockey.
He said his ultimate goal is to play Division 1 NCAA hockey in the U.S. or U Sports hockey at the university level in Canada.
When interviewed, Olson hadn’t settled on exactly what he wants to do once his hockey career is over.
“Environmental sciences has always kind of been an interest of mine, so I don’t know, something like that, maybe,” he said.