Ryan Olsen is back home for the holidays with plenty to smile about these days.
Last spring, the 18-year-old centre from Tsawwassen was shipped closer to home when the Saskatoon Blades dealt him to the Kelowna Rockets in a Western Hockey League Bantam Draft day deal between two teams apparently headed in different directions.
The Blades are hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup and were loading up with experience by acquiring a couple of 19year-old forwards including Rockets leading scorer Shane McColgan. Olsen was going west where he was part of a youth movement for a Kelowna team that was swept in the opening round of the playoffs by Portland.
After a slow start, the Blades enter the holiday break with a 19-15-0-1 record and back on track to be a force come post-season time. Meanwhile, the young Rockets have been one of the surprise stories to date, sitting with the third best record in the Western Conference at 23-10-1-1.
Olsen has had a big part in the team's first half success, compiling 27 points in 32 games, including a career-high 16 goals. He is just five points away from matching his output as a sophomore last season.
The Rockets knew the 2012 seventh round pick of the Winnipeg Jets would provide excellent size (6-foot-2 and 190-pounds) and speed as a two-way centre, but they have also put him in a position to thrive offensively.
"I'm a goal scorer again," chuckled Olsen, who was a sniper throughout his minor hockey career. "I'm getting to play a lot of minutes including power play time which I didn't see much before. "Right from training camp they have used me in a lot of situations and that has been just huge for my confidence.
"I also have good chemistry with my linemates (Zach Franko and Henrik Nyberg) and the three of us are really fast."
The Rockets entered the holiday break having played a grueling five game in six night stretch against Eastern Conference opponents. They responded to the challenge by winning five games and will take plenty of momentum into the second half of the season, starting Thursday against Kamloops. Kelowna also makes its first trip to Vancouver on Friday.
"I think as a bunch of 17-and-18-yearolds we knew we were a pretty good young team but I don't think we realized just how good until that trip," said Olsen. "That was a tough stretch and we really responded to it."
He is enjoying life in the Okanagan city and being much closer to home.
Already his family has made three trips to the Interior to watch weekend homestands and the Rockets will be playing on the West Coast eight more times over the balance of the regular season.
"I have been a B.C. boy all my life and the fans in Kelowna are great," added Olsen. "I couldn't have ask for a better place to be."