With import limits tight there’s considered to be no room in the Elite League for a genuine “enforcer”. Anyone who comes over with the thought of dropping the gloves in their minds has to be able to play with the gloves on, the wisdom has it. Look at the criticism of Sheffield’s Tom Sestito signing, or the stick handed out to Benn Olson from opposition fans-both derided as players who are far more comfortable with their gloves off than on. The mockery was loud and long in the early part of the season, particularly from a Sheffield direction.
Funny, that, because in the giant native of Port McNeill, BC, Coventry have found a player who may be the best tough guy not just in this season’s Elite League, but for a fair few seasons. And it appears not even Blaze fans really realise just how good he is. Here, in five simple reasons, is why Benn Olson is the best player of his type in Britain, with a little help from the classic text on battle, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
1. Demolition Man
What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
Olson is the prototypical hockey enforcer. 6’4, 216lbs and with a reach longer than some opponent’s stride, he makes the brutal art of hockey fighting look…well, just like an art. He knows his strengths, and uses them to the full in every scrap, trying to hold opponents out at the limit of his reach and landing bomb after bomb over the top. Due to the chaotic nature of hockey fighting, not all of them land, but when they do, they’re devastating. It’s a strategy that works. Usually, convincingly.
2. Hearts And Minds
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
“Big Bad Benn” has already built a reputation in the EIHL. Look at noted wind-up merchant Devin Didiomete-unafraid to go after everyone and anyone on Twitter, but now he’s met Olson twice, he seems to be all sweetness and light. After the first two Coventry games the Devils agitator was anonymous in the third meeting, barely daring to try and go after the other Blaze players for the knowledge that he’ll be called to account. Guillaume Lepine, too, turned down a scrap against Nottingham and while the two will no doubt meet in the future, the fact that the Panthers hard-man was a little more circumspect on the physical play than usual (helped, admittedly, by Mike Egener smashing him into the plexi with a beauty of a clean hit after they’d fought, also) is the clearest indication yet that when Olson is around, opposition players tend to be a little more careful of what they’re doing, a little more circumspect, based purely on reputation alone. That benefits the whole team.
3. Pick Your Battles
Therefore the best warriors bring their enemies to the field of battle, and are not brought there by him.
One of the main dangers of having an enforcer on the ice is that they can be provoked into scraps, or pick a fight at the wrong time. Olson is possibly the most intelligent tough guy I’ve seen in a Blaze jersey…he will only fight when there’s a) no other option or b) when it will harm his squad least. He picks his opponents carefully, too…making sure that if involved in a scrap he’ll not be drawn into a fight with a lesser value player but try and take an opponent of equal or greater value to his team (the best example being a refusal of fighting talk by third-line Sheffield forward Jason Hewitt in favour of taking on one of their top dmen in Drew Fata up in Sheffield recently). Fighting itself may be emotion-driven, but getting into fights requires thought and a decision, and Olson usually makes the right one.
4. Thorn In My Side
If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him.
Olson is a master of playing on the edge. In front of the net he’s a constant presence at both ends of the ice when given free reign, never giving forwards a moment’s peace. He’s not the quickest of skaters but is more than capable of frustrating forwards by using his long reach and stature to simply cut off any escape route along the boards, and has sound positional play. In the attacking zone, he’s simply a big body planted in front of the net who is VERY tricky to move, and adds an extra dimension/option to the Blaze’s powerplay. And you can see opposition forwards don’t like facing him on the ice, because they know exactly what sort of problems he’ll cause them. The kind that leads to frustration and, often, retailiation.
5. Team Player
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The key thing about Olson’s effectiveness is that he doesn’t think of his own play or fame when fighting-his role as an enforcer is always played in a way in which it can best help the Blaze out (unlike some famous enforcers in the past). He’s a player who knows what his job is and does it extremely well night in, night out in ways that may not get him the praise of others-if the gloves don’t drop then often he barely gets a mention in post-game talk.
Off the ice, Olson conducts himself calmly and with dignity, not stooping to the self-aggrandizing Twitter talk/heroics of some other notable players of his type. On it, he does a thankless task of combined stay-at-home defenceman/enforcer better than anyone else in the league.
And that last sentence is why every other team in the Elite League would secretly love to have him on their roster.
Tomorrow night, he’ll go out and do it just the same as any other-whatever the hype may be.