Janesville’s Olszewski earns scholarship to Denver
Last season, the 20-year-old from Janesville made a name for himself in juniors as a ferocious forechecker in his first year with the North American Hockey League’s St. Louis Bandits. This season, he’s the two-time defending NAHL champion’s captain and leads the team with 25 points on nine goals and 16 assists.
So why go back to making his hay off the bench and by grinding out penalty kills?
Because he’ll be doing it at the University of Denver, a perennial powerhouse that is currently the nation’s second-ranked NCAA Division I hockey program.
“I never thought I’d play at a WCHA school, let alone Denver,” said Olszewski, who grew up a fan of the University of Wisconsin, which also is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The former Janesville Bluebird was on the brink of committing to the University of Connecticut, which, along with Denver, noticed him during the first game of the Bandits’ three-game set at Wenatchee, Wash., the first weekend of December. After that, Denver moved slowly, while UConn wanted a decision by Christmas. Olszewski didn’t want to miss out on either a premier education or hockey experience.
“If I got to the point that I was going out (to UConn), I was going to commit,” said Olszewski, who had scheduled a campus visit for Monday, Dec. 28.
But last Thursday, he got good news when he arrived at Bandits practice. His coach, Jeff Brown, told him that Denver had gotten back, and the cost wasn’t too far from that of UConn.
“If they were anywhere in the same ballpark, I was going to pick Denver,” Olszewski said.
He did just that, and plans to be there for four years to earn his degree while earning every inch of ice at Magness Arena.
“I still consider myself an energy guy,” Olszewski said. “I like to talk a lot on the bench, and I like to scream and everything like that, and that’s actually what Denver was looking for. They can get any point guy. But they’re looking for a fourth-line center to come in and be an energy guy—a heart and soul kind of guy.
“For most players, killing penalties sucks, but it’s my favorite part of the game. I can’t wait to find out exactly what they have in store for me.”
Denver won back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005. Olszewski says he’s fortunate to be headed for another championship-caliber team after playing an integral role on the upstart Janesville Bluebirds high school squad that made the WIAA state tournament in 2005.
He’ll fly to Denver on Jan. 6 to make things official from the university’s standpoint. The next day, he’ll fly back for practice before his Bandits welcome the Janesville Jets to St. Louis on Jan. 8.
“Obviously, I wish we could have the game here (in Janesville)—it would’ve been awesome to have one more game here,” Olszewski said. “But I think it’ll be a good game. They’re having a good season.”
He’s relieved that he’s committed to Denver so soon, so that he can focus on the task at hand.
“I’d love to win another championship in St. Louis,” Olszewski said. His Bandits are 21-5-1, good for 43 points and second in the South Division. Riding a six-game winning streak, they have four games in hand on first-place Topeka, which has 49 points.
“Early in the year, I had some doubts, but the team made some moves, and the team is really coming together,” Olszewski said. “With our coaching staff and owners, they expect nothing less than getting another ring on the finger.”
Despite all the success he and his teams have had, Olszewski stayed grounded and even had a safety net in place when the current season opened. He never could’ve planned what transpired.
“It’s better than the plan,” Olszewski said. “Going into this year, I had a Division III school picked out that I was going to go to for a year and figured if something happens, it happens.”