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Honoring Joe Olson: Bloomington’s father of hockey

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Bloomington, Ill. (WEEK) - Thirteen years ago, the Twin Cities sports scene changed forever. One man slid into action, giving local kids in the area a second home on the ice. Now, Joe Olson's name welcomes everyone stepping into one of his favorite ice rinks.

Family and friends say Olson started the Bloomington hockey community from scratch. Today, it is one of the largest youth and adult hockey programs in Illinois.

"It's grown into a girl's hockey program and sled hockey for kids with special needs," said Bloomington Ice Center Manager Michael Hernbrott. "It all started from Joe."

Joe wanted others to have the same opportunities he did playing hockey in Northern Michigan and Central Illinois.

"If they're over five years old, Joe probably started 90% of them," said Mike Olson. "He had a real knack of knowing the kids. The kids liked him and he liked the kids."

His oldest brother Mike says Joe never felt like he was working at the Ice Center. He says Joe volunteered because he loved the game.

"They don't get paid. They probably even take a little heat every now and then, but they sure enjoy it. The kids are the ones who are the real beneficiaries," Olson said.

And Joe remembered everyone, from teams young and old.

"He knew their name and their parents' names. He knew everything. Joe was here everyday, sometimes 12 or 15 hours a day. He'd have pucks he would hand out to kids. He just made a tremendous impact," Hernbrott said.

Joe's favorite part of playing hockey was skating - something his brother will never forget.

"You're kind of free, you know? It's almost like you're flying, really. But you're still on the ground and hopefully you're not knocked down too much," Olson said.

Whether you're a natural on the ice or just a beginner with the skates, Joe will always be there in spirit to cheer you on.

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Mike Miletich

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