Jesse Liebman is the director of communications and broadcasting for the Orlando Solar Bears and enters his fifth season behind the microphone as the team’s play-by-play voice for the 2019-20 season. Shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments or blog ideas.
It took a bit for Trevor Olson to find his offensive groove with the Solar Bears at the start of the 2018-19 season. Prior to December 16, the rookie forward from the University of North Dakota only had three points (2g-1a) through his first 14 games with Orlando. But from that date onwards, Olson became one of Orlando’s more reliable offensive weapons, racking up 29 points (14g-15a) over his final 37 games before sustaining a lower-body injury in the team’s March 17 match vs. Idaho.
The summer came early for Olson, who was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team battled in the postseason while also making every effort to allow his body to recover, and then resume training for the following campaign once he was fully healed.
As Olson prepares for his second full season of professional hockey back in his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, we had a chance to catch up with the sophomore Solar Bears forward. The following is an over-the-phone interview with Olson, edited for brevity and clarity.
Jesse Liebman: First off, how’s the offseason been treating you?
Trevor Olson: It’s been good, but it’s been long. That injury added a little extra time to the offseason, but I’m good and back to full health, and now it’s just a matter of getting ready for next season.
JL: Home for you is in Duluth, so what are the summers like at the Olson compound?
TO: To be honest, a lot of golf. I didn’t really get to do it a whole lot while I was down in Orlando, and since it was my rookie season I was worrying about making the team and making an impact, but once I got back here and once my knee was all healed up, I got my golf game back and dialed in. Still living in the basement of my parent’s house, so might as well take advantage of the free rent while I can but other than that it’s just working out and skating.
JL: So what’s the offseason routine for you like?
TO: I’ll usually wake up at 7:45, so I’ll get in a quick meal, either eggs or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just something to get in the stomach. Then I’ll work out at 8:30 and that usually lasts around an hour and a half, and after that, I’m either helping my dad down at the sign shop – my dad runs a sign shop in Duluth, so it’s usually me and my brother helping with the shop – or hitting the golf course.
JL: Minnesota’s known for its strong hockey roots, so what other pro players from the area do you train with during the summer months?
TO: It’s been different in Duluth. Last summer I was working out with Dom Toninato, who was with the Colorado Avalanche organization but now he’s with Florida, but a lot of guys are making it down to Minneapolis to train there during the summer, so it gets pretty lonely up here. There’s a few guys at the local gym but as far as ice goes, it’s usually five or six guys out there. It’s pretty quiet, which is surprising being from Minnesota, but maybe next year I’ll find my way down to Minneapolis like everyone else.
JL: Any chance to get in a little vacation time?
TO: No vacation spots, but I actually went up to Brainard, they have a hockey camp up there, and I stayed in a little cabin with two teammates from my time at North Dakota, Tucker Poolman and Austin Poganski. Tucker’s with the Winnipeg Jets and Austin’s with the St. Louis Blues. We just trained, and that was the mid-summer push, training and skating every day for two weeks, and it was just us three. But other than that I’ve been based out of Duluth the whole summer.
JL: Let’s jump to the hockey. Last year was your first full season of pro hockey with the Solar Bears. Things started a little slowly for you with only three points through your first 14 games, but gradually things picked up for you, so what was the learning curve like for you adjusting to the pro game?
TO: It’s a different game for sure. Looking back on my whole hockey career, my first 30-40 games in each league I’ve played in has been me doing the things I need to do to understand the way the game is played at that level. The more I play, the more my point production went up, and that’s exactly what happened last year. Obviously there were a lot of guys coming in and out of the lineup last year, so I was just trying to gain the confidence of the coaches for them to play me every game, and once I got that confidence from the coaches, I started getting the confidence in my own game, and that’s when things started picking up for me. It was a lot of fun, it reminded me of my time in the USHL, and it just seemed everything was going my way at that time.
JL: What sort of advice were you able to get from head coach Drake Berehowsky as you navigated that first full season?
TO: Yeah, he was very confident in me, I thought I had a good try-out to start, and he said he liked the way I played but it’s going to be a tough road ahead, but he stressed to keep doing what I was doing. It comes down to getting oriented with the speed of the game, and playing three games in three nights – I never did that in my college career – so that was tough to get acquainted to in this league, but the more I talked to Drake it became easier and routine. Drake was always good – if we ever needed to talk to him about anything his door was always open, and that was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come back, because he’s on the players’ side.
JL: The team’s season was kind of up-and-down on home ice for the first half of the season, but once the calendar switched over to 2019, that’s when things changed as Orlando became one of the better teams in the league at home and overall. What finally clicked for the team at that point?
TO: I think the biggest thing was consistency in our lineup. The first few months, we had guys coming in and out, up and down, just trying to find guys who fit the way Drake wants to play. I think once everyone bought in and got acquainted to the guys in the lineup who had worked their way in and solidified their spots, it was easy because we knew what everybody was thinking. Once you get that roster and those guys confident in each other, it comes pretty easy.
JL: You mentioned earlier the lower-body injury that ended your season in mid-March – as you went through the rehabilitation process, how were you able to stay positive as you tried to get back to feeling 100%?
