Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward is fond of referring to the AHL as the land of opportunity, and Brett Olson made the most of his over the past two weeks.
The 25-year-old centre came into Heat training camp on a tryout basis, and turned in an eye-opening performance that landed him an AHL contract on Tuesday.
It’s a particularly impressive achievement in a depressed hockey economy, with jobs hard to come by due to the NHL lockout’s trick-down effect.
“It was a long summer for me, and for a lot of guys,” said Olson, who wrapped up his fourth and final season with the NCAA’s Michigan Tech Huskies in the spring. “Coming out (of school), especially in this situation, it was tough.
“But that’s something you can’t control. The NHL was going to lock (the players) out, and nobody could do anything about that. You just have to take it with a grain of salt and come out and just do your job. You’ve got to keep plugging away and do what got you here in the first place.”
John Weisbrod, currently the Calgary Flames’ assistant general manager, had been following Olson’s career since his freshman year at Michigan Tech, back when Weisbrod was employed by the Boston Bruins.
“I was really tracking him hard with Boston in relation to an NHL contract, and I think a number of teams were,” Weisbrod said.
“But he had a major knee injury (as a junior) and missed a lot of time, and it set him back. People didn’t know how his skating would recover.”
Olson came back strong for his senior season, though, captaining the Huskies and leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 20 assists in 39 games. Weisbrod said it was “a no-brainer” to bring him in for training camp.
“He came in in shape and showed really well in camp, did a lot of the things I thought in the back of my mind he was capable of doing,” Weisbrod said. “He’s earned the right to stick around and have a chance.”
Olson, a native of Superior, Wis., doesn’t consider himself strictly an offensive-minded player. He’s a two-way centre who prides himself on excelling in all facets of the game.
“Coming in, you’re kind of wide-eyed at first, not sure what to expect,” he said, reflecting on his first pro training camp with the Heat. “But the guys here were exceptional, in the fact that they were accepting of any guy, whether they were on contract or not. It was a good atmosphere for me to come into, and fortunately I was able to stick around.”
Heat head coach Troy Ward lauded Olson’s day-to-day consistency, and said he’s earned a spot in the Heat’s lineup for opening night (Friday vs. Peoria Rivermen, 7 p.m., Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre).
“He’s got good hockey sense, and he’s a good team guy,” Ward said. “He plays with good enthusiasm and a feel for the game.”