to move to the Division I club his junior year.
“There’s just something about the game that never makes you want to stop,” Olds said.
But in November, not even a third of the way through the season, West Virginia’s head coach was fired and replaced by Sturges. For the third time in three years, Olds would play for a different head coach with a different philosophy for the game.
“He’s kind of no stranger to that; inconsistency with the coaching, or kind of the program,” Sturges said. “There’s been a lot of changes since Nick’s been a part of it; since I’ve been a part of it even. It takes a certain level of acceptance of it’s just how things are going to be at times.
“We’ve worked really hard to establish some consistency since I’ve been here,” Sturges added. “And there’s always going to be some level of changes, but I think a lot of guys have handled it well, and understood that just because there might be some new faces and some new people it doesn’t mean it’s not important to make it the best experience possible.”
Sturges’s playing experience differed from Olds’s. A defenseman, he played two years for the United States national team, helping Team USA take silver at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2006, and the International Ice Hockey Federation U-18 World Cup in 2007 before going to play for Division I Michigan State.
Not surprisingly, he brought a more defensiveminded and cerebral approach to the game.
“He was more about the psychology of the game and using that to our advantage more than anything,” Olds said.
But during his two seasons coaching at West Virginia, Sturges has learned a player’s desire and dedication at the club level in some ways can rival that of the Division I player.
“I think getting familiar with hockey at West Virginia for me taught me a lot about that mindset, and Nick is someone who really embodies that,” Sturges said. “To have a club program like we do, it asks a lot of the players, and it really requires the kind of mindset our guys have. And Nick is certainly one of them.
“You do have to be really dedicated because you give a lot,” Sturges continued. “It’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of energy. It’s a lot of emotional investment. So our program wouldn’t be possible without guys like Nick. They work hard every day, they bring the right attitude, and just love the game of hockey and love to play. Because it would be really hard to do what we do if you didn’t really love the game, ‘cause our practices are late, our bus trips are long. It’s a lot of time outside the normal college experience that these guys have to invest.
“We do have our moments,” Sturges said. “We do have our rivalry games and there’s a lot of excitement with it. But if you try to compare it to some other college hockey experiences, of course it doesn’t add up in the same ways. But it is absolutely a special thing.”
A thing that consumed more time than Olds anticipated. A thing that took away from school, and in some cases, opportunities the ordinary student got to experience. But it was also the thing that Olds admitted kept him level headed, and never lost it’s fun.
“I just mainly wanted to keep on playing and having fun,” Olds said. “I never saw an end game after college. I just wanted to play four years of the game that I had played since I was three. I didn’t want to give it up at the moment.”
As he prepared to head back after the holidays for his final semester in January, Olds talked playoffs. He finished the season with four goals, five assists and was on the top penalty-killing unit that had a 93 percent success rate, as the Mountaineers went 14-19 and qualified for a third consecutive postseason berth this season, where they lost in the first round of the College Hockey Mid-America playoffs to John Carroll (Ohio) University.
He talked graduation. On May 14 — 79 days after his final hockey game — Olds achieved the goal he wanted more than any other, walking across the stage at the WVU Coliseum after earning his degree in criminology with a minor in forensic investigative science.
But he also talked like he was again jostling for leverage in the corner, not with any particular opponent, but with his escape.
“Even now, towards the end, I’m starting to get to the point where I want to be done,” Olds said. “But there’s still … Every time I step on the ice, I get that relief of where I can stay out here and do just this and not have to worry about anything else.”
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