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Barbie-free childhood was big hit

12/16/2015, 12:00am CST
By Sam Wigness

If a seven-year-old Krista Olson (formerly Johnson) had received a Barbie as a holiday gift, she most likely would have brought it to the hockey rink in her suburban Minneapolis neighborhood and slapped it into an open net.

Luckily for Barbie, Olson’s parents knew better than to give their daughter a doll. Instead, they gave her hockey gear, countless rides to practice and a support system that would follow her hockey career through three NCAA Women’s Hockey championship appearances with the University of Minnesota.

Olson’s career began at a figure skating clinic when she was four years old. After watching her brother play hockey, she asked her parents to buy her skates without the toe picks. Her father, Rick, recalls watching the pint sized Krista prop herself up with a hockey stick and skate around the edge of the boards. He couldn’t quite tell if she was enjoying herself until she got off the ice with a smile spread across her face.

When Olson, who grew up in the Willowstone Park neighborhood in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, started playing organized hockey in the early 1990’s there were few, if any, opportunities for female skaters at any level. So she played with the boys and drew inspiration from NHL players such as Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick she saw on TV. She would skate with her older brother and his friends at local ice rinks, sometimes for eight-hour stretches, breaking only for a lunch dropped off by her father. The only time she cried on the ice was when it was time to go home.

“To her sports was play,” Rick said. “If she wasn’t skating she was outside playing sports in some other way. She was the only one of my kids to say, ‘Let’s go throw a ball or something,’ and she never said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ ”

Krista was in fifth grade when she made the Champlin Park Youth Hockey Association boys’ Squirt A team – and not just as a novelty act. Rick recalls overhearing that of the 60 players who tried out his daughter was the sixth chosen. He also overheard other parents grumbling that their sons’ spots had been taken by a girl.

“After hearing it enough I finally had to tell one person that Krista didn’t take the spot, the last boy selected took the spot,” Rick said.

“If we asked her to shoot 100 pucks she would shoot 200 pucks."
                - former Champlin Park High School girls' hockey coach Scott Van Horrick

The next year, instead of sticking with the boys for Pee Wees, Olson joined a co-op girls’ team in Anoka and skated alongside players who were just learning the game. She was already a standout in the boys’ arena, but alongside inexperienced girls she drew special attention – whether she knew it or not.

At a tournament in St. Paul, Olson’s father noticed some college scouts hanging around, trying to get a leg up on recruiting for budding NCAA women’s hockey programs. He pulled his daughter aside and told her to skate extra hard because there were recruiters and scouts in the audience. His daughter complied, putting on one of the best performances of her young career.

After the game, Rick pulled his daughter aside and congratulated her, assuring her that she impressed the recruiters. His daughter looked up and asked, “Dad, what are recruiters?”

“The whole time she was skating for people she didn’t know who they were or what they wanted,” he chuckled. “Krista was always, and still is, sort of naïve – maybe not the most street smart.”

While street smarts were not her strong suit, Olson excelled on the ice and in the classroom through her varsity hockey career, which she started as a seventh grader in Champlin Park. Former Champlin Park coach Scott Van Horrick had Rick Johnson as his third grade teacher and was excited to reunite with the Johnson family.

Several of Olson’s on-ice characteristics surprised Van Horrick, including her physicality, work ethic and composure..

Van Horrick worked to appease Olson's endless demand for more practice and knowledge. Olson was often the first in line for drills during practice and took a critical approach to learning hockey strategy.

“If we asked her to shoot 100 pucks she would shoot 200 pucks,” Van Horrick said. “Always wanted to work on something else. Wanted to learn the game, wanted to know about situations on the ice. We would sit down in the office and go over scenarios on the board, and she wouldn’t just listen, she would question it and try to learn more.”


Facts

Name: Krista Olson (formerly Johnson)

Age: 31 

Resides in: Rogers, Minnesota

Family: Travis (husband), Dexter (2-year-old puppy) and baby due Jan. 15.

Job: Sport Ngin senior project coordinator

Interests: Hockey, broomball, going to our family cabins, anything outdoors, traveling, watching sports

 

Quickie Bio

Krista Olson began skating at age three and quickly developed a passion for hockey. Since youth hockey options were limited for girls, she played in boys’ leagues until sixth grade. In the seventh grade, she began a six-year varsity career at Champlin Park and Blaine high schools. In 2002, she joined the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team and played in four Frozen Four tournaments and three championships. She won the national title her sophomore and junior seasons and was invited to White House to meet former President George W. Bush after each championship. After graduating from college, she coached high school hockey at Maple Grove before entering the business world as a project manager. In 2011, she joined Sport Ngin and currently works as a senior project coordinator.

 

Career Achievements

1997: Joined Champlin Park girls’ varsity hockey team as a seventh grader.

2000: Transferred to Blaine High School and lost the Class 2A state championship to Bloomington Jefferson.

2002: Joined the University of MInnesota women’s hockey team.

2004-05: Won back-to-back NCAA titles with wins over Harvard University.

2006: Returned to NCAA championship game, lost to University of Wisconsin. Graduated from University of Minnesota with degrees Communication Studies and Business Management.

2007: Joined Graybar Electric as a Project Specialist.

2011: Joined Sport Ngin as sales development representative.

2012-13: Won back-to-back U.S. Pond Hockey Championships women's division titles while playing for the Top Shelf Tricks.


Krista Olson played four seasons for the University of Minnesota, winning two national championships.


Olson continued her nightly pilgrimage to local rinks to play pond hockey with teammate Leah Sullivan. While Van Horrick never discouraged them from skating, he did have to ask them to buy a second pair of skates so they would stop wearing down their indoor blades.

