Learning The Ropes

Clarkson’s Courtney Olson has heard all the one-liners, enough so that she could perform as a stand-up comic.

She’s heard ones like “You better watch out because she wrestles calves,” or after she’s knocked an opponent on her wallet, “That comes from wrestling calves.”

Olson, a freshman who’s a “defensive” defenseman for Clarkson, spent last spring living with a billet family near Medicine Hat, Alberta, where she was attending The Warner Hockey School. Among other things, she learned how to rope calves at the family’s ranch.

“They would bring in the calves, we wrestled them down and then we got them branded,” said Olson. “I’ve been on horses before but I’m not a big fan of it. Still, it gets your adrenaline going. And if you let go, you’re going to get kicked.

“Your heart is pumping. It seemed like so much fun, plus it was a good workout.”


While Olson doesn’t envision herself ever joining the National Professional Rodeo Association, she does envision herself working with animals. That’s why she’s enrolled in Clarkson’s pre-veterinary program with a major in biology.

“I want to be a farm vet,” said Olson. “I’m not interested in cats and dogs. I’m trying to get more into cattle research because of mad cow disease. I want to find a cure for that and determine where mad cow comes from.”

Unfortunately for Olson, she knows from personal experience how devastating any disease to farm animals can be, and how it can have a negative effect on families whose livelihood depends on raising cattle, sheep, pigs, etc.

“Earlier this season, the family I stayed with had several cows die from nitrogen poisoning,” related Olson. “I’d like to learn how to prevent something like that from happening.”

What happened to Olson one and a half years ago wasn’t the most pleasant experience.

While competing in a tournament at the University of North Dakota in October 2006, she tore her left ACL but continued playing in pain until December.

“I really didn’t tell anybody how sore it was,” said Olson. “Initially, they just scraped out some cartilage. But I played a month and it got worse and worse every time I played. I didn’t know much about knee injuries until after I injured mine.

“After a while, it became unbearable and I had arthroscopic surgery in February (of 2007).”

Still, Olson posted 4-11-15 totals in 20 games for The Warner School. But the team’s loss may have been Clarkson’s gain.

“We benefited from the fact Courtney missed most of last year (because of the knee injury),” said coach Rick Seeley. “I don’t think a lot of teams had the opportunity to see her play. We did and we liked what we saw.

“I really think she will develop into an exceptional defender at this level. She has shown the type of poise and confidence that you don’t normally see in a freshman.”

Olson’s “poise and confidence” are one reason why the Golden Knights finished the regular season with a 22-7-5 record, and a 13-6-3 slate in the ECAC — which earned them the No. 4 seed in the upcoming ECAC playoffs.

Yet, ironically, there was a time when Olson didn’t care in the least about playing hockey.

Her first exposure to the sport — really, where she first learned about it — wasn’t at a local rink or in her back yard after her father, Craig, flooded it until it froze.

It was in the basement of her family’s home in Great Falls, Montana, where her first “coach” was her older brother, Chris.

“I quit every sport my parents put me into,” said Olson quite matter-of-factly. “I had to be dragged to the rink every time my brother had games or practices. Then, something hit me and I wanted to play hockey.

“Fortunately, my brother and I would go downstairs to the basement and strap on rollerblades and play. At least there I learned, to a certain extent, what to do. It was like ‘Hockey 101’ and here I am now.”

While at one time Olson never expected to be playing hockey at any level, she without question never expected to be invited to — nor did she probably ever hear of — the U.S. National Development Camp.

“I was 15 at the time and while I was playing against kids in Canada (when she was at The Warner School), their speed was pretty good,” said Olson. “But when I was going up against the best players in the United States, I really didn’t feel like I belonged for the longest time.

“Really, it opened my eyes. I never had played against anybody with that kind of speed. It took a while before I felt comfortable and that I belonged with that caliber of player.”

Just like it took her time before she felt comfortable riding a horse and roping and wrestling calves.