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Oliver working hard to become better

by Shawn P. Roarke /

17-year-old high school prospect Nick Oliver will suit up for the expansion
Fargo Force of the USHL around the Roseau Rams' season schedule. 
Nick Oliver will do anything to become a better hockey player.

Think that's hyperbole? Think again.

How many 17-year-olds do you know that would regularly make a 90-minute drive to work out on specialized equipment designed to improve one aspect of their performance? How many high school seniors do you know who would give up many of the perks associated with that final year of school for the opportunity to get in more work?

Not many, right? Well, Oliver is one of that special breed.

Not long after his Roseau (Minn.) Rams finished a disappointing fourth in the Minnesota High School Tournament this past season, Oliver begin making the 65-mile trek from Roseau to Thief River Falls to work out on a skating treadmill.

Why? Because the 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward believes that skating stride is one area of his game that can be improved in order for him to reach the level he desires.

Oliver has also decided to play in the United States Hockey League this fall before the Minnesota high school season starts. He will play for the expansion Fargo Force and then return to Roseau in the winter for his high school season. Once Roseau's season is complete, Oliver will return to the Force for the rest of the USHL season.

That set-up, however, will cause him to miss much of the activities that are synonymous with the final year of high school.

"Sure, it'll be tough missing out on your senior year," Oliver says, "but I think the rewards will be worth the sacrifice."

Clearly, Oliver is willing to sacrifice to be the best hockey player he can be. And all that work has already played handsome dividends.

Oliver was part of USA Hockey's Select U-18 team that played in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, a prestigious eight-nation showdown featuring the best U-18 talent in the world. Team USA finished 1-3 in the tournament.

"It's a great honor to be picked for this team," Oliver said a few days before leaving for the Czech Republic. "It'll be a blast to represent my country again and I'm really looking forward to going over there, especially with all the Minnesota guys (six) on this year's team."

Oliver has also earned a college scholarship commitment from St. Cloud State, where he will enroll either next fall or the following year. Plus, he won a Minnesota state title as a sophomore at Roseau, a feat he hopes to accomplish again this year as a senior.

"It'll be an interesting year, for sure," Oliver says of the Rams' prospects. "But I think we'll have a good team again this year."

Oliver's hard work has also gotten him more than his fair share of notice from NHL scouts. He is one of six Minnesota high school players to earn an A rating -- potential first- or second-round pick -- in NHL Scouting's initial look at draft-eligible talent for the 2009 Entry Draft.

"The USHL competition will help me improve my game and it will allow me to keep making strides." -- Nick Oliver
Like most teenage players, Oliver professes little interest in the NHL Draft. But his workload shows that it is omnipresent in his preparations.

He admits he agreed to join Fargo in a split-season arrangement because he was hungry for a new challenge.

"The USHL competition will help me improve my game and it will allow me to keep making strides," Oliver said.

Right now, against high school competition, Oliver can use his size to dominate a majority of opponents. But he knows that will change rapidly as he climbs the competition ladder.

"I consider myself more than just a power forward," says Oliver, who had 17 goals and 42 points in 30 high school games last season. "There's still a ways I can go in my development."

Does the added workload ever intimidate the driven Oliver? No, it seems. He just looks at the light at the end of the tunnel and pushes ahead full-speed, he said.

"This year will be tough," Oliver said. "But I think it will be real exciting for me, as well."
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