The two created a relationship around hockey that lasted through Olson’s varsity career, even after Van Horrick left to coach Anoka and Olson transferred to Blaine for her junior and senior seasons. The move to Blaine was a controversial one for some who followed high school girls’ hockey in the northern Minneapolis suburbs, but Olson said she simply wasn’t comfortable with the atmosphere at Champlin Park, and the move to Blaine was just what she needed, on and off the ice.


Pass the Flame

Encourage a young athlete with an inspiring message. Thank a coach, parent, or teammate who's made a difference in your life. Pass the flame for them to share and keep alive. Because one little spark is all it takes to ignite something great.


Blaine lost the Class 2A state championship game to Bloomington Jefferson during Olson’s junior season. The Bengals entered the next season ranked No. 1 and maintained that position until the section finals when they were upset by a Van Horrick-led Anoka team. In her two years with coach Steve Guider and the Bengals, Olson set a school record for most points in one season by a defensemen with 40 on 15 goals and 25 assists. She earned all-metro and all-state honors for hockey, was a member of the National Honor Society and all-state for academics.

All the while, Olson was engaged in a recruiting courtship with a newly founded University of Minnesota women’s hockey program. She had always intended to pursue her hockey career to the highest level, and after attending the first game of the Gopher’s inaugural season, she knew exactly where she wanted to go.

Laura Hallardson was in her infancy as the Gophers’ head coach and still mastering the intricacies of recruiting in a state where girls’ hockey wasn’t fully established. The Blaine defensemen was on Hallardson’s radar, but she wasn’t entirely sold until she got to know Krista and her family, at which point, Rick Johnson said, “Krista recruited them.”

“(She was) so calm and strong with the puck."
               - former University of Minnesota women's hockey coach Laura Hallardson

“We saw her play quite a bit and she wasn’t flashy, but the more we watched her the more we liked her,” Hallardson said. “(She was) so calm and strong with the puck. When you combine that with her personality and academic aspects, it was clear that we needed to find a spot for her.”

Although Olson received recruiting interest locally from St. Cloud State University, Minnesota State-Mankato and out east at Brown, her yearn to play for the Gophers was too strong, even without a full ride. On an official visit to the University of Minnesota she slept in a dorm, ate with the players and coaches and felt like a movie star when one of the players said, “I hope you come here.”

Olson joined the Gophers in 2002 as a defensemen, but quickly became Hallardson’s primary flex option to fill in wherever she was needed. Olson impressed her coach with her uncanny skating ability, poise with the puck and physicality.

"I tried to be honest about where she stood," Hallardson said about moving Olson around the lineup. "You don’t want to blow smoke, but at the same time encourage her and give her confidence that just because she wasn’t on the first line doesn’t mean she wasn’t a great player.”


Krista Olson and the University of Minnesota women's hockey team won back-to-back national titles in 2004-05.


The Gophers women's hockey team made trips to the White House after each of their two national championships during Krista Olson's career.

Olson played in the NCAA Frozen Four all four years she was with the Gophers and won back-to-back NCAA championships in her sophomore and junior seasons. While Olympians Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell led the charge, Olson willingly transitioned from defense to forward to give her team depth and was an integral part of the team’s cohesion. She also guaranteed at least two fans in the crowd every game.

Rick and Deborah, despite having three kids to keep track of, were faithful attendants at all of Krista’s hockey games – from kindergarten to her final game in college. During her collegiate career, her fan base expanded to aunts and uncles, family friends and old coaches.

“I could always feel their eyes on me in warmups -- they were like the only ones up there,” Olson said. “You have the feeling that you’re being watched and want to do well. You feel the support and adrenaline, but then when I’m on the ice everything disappears.”

In her senior year, the Gophers sent five players to the 2006 Olympic Games and weren’t expected to make the NCAA tournament, let alone be a factor in it. However, the underrated Gophers marched to their third straight NCAA championship game, beating Princeton (3-0) and No. 1-ranked New Hampshire (5-4) on the way. In her final game, the unranked Gophers lost 3-0 to No. 2-ranked Wisconsin in Minneapolis.

“Unless you’re an Olympian, once you’re done with college, you’re done.” Olson said. “I felt like I was just hitting my peak then it was just over. Even though we’d already won two championships it sucked losing my last game ever, especially at home.”


Krista Olson, playing for the Top Shelf Tricks, won U.S. Pond Hockey Championships women's division titles in 2012 and 2013.

Hallardson has witnessed hundreds of cases of “postseason blues” when each season inevitably comes to a screeching halt and claims it happens regardless of how the season ends.

“The biggest thing that hits them is that they’re not going to see these friends anymore,” Hallardson said. “We focus on creating a family environment, and we face good and bad times together, when a senior ends her career, that’s as strong an emotion as any of them.”

The post season blues hit Olson as hard as anyone else, but Hallardson said she never worried about her because she was bright, resourceful and friendly enough to succeed in anything she tried. Olson graduated with a degree in communications, a minor in business management, All-Western Conference Hockey Association Academic Honors and no idea of what she wanted to do next.

Olson continued her hockey career by coaching at Maple Grove High School, playing in amateur hockey and broomball leagues and the annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. She worked as a project manager at Graybar Electric for five years before starting her career at Sport Ngin as a sales development representative  in 2011. In her second year with Sport Ngin, she led the company’s pond hockey team to a USPHC Women’s Division championship.

This year, for the first time in decades, Olson will take a season off from hockey and broomball as she and her husband Travis await the arrival of their first child, due in January.

 

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