Sunday afternoon provided a nice diversion for Nick Oliver.
The 16-year-old forward for the Roseau Rams wasn’t on the ice – he was on the snow. Oliver, along with teammate Cole Zostrewski, were zipping across the trails on snowmobiles, a popular hobby in a town that boasts Polaris, a leading snowmobile manufacturer, as its main employer.
One day earlier, Oliver had found himself scrambling in front of the Bloomington-Jefferson Jaguars net, desperate to get some wood on a last-second effort to win the inaugural Jason Stadstad Memorial Hockey Classic in North Dakota.
Stadstad had played for Grand Forks Central, the team Roseau faced in the first game of the tourney. His heroic battle with cancer inspired many in the area and the festivities on the weekend were to benefit fighting the disease.
The Rams came into the tournament undefeated and pumped five goals past the Knights of Grand Forks in the third period to salt away a 7-2 victory. Defenseman Aaron Ness continued his barrage of offense with a hat trick and an assist.
In the final of the tourney, Roseau avoided North Dakota’s reigning champs, Grand Forks Red River, who had been taken out by the Jaguars in the other match. That set up an all-Minnesota final at Ralph Engelstad Arena in North Dakota.
“When we signed on, I was hoping for two good games,” said Roseau coach Scott Oliver. “And we got them – we were tied with Grand Forks going into the third.”
Against Bloomington-Jefferson, a five-time state championship program itself, Roseau fell behind a goal in the second before goals by Tyler Landman and Mitch Martinson (his first of the year) turned the tables.
But the Jaguars wouldn’t give up. Down 3-1 after an Adam Knochenmus tally early in the third, the Jags mounted a comeback, evening the score midway through the final stanza.
With momentum seemingly swinging away from the Rams, fate intervened in the form of a Bloomington-Jefferson holding penalty with just 32 seconds left in the game.
The Rams took a time-out to rest their first power play unit and that’s when the fireworks started.
“I saw the puck squirt into the corner with about six seconds left,” said Nick Oliver. “Dusty Moser picked it up and he ended up passing it back to the point. Ben Nelson took a shot from the point and I tipped it in. I knew there couldn’t have been too much time left.”
Two-tenths of a second, by coach Oliver’s estimation.
The Rams were jubilant – and still undefeated – but it was a special bonus for coach Oliver, having his son score the winner.
“It was good to see,” said the coach. “I treat ‘em all the same, but there has to be a time when you look back and feel pretty good about it.”
For Nick, who also had two assists in the game, it was nice vindication for a fighting ejection against Moorhead in which he said no punches were thrown. One of the Spuds had run into goalie Mike Lee and when Tyler Landman went to intercede, another Moorhead player got on him.
“I was protecting Tyler, who was protecting Mike,” Nick said. Nevertheless, fighting is an automatic one-game suspension in Minnesota high school hockey, so Nick had sat out the win against Hibbing.
At 6-foot-2, Oliver is a great guy to be protecting his teammates, but being the son of the coach is always tough, especially when you first join a team.
“Last year I was pretty nervous; ‘what are people going to think, what if I don’t play well,’ ” Nick noted. “But halfway through the season I learned to block it out.”
It surely helped that Nick had played at National Select tournaments as a 15-year-old and had a commitment to St. Cloud State. For his part, the teen stays away from the gossip and message boards that are both a gift and a curse of Minnesota high school hockey.
“Coach Oliver tells us to stay away from that stuff; it’s mostly negative stuff”
Not dad, mind you – Coach Oliver.
If anyone had to worry about Nick’s place on the squad, his team-first mentality sure kills it.
Click HERE to read last week’s Year of the Ram story.
The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week, chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.
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