Ross Olsson would seemingly be one of the last guys you’d expect to have a rather well-populated page on HockeyFights.com.
A soft-spoken native of Billerica, MA, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Worcester Railers forward had played a gritty game over his four years at Endicott College and certainly racked up his fair share of penalty minutes in junior hockey as well, but his evolution into one of the ECHL’s most hard-nosed and well-rounded power forwards was one of the more pleasant surprises to come out of the DCU Center last season.
“When I came in, we had so many veteran guys – guys who had played in the (ECHL) or AHL -- and I was really just learning from what they were doing,” Olsson told FloHockey.
“I was watching guys like Kyle Thomas, Barry Almeida, JST (Jordan Samuels-Thomas) and taking in what they do every day, bringing it to the rink and just learning different styles of the game . . . watching Kyle Thomas and the way he plays, it’s a full 200-foot game, hard-nosed game, and that’s the type of guy that I wanted to model my game after. It took a little more time than I wanted, but at the end of the season, I was able to get on the ice a lot more, which helped. Coach Cunniff really trusted me later in the season, and that was awesome.”
In his first full pro season, Olsson was second on the team with 120 penalty minutes – including eight fighting majors – but also finished fifth on the Railers with 12 goals. While many players, especially those with some scoring touch like the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder, might shy away from more of a physical role that entails dropping the gloves every now and then, Olsson embraced it.
“I don’t really go into games looking to stir things up or looking to fight, but I kind of want to be that guy who plays on the edge and in your face,” he said. “I want to be tough to play against if you’re a defenseman, and I want to be a guy that guys want to play with and play for. I’m not the most skilled guy, but I love getting in the D’s face and getting in front of the net where nobody wants to go. Watching a lot of NHL guys – guys like Matthew Tkachuk, Brady Tkachuk and Jamie Benn, and growing up I had Milan Lucic in Boston – you have guys you wanted to model your game after as much as possible.”
Emulating some of the top power forwards the NHL has to offer is a necessity in a rough-and-tumble North Division is a necessity for Olsson; all but one of his eight fights last season came from within the division, which can feature some wildly entertaining contests that fill the scoresheet on both sides of the spectrum.
“When you play teams like Adirondack and Maine, they’re especially going to give it back to you . . . Reading, too,” he said. “They’re going to give it back to you, and you don’t want to be pushed around early in the season. In my opinion, later in the season, they’ll be able to do what they want with you if you don’t give it back early in the season or stick up for your teammates. That’s a big thing for me, not dropping the gloves because you want to, but because someone took a run or a dirty hit on your teammate, something like that.
“And it’s not about just dropping your gloves, it’s about playing hard whistle to whistle, finishing your hits. That’s one thing I learned through (Coach Cunniff) was you can be tough, but you don’t have to drop the gloves all the time. It’s about going through hands, going through bodies. The game is played to score with the puck in the net, so that was the big thing that he instilled in me especially, but you’ve got to play a tough game in this division.”
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.