BEMIDJI - Former Bemidji State University women's hockey coach Bruce Olson died Tuesday morning in Rochester where he had been receiving treatment for cancer. He was 55.
"It's a sad day, not only for Bemidji State hockey, but for Minnesota hockey in general," Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb said. "He was too young to go home already. Our hearts go out to his family; we're all kind of shaken up about it."
Olson, who was the third head coach in BSU history (from 2002-2005), coached around the region, most notably at Roseau High School, where he led the Rams to the boys state title in 1999.
He also coached at the University of North Dakota, where he helped the Fighting Sioux women elevate from the club level to Division I in 2002-03.
"Bruce was very, very passionate," Goeb said. "I don't know if there was a more fiery competitor than him. He had a strong desire to win and he just loved hockey."
At BSU, Olson led the team to the WCHA postseason in 2003 and 2005 and coached the program's first All-WCHA pick, Amber Fryklund, who ended her playing days as the lone 100-point scorer (122) in school history.
His teams produced three All-WCHA selections, 38 All-WCHA Academic honorees and 12 WCHA Players of the Week. In all, he compiled a 27-80-13 record.
Following his time at Bemidji State, Olson moved to Warroad to serve as co-head coach and later assistant coach of the Warroad High School boys team.
He returned to BSU as an assistant coach in 2010.
"His players will tell you he just had a passion for hockey," Goeb said. "It's what he cared about, and it showed."
After a four-year playing career at Minnesota-Duluth (1975-79), during which he compiled 35 goals and 58 assist in 137 games, Olson took over the boys program at Minot High School in Minot, N.D. He directed Minot to North Dakota state runner-up finishes in 1985 and 1987, and was named North Dakota Hockey Coach of the Year in 1987.
In 1991, Olson left Minot to take over the varsity boy's program at Roseau. During his run there, Olson earned Minnesota 8AA Coach of the Year honors twice (1996 and 1999), was named State Coach of the Year in 1999 and led Roseau to the 1999 state championship. Olson's 1999 state championship team was the sixth state champion in Roseau history. In addition, Olson's 1999 team won state academic champion honors.
Olson took a one-year leave of absence from Roseau in 1999-2000, spending that year working on a master's degree in educational leadership at the University of North Dakota. During that year, Olson also took over head coaching duties for the UND women's hockey club team. He helped set the stage for the elevation of the North Dakota club program to NCAA varsity status. UND made its debut at the Division I level in the 2002-03 season.
"He meant a lot to us, and meant a lot to Roseau and UND," Goeb said. "He really left his mark on a lot of great programs around the state and the region."
Olson's family set up a CaringBridge website for him, to leave a message or a donation visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/bruceolson1.
According to the website, a celebration of Olson's life will be held at noon Saturday, June 29, in the Roseau High School gymnasium. For more information, visit the website.