Olauson heads to Blizzard country

Blizzard photo Former Aces Head Coach, Emery Olasuon, right, talks with reporters in Edmundston as his appointment as head coach and assistant GM of the Blizzard was announced June 3.
 Former Aces head coach secures top spot in Edmundston

Edmundston – Aces former Head Coach and General Manager, Emery Olauson, will soon be heading deep into hard core hockey country as he takes on the role of head coach and assistant general manager for the juggernaut team that is the Blizzard d’Edmundston.

“Obviously they liked what we did here,” Olauson smiled, discussing the move. News of the departure of former Blizzard Head Coach Ryan Salvis had been fodder since the end of the Junior A season, but it wasn’t a job Olauson considered at the time, because he still had years on his contract with the Aces – and wanted to follow through on his plan for the team.

“From my perspective, I had two more years on my contract. I had opportunity if I was willing to ditch St. Stephen, and obviously that wasn’t in my plan,” said Olauson.

“Now, plans changed. A month and half or however long ago now – and I think we’ve talked about this – in hockey there’s changes that happen that you can’t control – and those things you just have to try to make them to your benefit.”

On the heels of the unexpected loss of his job with the Aces franchise, Olauson did consider moving with the team to its new home in Fredericton, but for Olauson and family, the move didn’t feel right.

“Once I was jobless, I knew I had some time to make the decision with regards to Fredericton, and the fit – I think there’s a better person for their job than me,” said the ever candid Olauson.

“And there’s a better organization out there for me, that kinda fits my eye a little bit better, and so I waited. And sometimes that feels pretty foolish, waiting, but I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to take something I wasn’t interested in.”

But Edmundston is a spot most coaches would be interested in. From a large support staff to a fantastic facility, and basic hockey infrastructure, it’s what can be called a sweet gig. And Edmundston residents support the team unlike any other Junior A franchise, with the rink selling out each game, and a long established waiting list for season tickets.

But the Blizzard didn’t pounce on Olauson straight out of playoffs.

“Everyone respected the ‘what is happening in St. Stephen’ I think,” he added. “Everyone wanted to see the transition of St. Stephen to Fredericton, and no one wanted to step on any toes or do anything unethical.

“So it was one at a time. I had a pretty good idea Edmundston may be interested once Ryan (Salvis) resigned – once they parted ways, I had a good feeling this could work out this way.

“I think our visions really match. They have definitely, through this interview process and through the hiring process, it has become very clear, they want to see what we did here – on a bigger scale.”

It’s Olauson’s vision – along with Associate Coach, Bill Rotheisler – that saw the Aces, who they joined after their worst season, go from the bottom of the standings to making the playoffs, and the culture of the team change dramatically.

“We had a big challenge and we rose to the challenge and I think we exceeded a lot of people’s expectations,” reflected Olauson.

“There’d probably be only two people – that being myself and Bill – that ended the season going ‘you know what, we did a lot of good work but we didn’t quite get where we wanted to this year’.”

And it’s that brand – that mix of hard work and a structured game on and off the ice Olauson will bring with him to the Blizzard.

“It is about eliminating a lot of off-ice noise and focusing on hockey, and that’s been a brand of mine for my coaching career so far and that’s what the Edmundston organization wants.

“I think the combination of what they already have and what I bring to the table is a good fit.”

But is heading into that full-on hockey mecca daunting?

“When I coached professional hockey, there was nights when we had 10,000 people in the building, so I’ve done that before and it’s fun. It gets your heart racing a little bit more,” smiled Olauson.

“My experiences in Edmundston – it was the most fun. You’ve got a full crowd – it’s the most fun atmosphere I’ve ever seen in Junior A hockey. To do it every day will be really something special I think.”

And now, the elephant in the room. Does the Blizzard already have an assistant coach in place?

Olauson laughs and says he knows where the question is leading.

“Am I going to be able to bring Bill? We’re going to try very hard,” he smiles.

“It’ll be an interview process with everybody. Everyone’s got to fit in the program that I’m running, which is awesome – but Bill fits in that program really seamlessly, and we want to find a way to bring Bill as well.

“Bill and I learn from each other and feed off each other. It was a very cohesive partnership. I want to best for Bill. I personally hope Bill comes and coaches with me again, and I know if he does, the Blizzard will benefit from what he brings.”

“Obviously Edmundston would be an exciting place to be, but yes, I have to reflect on my own options as well,” said Rotheisler.

“Although not the driving force, I have to consider what is best for me. One of the things I respect about Edmundston is their appreciation for the process.

“First of all, I respect and admire that Emery and the Blizzard have a process. Emery and the Blizzard have to take the appropriate time to determine what is best for them,” said the ever pragmatic Rotheisler.

“There is a successful staff in place already in Edmundston, and Emery firstly has to determine what he wants the staff to look like, and then it is whether I fit what they are looking for.

“Emery will be successful there regardless of who he has supporting him. It is such a great fit,” he added.

“Would I like to be brought in? It would be hard not to get excited by such a great organization with the backing of that fanbase. Anybody telling you they would not be excited about that would simply be lying. It checks a lot of boxes.

“Anybody who has ever been to a Blizzard game understands that the people there are some of the best fans in the game – just real good people and a great atmosphere.”

And in considering the potential of moving to Edmundston and working with Olauson again, does Rotheisler balk at the fever of the fans in the hockey town?

“Not daunting at all,” said Rotheisler, echoing the same sentiments as Olauson. “One-hundred per cent comfortable and exciting,” he added. “The bigger the value the team has to the community, the better. High expectations come with lots of support. Those expectations are an important part of a winning culture and the building blocks of a winning tradition.”

And while the transition to Edmundston is still just a talking point for Rotheisler right now, he is putting the potential opportunity at the top of a short list of places and positions he is, or hopes to, consider.

“I buy into my own process as well, and decisions like being closer to family, ability to win and compensation all play its part in the decision making process.

“I look at a few things, even before my own compensation comes in to play,” said Rotheisler.

“First, what is the organization like? Are they professional or more “mom and pop”? Edmundston runs things professionally. I believe in high standards of character and play, so do they.

“Secondly, do we have the resources for our players to continue to get better on the ice, off the ice, and academically? Another checkbox. “Thirdly, what is the town like, what is the support like? Where is their better support than Edmundston? It is an amazing community, that supports those young men a great deal.

“All these three factors add up to our ability to be successful with our development of young men, and our ability to win hockey games.”

And will the men be watching the Fredericton Junior RedWings, formerly the St. Stephen Aces?

“My second favourite team will be Fredericton,” said Olauson. “I know all the boys and I hope that they all do well and I hope they connect with their new coach the way they did with us.”

And will the Blizzard see some Aces names on its roster?

“I’ve let them (Edmundston) know I place a higher value on the players from the Aces team than potentially anyone else does,” said Olauson.

“I know them. I know what their hearts like, I know what their characters like. I worked with them every day so I actually like them. I hope that opportunity might present itself.

“And at the same time, I hope for the players that they all go to Fredericton and love it and they all make the team, and they are all good fits.

“But yes, certainly, if there’s guys that end up on the fringe or end up unhappy…I want to be clear – I don’t hope that that happens. I want those players taken care of and be happy where they are. I want this to be a great move for them.”

Olauson and family will make the move to Edmundston as soon as possible, draft picks underway, and off season work to do. But Olauson is clearly feeling positive about the new path.

“The process with Edmundston was really nice,” said Olauson. “They were helpful with it, they are very supportive, and patient with us getting up there, we’ll be up there for the draft and we’re looking forward to moving.

“It‘s a really great opportunity.”

editor@stcroixcourier.ca