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Prospect Q&A: Mark Olver

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
A highly skilled offensive player during his three seasons playing NCAA hockey at Northern Michigan University, Mark Olver signed an entry-level deal with the Avalanche on March 30 and finished the 2009-10 campaign with the Lake Erie Monsters.

After leading the Wildcats in scoring during each of his three seasons, Olver will be taking his game to the professional ranks on a full-time basis in 2010-11. recently caught up with the Burnaby, B.C. native to get his thoughts on his time in college, playing in Lake Erie and what he thinks the future holds.

You were actually passed over in the NHL Draft on two separate occasions before the Avalanche selected you in 2008. In your mind, what made NHL scouts finally sit up and take notice?
“I think it was my first year in college. They said I was going to be too small, college was going to be faster, playing against men instead of boys, things like that. My first year in college I went in and got a bad concussion and had to sit out a few games. I had a phenomenal second half of the year and led my team in points, had a lot of success. I think after that some teams realized, especially Colorado, that I could be a good investment for the future.”

Olver led the Wildcats in scoring during each of his three seasons at Northern Michigan University
How much did the exposure gained from playing at a Division I school factor into that as well?
“It helps playing in the CCHA when you play against teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame. You can go right down the list of all the teams you play, plus the non-conference games against teams out of the WCHA. It’s a lot of exposure. I was playing at Northern, and they’re not really used to getting the powerhouse players, so if you’re a fourth-line player you get the opportunity to play first-line minutes at different points during the year because the team is not so highly stacked. You get a lot of opportunities to show your coaches and the scouts that you can play.”

Northern Michigan has had some success in the past, including an NCAA title in 1991. But when the team earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament last season it was the school’s first appearance in a decade. How gratifying was that for you?
“It was a testament to our team as a whole. Five of our players got entry-level contracts with NHL teams. Our goaltender was superb and we had an All-American defenseman. We just had a really good supporting cast and great leadership, and when you get that the younger guys fall right into place and learn their jobs.”

After the season ended, you began your professional career with the Lake Erie Monsters. What were your thoughts on transitioning to the pro game?
“I was actually a little nervous about going there. I thought my season was done and Colorado wanted to sign me, so I said ‘absolutely’. Then they told me they wanted me to go to Lake Erie, and I was a little hesitant at first. I thought I’d go there next year and get a fresh start. Going there I was a little nervous, but all the guys were great and the coaching staff was great. I met Craig Billington and he was phenomenal. Everyone in the organization was great, and I really enjoyed my time there, especially playing the games. It was a new experience for me.”

So, in the long run do you think it was to your benefit to get that taste of pro hockey last season?
“Absolutely. Getting your feet wet that early opens your eyes to a lot of things. At the next level you play against grown men. You have to bring it all to the table every single day. Everyone is here to do a job. If you don’t do well, that reflects on the coach. They’re pushing you to do your best, so if you don’t push yourself to do your best, it definitely is not in your best interest.”

What do you have to do to reach your ultimate goal of playing in the NHL?
“Personally, for me it’s always been about size. I’m a smaller guy, but right now I’m up to about 180 pounds. I’ve really been working hard the past few summers to get to where I want to be. It all depends on training camps and rookie camps. Then I’ll probably go to Lake Erie and play some games there, and we’ll see how it goes. If all goes well, who knows what’s going to happen. Hopefully good things from here on out.”
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