Roseau's Nick Oliver gets taste of head coaching at St. Cloud State with Brett Larson at World Juniors
Former Fargo Force, Huskies captain is in his 2nd season as a college assistant
MINNEAPOLIS — Nick Oliver wasn't standing in his normal spot on the St. Cloud State bench last weekend.
Instead of hovering behind the forwards, Oliver was right in the middle of the bench during St. Cloud State's 7-2 upset win over No. 3-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato and subsequent loss to Minnesota in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic.
Oliver was in the head coach's spot.
That's because St. Cloud State's head coach, Brett Larson, is gone at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic, serving as an assistant coach for Team USA.
That gave Oliver, a 28-year-old from Roseau, Minn., an opportunity to take on some additional responsibilities during the four-team tournament in 3M Arena at Mariucci.
"It was fun, for sure," said Oliver, who is in his second year as an assistant with the Huskies. "You've got to give a ton of credit to the players, because I think a lot of times, when the boss is gone, the tendency is to let the foot off the pedal. But I think guys came back from break with a great approach."
In Larson's absence, some of his duties were split between Oliver and St. Cloud State's other full-time assistant, Mike Gibbons, who coaches the defensemen.
"I thought we just did a nice job working together and it was fun for me to take on a little more responsibility," Oliver said. "Obviously, coach Larson is following along closely from halfway around the world. So yeah, it was fun, but definitely everybody will be happy to get him back."
St. Cloud State has this upcoming weekend off before traveling to Denver on Jan. 10-11. Larson is expected to be back for that series.
In the meantime, Oliver is happy to pick up the extra responsibilities.
"A lot of times, as an assistant coach, you do a lot of work behind the scenes on video prep, practice planning, different things like that," Oliver said. "Obviously, now you're responsible for addressing the team, you know, a lot of those things: What time is the bus leaving? What time is the meal? It's a lot of things you go through that you don't realize as an assistant. But, all in all, it's been a fun week."
Into the family business
Oliver, a member of Roseau's 2007 state championship team, played for the Huskies from 2011-15, reaching the Frozen Four in 2013, winning a Penrose Cup in 2014 and serving as team captain in 2015.
Upon graduation, Oliver immediately jumped into coaching -- a family business.
His father, Scott, coached both football and hockey at Minnesota-Crookston. He also coached both sports at the prep level. Scott was behind the bench for that 2007 Roseau championship and he's currently an assistant at East Grand Forks Senior High.
Nick got a job as an assistant coach and scouting director for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League under head coach Scott Owens, a longtime college hockey coach at Colorado College.
After three years in Sioux Falls, St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko left for Minnesota and took assistant coach Garrett Raboin with him, opening up two coaching spots in St. Cloud. The Huskies hired Larson as their next head coach and Larson filled his open assistant spot with Oliver.
"It's been a dream for me to be back at my alma mater, a place I consider home," Oliver said.
Leading a young team
Year 2 has been different than Year 1 for Oliver.
Last season, a veteran Huskies team ran through a 24-game National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule losing just twice. But the Huskies lost their top four scorers (and five of their top six) as well as their top defensive pairing.
That has put an emphasis on developing young players -- something he's enjoyed at the college level.
"A lot of times, the USHL is such a fluid league, you have players coming and going," Oliver said. "A lot of times, you only have them for a year. So, that's why (college hockey) is great. You can work with guys and watch them grow, obviously, on the ice but also watch them get their schooling in order and watch them graduate. So, that's the rewarding part of this."