Bruce Olson of Warroad, Minn., a skilled player on one of Minnesota Duluth’s better men’s hockey teams in 1978-79, who went on to a coaching career spanning more than two decades, died Tuesday after a three-week battle with cancer. He was 55.
Olson was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic and colon cancer on June 7 and remained hospitalized in Rochester, Minn.
He grew up in Salol, Minn., 10 miles from Roseau, attended Roseau High School and was at UMD for four years, 1975-79. He was part of the first freshman class for head coach
Gus Hendrickson and assistant Mike Sertich, who took over UMD’s program in 1975-76. He later coached at Minot (N.D.) State and Roseau, winning the 1999 Minnesota Class AA title, and coached the Bemidji State women’s program.
“Bruce was a typical Roseau rink rat, a very skillful player and a pivotal part of our teams. He understood the game so well and played with finesse,” Sertich said Tuesday from his home in Duluth. “He also had a gift to give as a coach and loved the game.
“I have been following the news of his health the last few weeks and it has been overwhelming. It is the first time losing a former player, and I feel such sympathy for his family.”
Olson, a left winger, was a senior on UMD’s 1978-79 team which went 22-14-4 and had an all-star lineup including Curt Giles, Mark Pavelich, John Rothstein, John Harrington, Keith Hendrickson and Glenn Kulyk. That season, Olson had 10 goals and 18 assists for his most-productive year in a 137-game career.
He was head boys hockey coach Minot (N.D.) High School, earning North Dakota runner up tournament finishes in 1985 and 1987, and was named state coach of the year in 1987, and was head coach at Roseau High School in 1991-99 and 2000-02, and was Minnesota coach of the year in 1999.
Former Roseau school star Aaron Broten, Olson’s cousin and a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member, told the Grand Forks Herald of Olson:
“He had good teams and good players and that’s always a good start. He worked the players hard, he was honest with them and he expected them to work hard and be accountable. He had some talent to work with and he always got his players to play to their potential. Those parts mesh well together.
“He was a good person, a good hockey player and a good coach. It’s a tough situation. He will be missed by the community,” Broten said. “He’s a good guy, a good happy-going guy and he will be sadly missed.”
Olson was Bemidji State women’s coach from 2002 to December of 2005, leading the program to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association post-season in 2003 and 2005. He later was co-head boys coach at Warroad High School through 2005 and has since been a Warroad assistant.
Former Mountain Iron-Buhl athlete Steve Haataja, current Warroad boys hockey coach, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune of Olson:
“(He) left a lasting mark (in Roseau and Warroad). (He) wasn’t feeling good throughout the year last year but he always came to the rink with energy. He had that zest for coming to the rink and helping out the kids.”
While earning a master’s degree at the University of North Dakota in 1999-2000, Olson coached the North Dakota women’s club team in preparation for attaining varsity status in 2002-03.
“We are all tremendously saddened by the loss of coach Olson,” WCHA associate commissioner Sara Martin said in a statement. “He was a great coach, teacher and leader of student-athletes and he will always be an important part of the legacy of women’s hockey at the collegiate level. We send our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to his entire family at this most difficult time.”
A celebration of Olson’s life is scheduled for noon Saturday at the Roseau High School gymnasium.