Junior defenseman succeeding by going unnoticed

first_imgBRYAN FAUST/Herald PhotoWhen taking in a Wisconsin men’s hockey game at the Kohl Center, Matt Olinger is probably not the first player you notice on the ice. In fact, he may be the last.But if you ask him and his coaches, the junior defenseman is actually playing his best hockey if you don’t even notice him at all.”A compliment you would like to give a defenseman like Matt is: ‘I didn’t notice you all game,'” UW head coach Mike Eaves said.There are not a lot of times that an athlete would consider a statement like that much of a compliment, but Olinger is the perfect example. And he doesn’t try to use any sort of smoke and mirrors in describing his role for UW.”I’m a third line D-man — just go out there and my job is not to get noticed,” the junior blue liner said. “If I don’t get noticed out there, that means I’ve done my job. If I am getting noticed, I’m making mistakes.”Being a stay-at-home defenseman also means taking a hit on the statistic sheets.Olinger has played in all but one of Wisconsin’s 24 games so far this season yet doesn’t have a single goal or assist to show for it. In his 78 career games as a Badger, he has four assists.For his teammates, those numbers are fine.”He’s doing a great job, we couldn’t ask for any more out of him,” assistant captain and fellow defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “He’s fundamentally sound, he’s tough, he wins one-on-one battles.”But while UW needs scorers like Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski, it’s not always about the goals and glamour.”[My role] is fine with me — I’ve grown into it the last three years,” Olinger said. “[Coach Mark Osiecki] and Coach [Troy] Ward have helped me fit that role and I think I’m doing a pretty good job right now.””I think you have to play to your strengths,” Eaves said. “He recognizes what his strengths are. His strength is getting the puck into the hands of the scorers and letting them do their thing.”But it hasn’t always necessarily been quite that way. While he has never been an offensive-minded defenseman, his numbers show that playing on the blue line didn’t always keep him from scoring.The Madison native had 40 points in 68 games while playing for the Madison Capitols in the 1999-00 season. But his shift towards more of a defensive presence occurred in his three years with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders.There, he had just 31 points in 156 games.”Ever since I’ve played, I’ve tended to lean that way,” Olinger said of his defense-first mentality. “Ever since I came here, it is even more that way now.”Even though he didn’t post big numbers in the USHL, that didn’t keep him from winning awards as the Cedar Rapids’ best defenseman, most dedicated player and the Rough Rider Award after the 2002-03 season.But his shift towards being a stay-at-home defenseman was just part of his story, a journey which began with a young Olinger growing up watching the Badgers and has ended with him donning the cardinal and white himself.”Since I was a little kid, I’ve been coming to these games,” Olinger said. “I’ve seen the 1990 team win the national championship, I’ve seen all the goaltenders in net — it’s just a dream come true.”The road to his dream was one that he had never even thought about as he went through high school.He was happy just playing Midget hockey for the Capitols and knew barely anything about junior hockey. Things changed quickly.”A lot of the junior teams came and watched me play, but I didn’t know much about it,” Olinger said. “I started talking to coaches, and I started learning about this whole other world of junior hockey.”Soon after, he found himself trying out for Cedar Rapids and Des Moines and received yet another surprise when he was actually picked up by the Rough Riders.”I wasn’t expecting to go,” Olinger said.The move meant leaving Madison Edgewood High School a year early to move away from home, living with a whole new housing family and taking on the rigors of playing junior hockey while finishing high school.If you thought leaving for college after graduation was bad, imagine leaving a year earlier when you least expected it.”I wasn’t ready for that right away,” Olinger said. “I thought I was going to be here in Madison, going to Edgewood for my senior year, and then all of the sudden, I’m leaving. It was a big change in my life.”It’s an interesting change that most high-school kids — and most athletes for that matter — don’t even have an opportunity to have but one that Olinger embraced and used to mature both on and off the ice.He parlayed that experience into quick success at and away from the rink at UW.”I had a chance to go out and learn how to be responsible,” Olinger said. “I had already been away [from home]. It helped me transition into playing college hockey and living on my own.”Those few years helped Olinger achieve his childhood dream, and despite his lack of scoring, hasn’t disappointed in his three-year career.He won the award for Most Improved Player his freshman year and hasn’t looked back. He has taken on more of a leadership role and has become more of a voice in the locker room this season.”He’s come full circle already, both on and off the ice,” Wisconsin senior captain Adam Burish said. “His first two years here, he wouldn’t say a word. Now every game he’s in there saying stuff, which is good. And on the ice, his confidence level has risen.”This weekend Olinger, who grew up loving the Badgers and hating the Minnesota Gophers, will write another chapter into his fairy tale at the Kohl Center.last_img read more

