Elite League Mourns Passing of Coach Olinger

by Tim Droogsma

The Elite League suffered a tremendous loss this week when Steve Olinger, a long-time Elite League coach, passed away after a battle with cancer. Steve was 59.

“It’s a very big loss for the league,” said Chris McAlpine, who coached against Olinger for a number of years in the Elite League. “He was such a class act, a great guy and he just did everything the right way. He was so competitive, but at the end of the game you’d shake hands and he’d give you a little hug and everything was okay. I had such respect for the way he carried and presented himself.”

In addition to coaching in the Elite League, Olinger coached in various capacities in Minnesota high school hockey for two decades, including a stint as head coach at Chaska/Chanhassen and as an assistant coach at Eden Prairie.

Fellow Elite League coach Sean Toomey knew Olinger for more than 20 years, coaching with and against him. “His passion for hockey was unbelievable, but more importantly he really cared about the kids, cared about their families and he wanted them all to have a great hockey experience,” Toomey said. “He helped them get the most out of themselves as players, but he also helped a lot of them become better people.”Coach Olinger (center) with the Eden Prairie coaching staff at the 2017 State High School Tournament - Elite League photos by Nick Wosika.

Matt Anderson, a defenseman from Holy Family High School, played for Olinger on Team Southwest, and said Olinger’s coaching style was different than that of many other coaches. “He never yelled, that was sort of the odd thing about Coach Olinger,” Anderson said. “If you made a mistake he would talk to you, explain what you had done wrong and then help you fix it.” Anderson also spent time off the ice with Olinger, fishing in between games on various lake and rivers when the Elite League would play games away from the Twin Cities.

“He loved to fish, which I think sort of helped him keep things in perspective,” said fellow Elite League coach Scott Oliver. “He and Reed Larson, when they both coached, would always be fishing. If we were in Grand Rapids they fished, or if we were in Brainerd they fished. My heart is very, very heavy over the news of his passing and he will be very missed. He gave so much to the league and to the kids that played for him.”

Larson, the former Gopher and all-star NHL defenseman, was very close with Olinger. "My son Ian was a bantam out in Chaska, and I was coaching, and Steve was my assistant," Larson recalls. "Later we helped with the JV and then we coached in the Elite League from its inception. He had an incredible passion for hockey, for coaching and for kids. I never coached with anyone who had that kind of passion. And he wasn't a yeller. In fact, the more intense things got, the quieter he would get, and that was very effective in its own way."

Goaltender Jared Moe remembers Olinger helping him through a rough patch in the Elite League season. “I was playing what was probably the worst game of my life,” Moe remembered. “The period was over and he just came and said ‘Hey, sometimes it’s not your night’ and asked me if I wanted to stay in. He was just real supportive, and I went back out and finished the game and he came right back with me next game. He just seemed to know how to get the best out of me.”

Coach Olinger is survived by his wife, mother, two children, two grandchildren and four siblings. The Elite League would like to express its sympathies to all of Steve’s family and friends, as well as our deep appreciation for his tremendous contributions to the league and the sport of hockey.