Ex-Thunderbirds blueliners Slavin, Olofsson get first taste of NHL
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From carpooling together as Colorado Thunderbirds and joking about sending clearing attempts into rink ceilings to making their NHL debuts one day apart last month, it’s been quite a ride so far for Gustav Olofsson and Jaccob Slavin.
The defensemen, who are such close friends that Olofsson was a groomsman in Slavin’s wedding last summer, add this memory to a long list of them.
“I work out with him so I know he’s more than deserving,” said Olofsson, whom the Minnesota Wild dressed for a Nov. 19 game at Boston. “We’ve been buddies ever since I came to Colorado six years ago and our families are really close.
“It was a special moment for both of us after playing college together (at Colorado College) and also with the T-Birds back in the day. We’ve been alongside each other, pushing each other along the way. We always keep each other in mind and make sure we’re not slacking.”
Added Slavin, whom the Carolina Hurricanes dressed against Toronto on Nov. 20 for the first of a six-game call-up, “We’re best buds, so it was really cool when he told me about the possibility he was going to play the night before I was going to play. We’re both pretty excited about it.”
Slavin also potted his first NHL goal Dec. 8 in Dallas.
The trips to the NHL were not without speed bumps for Olofsson (a second-round pick, 46th overall, in the 2013 NHL draft) and Slavin (a fourth-round pick, 120th overall in 2012).
Olofsson’s family made a hat trick of moves during his youth – from their native Sweden when he was six to Northern California, back to Sweden, then to the Denver area. Hockey and family bonds (he is the oldest of Hakan and Ulrika’s three sons, including Fredrik, a former T-Bird himself now playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha) helped with his transitions, which included three seasons with the Thunderbirds, a year in the United States Hockey League (USHL), a year at Colorado College and seeing his first pro season (2014-15) end after one game because of a shoulder injury.
Olofsson’s second NHL game on Nov. 28 included an added bonus.
“My dad and grandpa (visiting from Sweden) got to see the second game in St. Paul (Minn.),” he said. “They were five hours away in Omaha watching my brother play and they just decided to drive up. I rarely see (my grandpa) during the year so for him to get to see that, it was pretty special.”
Slavin, who is the third of Robert and Wendi’s five children, said his road map included an important lesson – how to deal with disappointment.
“My first year of Midgets, I didn’t make the 16U team and got put on the 15U team,” he said. “At the time, I thought I was good enough to make the 16 team, but it was one of the best things for me because I played every situation on the 15s. I was able to grow and develop as a player. The next year, I thought I should make the 18 team, but I ended up not making that one as well. It definitely is a process, but it’s helped me where I am now.”
After two seasons apart – Olofsson played 18U for the T-Birds then for Green Bay (USHL), while Slavin went to Chicago (USHL) in 2011-13 – the duo shared the 2013-14 season at Colorado College. Midway through the 2013-14 campaign, they represented Sweden and Team USA, respectively, at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
“It’s pretty special to see these two incredibly talented young men, who happen to be the best of friends, reach their goal of playing at the highest level in the world,” said Angelo Ricci, the T-Birds’ director of hockey operations and 16U coach. “Jaccob and ‘Goose’ are the epitome of hard work. They each have a terrific hockey brain, positive attitudes and a high compete level.
“As they continue to get stronger and more comfortable with the pro style of the game, I believe they will have a very long run in the NHL.”
— Chris Bayee