Superlatives from Syracuse’s 80-67 dispatching of Texas Southern

first_img Published on November 18, 2017 at 9:08 pm Contact Sam: sjfortie@syr.edu | @Sam4TR Syracuse (3-0) opened Hoophall Miami Invitational play with an 80-67 dispatching of Texas Southern (0-4) on Saturday night in the Carrier Dome. After a back-and-forth first half — no team led by more than eight — the Orange opened up the game in the second half after Tyus Battle returned. He sat out the last nine minutes of the first half with two fouls. Battle’s 16 second-half points and dunking theatrics helped Syracuse blow open an eight-point halftime lead.Here are superlatives from the game:The Big Moment: Tyus Battle’s tomahawk jamMidway through the first half, Battle caught a pass in the far corner, faked left toward the middle, then spun back toward the baseline. He put Texas Southern’s Donte Clark on skates and blew by him to attack the basket. When he rose up from the baseline, the Tigers 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed ducked, turned upcourt and vacated the premises. Battle’s tomahawk dunk charged 16,000 previously listless fans to life and the end result seemed locked.Stud: Geno ThorpeAdvertisementThis is placeholder textAll fall, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has said that Thorpe hasn’t been playing up to his potential because of a lingering right-ankle injury. It looked as though the grad transfer from South Florida found his footing on Saturday. He hit 3s, and-1s and facilitated an offense that stagnated in the first half. He played active defense atop the 2-3 zone when foul trouble limited Battle.It was the exact reason Syracuse’s assistant coach Allen Griffin called Thorpe in the first place. Yes, Battle displaced Thorpe to start the second half and had nine points in an 11-0 run, but Thorpe enabled the Orange to sit Battle with two fouls for that long stretch in the first and still handle business against the Tigers.Dud: Oshae BrissettEarly in the first half, Syracuse’s freshman attacked the basket from the right side and challenged Texas Southern’s 7-foot-2 Reed. Brissett absorbed the contact and controlled his body the entire way but his shot was a brick off the backboard that seemed not to catch any iron. It ended up on the other side of the court and in the Tigers hands.That play epitomized the forward’s night. He was long enough to deflect passes on defense and grab 10 rebounds, but the finer points of his game appeared unpolished. He missed all five of his first-half attempts and finished 2-of-12 on the night. In the second half, a quick turnover in the high post and bobbling a rebound on the other end earned a quick hook from Boeheim. Brissett still played plenty after that, a function of Syracuse’s roster as much as anything, but it provided the freshman time to pull through his tough shooting night.Highlight: We playing winners?From a Marek Dolezaj layup with 48 seconds to go in the first half to a Frank Howard layup with more than five minutes gone in the second half, the Orange turned a 37-30 lead into a 53-30 lead. The 18-0 run fully separated Syracuse from Texas Southern and was keyed by Battle, who had nine of those points.  The run included Battle’s highlight dunk and an alley-oop from Frank Howard to Paschal Chukwu, a close runner-up for “The Big Moment.”Lowlight: Rough startBrissett’s deep jump shot ricocheted high off the glass and then a scrum ensued underneath. The crowd, standing and clapping as they do when awaiting the Orange’s first points of the half, clapped unevenly, sensing they were close to getting what they wanted. But they weren’t. Matthew Moyer collected a rebound and kicked it to Battle, who missed a jump shot. Moyer grabbed another offensive rebound and then missed a jumper himself. Brissett rebounded and missed one of his own and then he was fouled. He walked to the line and Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara shook his head. He looked from the Carrier Dome floor to the rafters. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more