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Decision to play in QMJHL pays off for London, Ont. defenceman

Connor Olson considers himself one of the fortunate ones.

While many of his hockey-playing peers in Ontario were searching the province for ice time, the former Elgin-Middlesex Chief and London Junior Knight was able to continue his development in one of the country’s top junior hockey leagues.

During a winter like no other before it, Olson took the next steps in his development and carved out a role with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

“It was obviously a struggle finding ice time around Ontario so I was fortunate to have made the decision to go out east,” Olson said. “A couple of my buddies found places to play all over the place, but it was definitely difficult for the ones who did stay in the province.”

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Despite the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) not icing a season, the QMJHL was able to get some games in, and is currently in the midst of a make-shift post-season format.

It was early in 2020 when Olson had made the decision to take the QMJHL route, after weeks of talks with the Wildcat’s organization. This was all months before the full extent of the pandemic was realized.

With uncertainty surrounding a potential season, Olson made his way to Moncton for training camp in August, looking to make an impact with a new team in a new province.

That journey included a two-week hotel quarantine, which he says was an interesting experience.

Connor Olson scored two goals and 12 points in 31 games with the Moncton Wildcats during the 2020-21 QMJHL season.

“We had a stationary bike in the hotel room so we could do some workouts there, and right after the two weeks were up we went right into training camp.”

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The 19-year-old says despite everything going on in the world, the organization tried to make things seem as normal as possible, during a time where that was far from the case.

“It was pretty similar to a regular-season feel before things got shut down,” said Olson, referring to when the QMJHL halted play in the Maritimes Division as a result of added pandemic-related restrictions in those provinces.

“Our team did a great job. We still ran practices and held intrasquad games to keep the competitive spirit going. We also did some off-the-ice team building, which is good to keep everyone engaged.”

Despite the nearly three-month midseason layoff between games, the Wildcats’ managed to play 31 regular-season games, with Olson scoring a pair of goals and recording 12 points from the blue line.

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“It was obviously tough, but at times you kind of felt like things were normal, so the team did a great job.”

A big part of playing junior hockey is the community aspect. Going to local schools, attending fundraisers and charity events — are all common parts of a typical junior hockey schedule.

Olson says the team did everything they could to keep up the close relationship with the Moncton community,

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“We probably did as good of a job as we could. Given the circumstances, it was obviously tougher to get out into the community this year. But the team did a great job to make an impact in the community,” said Olson, adding that the team held Zoom conversations with local schools.

“Hopefully moving on next year, we can do more of that.”

Olson has returned to London for the summer, and says after a brief break to rest his body, he’s already in “off-season mode” as he prepares for next season with the Wildcats.

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