RICHFIELD, Minn. — There is no record of Lester Patrick, the long-time legendary coach and general manager of the New York Rangers, spending much if any time in Minnesota prior to his death in 1960. But the trophy that bears his name is taking up residence in the State of Hockey with regularity these days.
On Thursday morning the National Hockey League announced that Richfield, Minn., native Lynn Olson will be the fourth consecutive Minnesotan awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy, which honors outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Olson was one of the pioneers of girls and women’s hockey in the state, helping the youth and amateur levels of the sport grow from very humble beginnings in the 1980s to today, when more than 115 girls high school hockey programs compete for state titles and more than a dozen Minnesota colleges have varsity women’s hockey.
In 2019, the trophy went to legendary trainer Dr. Jack Blatherwick of Minneapolis, in 2018 USA Hockey player and executive Jim Johannson, a Rochester native, was posthumously honored by the NHL and in 2017 long-time Minnesota Hockey volunteer Peter Lindberg from Edina received the trophy.
Olson was nearly 30 when she first tried playing hockey in 1979, at a time when women in the sport were rare, at best. She was hooked immediately, and a few years later was one of the organizers — and first president — of the Minnesota Women’s Hockey Association. That group eventually became part of Minnesota Hockey, the state’s amateur hockey governing board. Olson was Minnesota Hockey’s director of women’s hockey for more than 20 years.
“Lynn Olson is without peer when it comes to determination and work ethic in championing girls and women’s hockey,” Minnesota Hockey president Steve Oleheiser said. “Minnesota Hockey is a better organization due to her contributions, and girls and women’s hockey in Minnesota is the best it has ever been thanks to Lynn Olson.”
On Thursday, Olson said she was “flabbergasted” when she got a call from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman with the news, and reflected on an uphill battle to get ice time for females in the Twin Cities in the early days of organized girls hockey.
“It was tough, because both men and women said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take ice away from our boys.’ And we said, ‘Why doesn’t your daughter deserve ice just as much as your son?’” Olson recalled. “It was a tough sell.”
Less than a decade later, she was one of the primary drivers of the establishment of girls hockey as a high school sport in Minnesota, and worked with the State Legislature on passage of the ‘Mighty Ducks’ bill, which funded dozens of new arenas and ice sheets throughout the state. Olson also worked with USA Hockey in lobbying the International Olympic Committee for the inclusion of women’s hockey in the Olympics, and was a strong advocate for the growth of women’s hockey at the collegiate level. The co-captains of the first varsity women’s team at St. Cloud State were Olson’s daughters, Lisa and Becky.
“It is difficult to imagine that there is anyone whose body of work better fits the description of ‘outstanding service to hockey in the United States,’ than Lynn Olson,” Bettman said in a statement from the league. “Her passion for our game, her determination that it be as available and welcoming to girls and women as to boys and men, and her relentless pursuit of that goal have been transformative. That Minnesota truly has become, for everyone, the State of Hockey, is a credit to Lynn Olson and we are delighted to present the prestigious Lester Patrick Trophy to such a deserving recipient.”
Now retired from her career as a paralegal, Olson, 69, splits her time between homes in Bloomington, Minn., and Mesa, Ariz., and has five grandchildren. Due to the pandemic, USA Hockey has pushed their in-person events back 12 months, meaning Olson will be formally honored by the NHL in December 2021 at the ceremony which will also induct the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame classes of 2020 and 2021.