When Logan Olson returned to the Rochester Grizzlies two weeks ago, there was no question what his role would be: A lot of everything.
From playing on the Grizzlies’ top defensive pairing, to manning its top power-play unit and penalty-killing group, Olson is anchoring a defensive corps that has the makings to be one of the best in the North American 3 Hockey League.
“Our whole d-corps is pretty good,” said Olson, a Rochester Lourdes graduate. “We’re pretty competitive during practice and from top to bottom we’re good in the defensive zone, we all move pucks pretty well and can jump up and create some offense if that’s needed. But we hold down the ‘D’ end pretty good.”
Those blue-liners are a big reason why the Grizzlies (5-1-0) are in second place in the NA3HL Central Division, and a big reason why Rochester has scored the most goals in the division (37) and allowed the fewest (11) so far.
After spending the first month of the season with the NAHL’s Austin Bruins, Olson has picked up right where he left off last season in Rochester. He had two goals and 28 points in his first season with the Grizzlies, making him the second-highest scoring defenseman on the team.
In four games since his return this fall, he has a goal and four assists, again second-best among Rochester defenseman. He trails only his defensive partner, Michael Heitkamp, who has eight points in six games played.
“Logan and Michael are really looking good,” Grizzlies first-year head coach Chris Ratzloff said. “They know how to play. We might have to split them up, just to help teach the younger guys. The younger guys are coming along well, but still have a ways to go.”
Olson and Austin native Bryar Flanders (six points in 39 games last season) are the only returners on the blue line this year for the Grizzlies, who won 32 games in their inaugural season of 2018-19.
“Bryar has made huge strides over last year,” Grizzlies assistant coach Mike Aikens said. “He’s been really steady, and one-on-one he’s one of our better guys right now, defensively.”
The newcomers joining Olson and Flanders aren’t all youngsters.
Heitkamp is at the top of that list. The 19-year-old Grand Rapids native played for the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League last season, where he compiled 11 points and 104 penalty minutes in 54 games. He’s shown the same mix of skill and grit so far in Rochester, with eight points and 14 penalty minutes in six games.
“He’s a really good player; we’ve clicked really well already,” the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Olson said of Heitkamp. “He moves the puck well and likes to jump up into plays to create some offense. He can hold it down on the back end, too.”
The Grizzlies’ defensive corps will be in the spotlight again this weekend, when Rochester hosts division rival Coulee Region at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center.
After dropping its season opener, Rochester is looking to extend its five-game winning streak -- a start very similar to a year ago, when the Grizzlies lost their first game before winning 10 in a row.
“After that first game, guys got rid of the jitters – guys who hadn’t played juniors before,” Olson said. “They got that game out of the way and after that it’s been pretty good for all of them. The rookies are (adjusting) well; it’s pretty similar to last year and I think we will be a pretty good team.”