Submitted by Kait Burgan.
The Nanaimo Clippers Junior A Hockey Team is a significant part of life in Nanaimo. Since the franchise was founded in 1972, players, coaches, volunteers and fans alike have memories and never-before-told stories that contribute to the fabric of the team we cheer for today. We will share some of those stories in what we are calling “Legends & Locals.”
When people say “hockey is my life,” they’re usually referring to how much they watch, how enthusiastic a fan they are or how many games they get to attend in person but for Nanaimo’s Michael Olson, that often haphazardly ‘thrown around’ phrase is taken literally.
Olson grew up in Tisdale, Saskatchewan and came to Nanaimo to play for the Clippers in 2002. He stayed with the team until 2005 when he received a Scholarship to St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. From there, in 2009, he played for a year with Boise’s Idaho Steelheads before returning to the Clippers as Assistant Coach, alongside Head Coach Bill Bestwick. He continued as Assistant Coach until 2013, under Mike Vandekamp.
“I was able to experience wonderful things because of the game of hockey,” he says on the phone. “I’ve been overseas. I’ve traveled all over continental North America, and now I live in Nanaimo. I’m married, and I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son. Hockey was a tool for all of this.”
In addition to hockey being a vehicle to create a life he loves, Olson says hockey was an opportunity to instill a sense of pride in the community.
“When we played, we were definitely the draw in town,” he recalls. “I remember going to the grocery stores or the movies and being recognized by young fans and being asked for autographs.” Olson continues to explain that the team saw themselves as ambassadors not only for the team but the city. “We had a gigantic sense of pride in the jersey and the colours we wore. There would be 2200 people at Frank Crane Arena on a Friday night, and that was a reflection on us. It’s more than a game; it’s a responsibility.” He noted that the crowds at Frank Crane were equal to the entire population of his hometown of Tisdale. “People loved going to Frank Crane on Friday night. It was the place for the community to come and end their week.
Although the game paved the path of life for Olson, it didn’t turn into a career for him. He always played the best game he could, and once you join the elite players in the collegiate leagues, he says it’s as competitive as winning the lottery.
When I asked him if he follows hockey today, he laughs and reminds me he has a one-and-a-half year old. He does say that he finally gets to watch Hockey Night in Canada on a Saturday night and that as his son, Ellis, gets a little bit older, he’s looking forward to introducing him to the live hockey experience at Frank Crane, and instill that sense of pride in his son.
Thank you, Michael Olson, for not only playing and coaching a great game of hockey but for being an ambassador for our city.
Picture info: top/left, Michael with the Fred Page Cup; top/right, Michael hoisting the Fred Page Cup in Salmon Arm; middle/left, Craig Gaudet, Michael Olson, Blair Lefebvre and Kris Kestell with the Mowat Cup; bottom/right, the 2004 BCHL and Mowat Cup champions Nanaimo Clippers.
Photos by: Michael Rhode
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For more information on the Nanaimo Clippers, and to become a member of the Clippers Hockey Society, visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.
“Suddenly, it’s not out of reach to own a hockey team!”