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Mr. Hockey winner Larry Olimb brings player, parent perspectives to Orono girls head coaching job

Three decades removed from his time with the Minnesota Gophers and still the program's all-time assists leader, Larry Olimb is taking on a new challenge as head coach of an Orono girls' team looking to improve on its third place finish at the 2022 state tourney.

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Former Minnesota Gophers and Warroad Warriors star Larry Olimb (in the black hat) brought a wealth of youth hockey coaching experience as he took over as head coach for the Orono High School girls' program in 2022.<br/>
Contributed / Olimb family

ORONO, Minn. — At just 15 years old, eyes were trained on Larry Olimb. The classic “do everything, never leave the ice” show-running defenseman as a youth and high school hockey player in Warroad, he was featured in USA Today as a bantam, touted as one of American hockey’s future stars.

After leading the Warroad Warriors to a pair of state high school tournament trips, he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 1988 and slid seamlessly into Doug Woog’s Minnesota Gophers lineup, playing regular minutes at both forward and defense on a team that came within an overtime goal of the 1989 NCAA title.

Olimb, now 52, was recently named the head girls hockey coach at Orono and takes over a program coming off its best-ever season. The Spartans finished third at the 2022 state tournament under former head coach Sean Fish, beating South St. Paul in the season finale to finish 26-4-0.

“I know they’ve got a good program from top to bottom,” said Olimb, a few days after getting the job, and a few hours before his first meeting with his Spartans players. “They obviously did well last season, so it’s not stepping in to build a program.”

Successful set-up man

By the time his Gophers career was done, in 1992, Olimb would eclipse the legendary John Mayasich with 159 assists over his four college hockey seasons — a program record that still stands three decades later.

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But a lengthy pro hockey career was not in the cards for this former small-town star. He played fewer than 100 games for a paycheck, quietly stepping away from playing hockey after a season with the minor league Minnesota Moose in 1995.

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In his four years as a forward and a defenseman for the Minnesota Gophers, Larry Olimb put up a school record 159 assists and was a top 10 Hobey Baker finalist as a senior.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Athletics

The transition to coaching came almost immediately, as legendary trainer Jack Blatherwick was coaching Minnehaha Academy, and grabbed Olimb — then in his 20s — to coach at his side.

“He understood the game maybe better than any player I’ve ever known. And he was very patient. He’s like a math teacher has to be,” Blatherwick said before a recent on-ice training session in Edina. “You have to be patient with mistakes and look for small, little improvements that you can tell kids about. Most youth coaches are looking for mistakes. Larry’s not that kind of a coach at all.”

As marriage and family became a part of his life, Olimb coached at Bloomington Kennedy, as a co-head coach of the Wayzata girls program, and in the Wayzata youth hockey program, where his kids played. Olimb took a few years off of coaching to watch his children play high school sports. A month or so ago, with the Spartans needing a coach and Olimb’s kids out of the nest, friends started urging him to look into the Orono job.

“The first thought was no. But then I got a couple phone calls, and I just got the itch to come back,” he said. “The kids are grown, and I don’t have winter sports any more with my kids, so it was good timing. The more I thought about it, I thought, ‘Yeah, it would be fun.’”

Priorities and perspective

Although he has not lived there since leaving for college, his background in Warroad remains a big part of who Olimb is today. With the Warriors, especially in tight games, he would rarely leave the ice. A lasting image of Olimb from his prep days are TV shots of him leaning against the dasher boards at the St. Paul Civic Center during stoppages in play, fighting physical exhaustion as Warroad battled Edina in two overtimes during the 1988 state semifinals (the Hornets would win that one, and capture the state title the next night).

Surrounded by talent with the Gophers, Olimb learned that things were different immediately, as shifts were notably shorter and there was more abundant help from teammates. In one of his first practices as a U of M freshman, Woog told Olimb, “You can’t earn your letter in one shift.”

In Orono, Olimb sees some similarities to his hometown, notably a close-knit community where most of the players grew up speaking together in youth hockey. The Spartans will travel to face defending state champion Warroad this season, where Olimb admits there are advantages for girls hockey players.

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“I’m going to Orono with probably twice as many teams as Warroad has at the youth level, and one arena, one ice sheet, so you do have that challenge here,” he said.

As a solo head coach for the first time, Olimb says he looks to incorporate things he learned from Blatherwick, Woog and then-Gophers defense coach Bill Butters. And he brings a perspective to the job that he did not have in the late 1990s, when Olimb first tried coaching.

“It’s different as we all evolve,” he said. “From a personal perspective, now I’ve had high school athletes that I’ve watched while I wasn’t coaching, so I know what it’s like to be a parent, as opposed to coaching 20 years ago. Then I knew what it was like to be a player and a coach. Now you throw in something added, which is knowing what it’s like to be a parent.”

Orono celebrates with their goaltender after the horn sounds.
Orono players rushed to celebrate with their goaltender following a 7-1 win over Mankato East in their opening game of the 2022 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Sydney Wolf / The Rink Live

As for the style of hockey he looks to bring to the Spartans, the new coach reflects on the success he had as a prep, with future NHLer Chad Erickson in goal and Olimb running the show from the blue line and offers the belief that winning starts in goal and radiates out to defenders who can make plays and set up offense.

“We won’t be teaching the kids to flip it up off the glass,” he said, with a grin.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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