Playing hockey at the Junior A level means you have to be able to make quick adjustments.
That was definitely the case for the newest Oiler. Tanner Olstad, a 17-year-old centreman, was released from a hockey team in a different country and 43 hours later he was in the Oilers’ lineup for their 5-3 victory over the Calgary Royals on Dec. 1.
Olstad was released by the Tri-City Americans in Kenniwick, Wash. of the Western Hockey League after the team’s game on Nov. 28.
“Right after the game the owner pulled me into the office and told me that I was being sent down to Okotoks,” Olstad said. “I drove home to Calgary on Sunday and I had my first practice with the Oilers on the Monday.”
The Oilers have no affiliation with any WHL team, however, because the Oilers carded Olstad two years ago, the team had his rights to play in the AJHL.
Olstad admitted on Thursday the quick transition rocked his world.
“I said good-bye to my teammates, my billets and friends from school and went home and packed,” Olstad said. “I got up the next morning and drove home. I’m kind of dreaming a bit. I had no idea that I would be here right now. I’m just hoping it can work out for the best. I’m sure everything will turn out.”
Olstad was released in order for him to receive more playing time. He had one assist in the 10 games he played in with the Americans. Tri-City had played 33 games when Olstad was released.
“It will take some time to adjust to the team and a new school (Holy Trinity Academy), but I am sure it’s going to work out,” he said. “Down there it’s 45-minute classes and up here they are 80 — I have to concentrate more.”
While it is taking time to get accustomed in the classroom he is having no trouble fitting comfortably in the Oilers’ dressing room and on the ice.
“Right now I am just getting to know my teammates and the systems,” he said. “They seem to be a great group of guys.”
Olstad considers himself a playmaker and he has been given an opportunity to show his stuff with the Oilers. He was on a line between veterans John McInnis and Kyle Reynolds on Okotoks’ three-game road trip last weekend. McInnis is the team’s leading scorer while Reynolds is fourth.
Oilers GM-head coach Garry VanHereweghe wasn’t about to let the chance to have Olstad don an Okotoks jersey pass him by.
“I dealt with Bob Tory (Americans’ general manager) and I told him that we would have a card available if Tanner did become available,” VanHereweghe said. “We want to develop him to the best of our ability and after this year we will see what happens… We want to develop kids to help them get to the goals they want to, whether it be the Western Hockey League or college.”
Sandwiching Olstad between McInnis and Reynolds could work out as well as Alberta beef between two pieces of bread.
“He’s got tremendous speed and I think the line will have tremendous chemistry,” said VanHereweghe. “They all think the game the same way.”
He said the Oilers have been in need of a playmaker since James Bannister went down with an injury.
Although Olstad has had a cup of coffee in the Western Hockey League, he hasn’t closed his doors on playing hockey in a post-secondary school.
The WHL provides players scholarship funds for post-secondary schools. Canadian and colleges allow WHL players to play hockey in their programs.
However, because the Western Hockey League players receive financial stipends, there are restrictions on those players playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association because they are deemed professionals. AJHL players do not receive any remuneration for playing hockey.