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Superior's Brett Olson retires from professional hockey

The former Spartans star recently started as an assistant for the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, a team he spent three seasons with as a player.

Brett Olson talks to young hockey players.
Brett Olson talks to young hockey players during the Twin Ports Pro Development Camp at Superior Ice Arena on Thursday, July 28, 2022. A former Superior hockey standout, Olson recently retired from playing professional hockey in Europe.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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SUPERIOR — After playing professional hockey for 10 seasons — including six in Europe — former Superior standout Brett Olson recently announced his retirement.

Olson, 35, graduated from Superior in 2005 after helping the Spartans win two Wisconsin state championships in 2003 and 2005 as well as a runner-up finish in 2004.

Brett Olson.
Brett Olson.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Olson played three seasons with the United States Hockey League’s Waterloo Black Hawks before joining Michigan Tech in Houghton, where he was a team captain his junior and senior seasons. From there, he played two seasons for the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat for two seasons before signing a two-way deal with the San Antonio Rampage and the NHL’s Florida Panthers. After a season with the Rampage and another with the Portland Pirates, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in 2015-16, Olson made the choice to pursue a professional hockey career in Europe.

“Unfortunately, I never did get a call-up, I didn’t get to play an NHL game,” Olson said. “But that kind of puts things in perspective and it gave me another great opportunity to have a chance to go overseas.”

Despite playing professionally for a decade, things didn’t come easily for Olson. When he tried out for the Superior squad when he was a freshman, he didn’t make the squad.

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Former Spartan coach Jason Kalin said the coaching staff definitely thought Olson could have played for the junior varsity and even varsity teams, but they thought he might become a better leader with another year of Bantam play.

The Spartans won three Wisconsin state championships and appeared in the title game seven times during Kalin’s 21-year stint as head coach.

“I think that probably sparked him a little bit,” Kalin said. “He’s always been a hard worker, but his moral foundation is to the point where he is very humble and appreciative of everybody that contributes to making him a better person all around. I think that is one of his greatest strengths — he does show appreciation, he remains humble, but he works extremely hard at perfecting his craft.”

Olson’s father — Steve Olson, a former coach and activities director at Superior High School — said he agreed that missing out on the varsity squad was a turning point.

“Brett’s always had a good work ethic, no matter what he played,” Steve said. “But that was the impetus to say, ‘I’ve got this dream, I know what I want to do and I just have to work harder.’ Whether it was staying after practice on the ice here or on the outdoor rinks were we live, he just spent the time.”

Brett Olson skates against Minnesota Duluth.
Former Michigan Tech captain Brett Olson handles the puck during a game against Minnesota Duluth. Olson recently announced his retirement after playing six years professionally in Europe.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Athletics.

After leading the Spartans to two state titles in three years, Olson was cut from his first USHL team, the Sioux City Musketeers, before he caught on with Waterloo.

“I think having that adversity early on in my career was a very good thing for me to understand I had to work a little harder and develop to get there I needed to be just at the high school level,” Olson said. “That first year that I didn’t make the high school team was probably the best thing for me, to play another year of bantams, get more games and develop from that aspect.”

Two years later, Olson was the Black Hawks captain that worked hard at practice and expected the same of those around him, according to Scott Pavelski, one of Olson’s Waterloo teammates in 2007-08.

Brett Olson plays at Michigan Tech.
Former Superior standout Brett Olson in the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit during his playing days at Michigan Tech in Houghton. Olson recently retired after six years of professional hockey in Europe.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Athletics.

“He took the time and the effort and he loved being around the rink — you always knew that,” Pavelski said. “Every day he came to the rink, he wanted to get better, it wasn’t really a joke-around session for him. It was, ‘Let’s get our business done and then have fun.’ When I was there, he was our captain. He always had good leadership qualities and pushed everybody to be their best.”

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A new challenge with the Black Hawks

After a season with Salzburg EC where he had 38 points in 39 games, Olson played with three different teams in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, most recently with Dusseldorf EG.

He had planned to play one more season before retiring, but the “right opportunity,” according to Olson, came up in the form of an assistant coach position with Waterloo.

Brett Olson skating.
Brett Olson skates at Superior Ice Arena on Thursday, July 28, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The new position required Olson to drive back and forth between Superior and Waterloo last during the Twin Ports Pro Development Camp he has helped run the past seven years, as the Black Hawks prepare for their 2022-23 season.

“We were planning on maybe playing one more year and then maybe shutting down from there,” Olson said. “That was a decision that my family and I had to make and once the opportunity came, we thought it’d be a good opportunity to take that we didn’t want to pass up. There’s no guarantees coming out of what it possibly could be in the future.”

Kalin believes his former player is more than up to the challenge of transitioning into a coaching role.

“I’ve had some amazing leaders in our program over the years and Brett is at the top of that list,” Kalin said. “He just has a desire to win and he knows what it takes to do that. He was driven as a captain of our program, as a captain of the Waterloo Black Hawks, as a captain of the Michigan Tech Huskies and I’m sure he did it for some of his professional teams. He’s just a born leader.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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