TO: Yeah, it was pretty devastating. Originally it was about a 12-week recovery that the doctors had me at. It took 12 weeks exactly before I skated for the first time. After that, it was still pretty sore, not a setback, but a bump in the road, so I continued my rehab with strengthening the area. Now when I hop on the ice it’s back to normal. To be honest, it was tough staying positive in the locker room because I wanted to help my team win, and it was tough seeing the season end in the second round the way it did. The only thing I could do to be a good teammate was to show up and be a part of the whole thing even though I wasn’t on the ice. I still wanted to be that same presence in the locker room. They even had me read some of the starting lineups during the playoffs, and I thought that was cool of them to keep me involved. My teammates and coaches made it pretty easy for me.
JL: When your rehab schedule would permit, we were fortunate to have you put on the headset and provide some color commentary during the playoffs. I’m throwing you under the bus here, but other than me having to cut you off in Game 3 of the first round to relay Hunter Fejes’ double-overtime goal, I thought you provided a pretty strong presence on-air. When your playing days are over and you go back to Minnesota, is there a future for you in broadcasting?
TO: (Laughs) I’m not sure yet, I don’t know what my plan is once my playing career is done, but I’ve actually thought about coaching a bit. I’ve learned a few things in my 25 years of hockey, so it’s something I wouldn’t mind passing that on to youth players or even at the junior level, but you never know. I just might be in the press box one day.
JL: What was it overall that appealed to you about coming back for another season in Orlando?
TO: It’s just the whole organization, how we’re treated, obviously playing in the Amway Center in front of the fans, being in the city. Coming from Minnesota, where it’s cold . Obviously Drake was a huge part of that as my first pro coach, and how strong our relationship is was a big part as well.
JL: Unlike previous offseasons, there’s been significant carryover from last year’s roster – about a dozen players from 2018-19 have been announced as coming back. What are your feelings on the team heading into training camp?
JL: You talked about not being able to get out much last season as you tried to acclimate to the pro game, so what are going to be some of your hobbies outside of the rink in Year Two?
TO: One thing I’m definitely going to be sure to do is play some more golf. The season is very long, so being able to let my mind go and doing some exploring around Orlando is definitely in my plans. But other than that, I’m going to enjoy where I’m at – I know I have to continue to work on the hockey stuff, but it will make things easier to enjoy.
JL: Have to imagine there’s a golf embargo once the playoffs roll around – you weren’t able to enjoy the on-ice component of that last year with your injury, so how much does a chance to play in your first pro postseason also help motivate you?
TO: I can’t wait. I’ve always been a huge believer that everybody’s best comes out in the playoffs, and I’m a huge believer that my game takes a step up as well. It’s a totally different game, it’s a grind, and I actually cannot wait. I wish it was March right now, and we’re in a spot to make the Kelly Cup Playoffs. That’s all I’ve been thinking about, that’s all I wanted to do last year, and I was unable to do that, so I can’t wait and I’m so excited to get started.
Solar Bears at Prospect Tournament
As announced last week, the Solar Bears will have a presence on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s roster for the 2019 NHL Prospect Showcase, with defenseman Cody Donaghey and goaltender Clint Windsor receiving invites. During last season’s rookie tournament, the Lightning roster also had six prospects who were ultimately assigned to Orlando for part of the 2018-19 season – it stands to reason that some future Solar Bears may be in the mix as well this weekend. All of the games will be streamed live on www.TampaBayLightning.com.
In case you missed it, the team rolled out some new sweaters for the upcoming season before the Labor Day Weekend festivities. Big thanks to all of our fans, corporate partners and local media who were able to attend the unveiling event downtown at World of Beer. If you’re feeling out of the loop, here’s some local news coverage of the event.
Pre-orders for replica jerseys are now available. CLICK HERE to place your pre-order today!
Former Captain Ties the Knot
Congrats to former Solar Bears defenseman Carl Nielsen, who recently wed Team Canada netminder Shannon Szabados. Szabados tweeted pictures of the happy couple over the weekend. Nielsen played parts of two seasons with the Solar Bears and served as co-captain during the 2015-16 campaign. Szabados, meanwhile, has two Olympic gold medals under her belt and recently played in the NWHL with the Buffalo Beauts.
Elsewhere around the ECHL & hockey world:
- The ECHL has a history of developing not just players, but coaches as well. And the league has come a long way from its infancy in the mid-90s. If you’re feeling nostalgic, here’s a profile of Boston Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy’s ECHL days with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings.
- Mitch Hults, assigned to the Solar Bears last season while in the Lightning system, has signed an AHL deal with the Stockton Heat. He could see time with Stockton’s ECHL affiliate, the Kansas City Mavericks, who come to Orlando this season. If you need a refresher of all of the Solar Bears’ offseason movement concerning players coming or going, check out our Offseason Headquarters.
- The University of Illinois is “in the red zone” to add a NCAA Division I program. It’s mind-boggling that the state of Illinois doesn’t have a single college or university that participates in D-I hockey, especially when considering the state produces the fourth-most players in college hockey, but that may be coming to an end soon.
- Eating food out of the Stanley Cup is par for the course, but Charlotte Checkers captain Andrew Poturalski used the Calder Cup along with his playoff MVP trophy to serve as a mixing bowl for some Buffalo wings. Full disclosure: if the Solar Bears win the Kelly Cup, I plan on using it to make a hot fudge sundae.