Becoming the coach-GM of the Grand Forks Border Bruins was the challenge Emery Olauson needed.
“I needed to know that I love this and that I want to do this,” says Olauson, who held the position for three years (2015-18) and was named Coach of the Year in 2016.
Being his first junior coaching position, the Canmore, Alta., native knew there would be things to push him and help him find out if he wanted to be a coach.
“Grand Forks was a great option for me because I knew I was going to face every challenge a coach is going to face,” says Olauson, who played nine years of professional hockey in the Central Hockey League and Southern Professional Hockey League. “I coached against people that I have a ton of respect for. I learned a lot from Terry Jones.”
Olauson, the head coach and assistant general manager of the Edmundston Blizzard in the Maritime Hockey League, was beaten in the playoffs by Jones’ Nitehawks twice, saying the veteran coach with 1,000 career wins, can teach someone a lot about hockey.
“It was a great experience. Looking back at my three years, I probably call it junior hockey college,” adds Olauson.
In his rookie season, Olauson says the Border Bruins adopted a “kind of a chip on your shoulder” approach.
“Most of our players were cut from other teams in our league and we ended up finding a way to beat them,” he says. “We had guys that came in and were sick of being told they weren’t good enough.
“We weren’t going to accept being the Grand Forks Border Bruins that were easy to beat,” continues Olauson. “That turned into something way bigger.”
Their efforts through the season helped them snap a 21-year playoff drought in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. A factor in the success was demanding a lot of the players.
“Expecting great things out of them is a very powerful thing,” he says. “They want you to expect greatness out of them and a lot of our players in Grand Forks, that was the first time that was the case in junior hockey.”
Olauson won the Coach of the Year award, which he credited his players for.
“I was able to gain the respect of my peers in a year,” he says. “I’m really proud of that.”
He learned to do everything while in the KIJHL and says his proudest moments coaching come from Grand Forks, especially that first year. While there, he aspired to coach at the Junior A level and once he accomplished that, beginning with the St. Stephen Aces in the MHL, his focus shifted to making his team a championship contender. He’s working on that with the Blizzard.
He’s responsible for 25 players and how much ice time they get and more. He needs to gauge the players’ feelings and their future.
“There is just so much that I still don’t know. I think the biggest thing I learned over the last six, seven years of coaching in general is you better get learning,” he says.
What he has learned about the MHL is that culture is very important – how players are perceived in the community and how they perceive themselves and how seriously they take being on a team.
Olauson is running a program that is second in Canada in attendance, attracting 2,600 fans at Centre Jean Daigle. He loves working in Edmundston and has a hard time imagining his next coaching position – this one is very fulfilling.
Currently the Blizzard have the highest win percentage in the league. Olauson believes they have the organization that can do it every year as they don’t believe in rebuilds. As the assistant general manager, Olauson manages a coaching staff of five, that includes himself. He learned about running a team in the KIJHL, but says with the Blizzard he focuses on keeping the staff engaged and it’s easier to focus on culture with more coaches he can get to know the players better.
When it comes to the KIJHL, in Olauson’s mind it is a great league and says it’s something for coaches to consider exploring to work in.
“There are only 20 coaching positions, just apply to do it,” says Olauson. “It’s still going to be hard to become a head coach right away. You are going to coach against very good coaches. The amount of talent in Western Canada, in Canada in general, is a lot. It’s a great step from most Junior B. It’s a bigger step towards junior A than almost all the other Junior B leagues in Canada.