OXFORD, Ohio – Playing for his dream school, one he rooted for his entire childhood, became reality for Jack Olmstead in 2018.
The Detroit-area forward grew up a huge University of Michigan fan, and he joined the Wolverines 4½ years ago following a solid season with NAHL Wilkes-Barre.
But Olmstead struggled to get onto the lineup card because of Michigan’s forward depth.
So he transferred to Miami and has been a staple among the team’s forward corps since, dressing for 69 of the RedHawks’ 85 games the past two-plus seasons while thriving as a center, a wing, a penalty killer and a member of all four lines at some point.
“It’s all about how you handle it, and when he got here he knew he wanted to play and he would have to earn a spot to play, obviously, like all of us do,” senior Ryan Savage said. “But he took it with a grain of salt and put his boots on, battled his way into the lineup and now he’s a key part of his team, and we obviously need him every game.”
Olmstead was born in 1998, the second year of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships for the Detroit Red Wings, and he became a fan nearly from birth, as he vaguely remembered Detroit’s next title in 2002 at age 4.
His hometown of Troy, a northeast suburb of Detroit, boasts 20 rinks in a half hour radius in an area rich with collegiate and professional stars.
His other hockey love was the University of Michigan, the school his neighbor was from, and from age 2 he began attending Wolverines football and hockey games.
“So yeah, I’ve been a fan of both of those teams since I was young,” Olmstead said.
Olmstead was a prolific tennis player in his youth, winning multiple tournaments before retiring at age 14 despite his father, Rob, being a tennis coach.
Since he also played lacrosse in high school and he wasn’t giving up hockey, something had to go.
“My dad was pretty pissed when I quit that sport, but I always loved hockey a little more,” Olmstead said. “I was a big tennis guy, but my first love was hockey and I couldn’t get away from it.”
After playing his junior and senior high school years in the state’s Under-18 system, Olmstead was one of the last players to make NAHL Wilkes-Barre.
Within a couple of games he had already earned his coaches’ trust and ending up leading the Knights in goals (23), assists (30) and points (53). Wilkes-Barre also unexpectedly made a run to the conference final, with Olmstead going 2-8-10 in 10 playoff games.
But the step up for a 20-year-old with no experience in the USHL or a comparable level is a massive one for a Michigan freshman trying to earn ice time.
“It was very tough to crack the lineup,” Olmstead said. “They had tons of NHL guys, Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris and Will Lockwood – there were a lot of guys that played or will play in a lot of games in the NHL. In practice it was really cool to go against those guys.
Unfortunately, Olmstead played in just seven games as freshman in 2018-19, but he did score a goal. It clinched a 3-1 win over St. Lawrence on Oct. 27 and was set up by Hughes, one of the best young American-born players in the NHL.
Olmstead was on the ice for six games in the first half of that campaign, but he only played once after Christmas.
“Obviously I knew that was a possibility, with the names that were there,” Olmstead said. “You can only play 12 forwards a night, so when you have 16, 17 players that are all the best players on their juniors teams, USNDT or drafted in the first round, it gets pretty rough.”
His playing time dwindled even more his sophomore season, when he was scratched all but two of Michigan’s 36 games in 2019-20 and did not register a point.
“There was a logjam at forward,” Olmstead said. “I don’t mind adversity or competing for what I deserve, but there was tons of talent there and it was tough to get in, so I felt the best move for me would be to see what’s out there in the portal.”
This was in the spring of 2020, Ground Zero for COVID, which prematurely ended the season for all of college hockey.
Flash back two seasons, prior to Olmstead’s breakout NAHL season. At that point he had actually considered quitting hockey and coming to Miami as a student.
Being 5-feet-10 he was admittedly undersized and had been impressed enough with the school and the city of Oxford that he contemplated giving up his Michigan dream in favor of the Miami college experience.
So after two seasons of mostly sitting in the stands at Michigan, he talked to Miami coach Chris Bergeron about becoming a RedHawk for his final two collegiate seasons, and the decision was easy.
“Our views kind of connected and it was a no-brainer to come here,” Olmstead said. “I’ve enjoyed every second. “I’ve always loved the school, I’ve always loved how beautiful it is and everything about it.”
Said Bergeron: “I think it was a difficult thing for a Michigan guy to leave Michigan. I mean he’d put in two years of hard work in practice and unfortunately hadn’t been rewarded in games.”
But then came the adjustment to regular playing time. Olmstead had played three times in a season and a half, and on top of everything, the 2020-21 season was pushed back until December because of COVID.
“You’re playing against North Dakota in the pod, and you’re playing against Denver in the pod, and really good teams, so I think it took a little bit to get my stride back and really feel out how good the conference we play in is,” Olmstead said.
Olmstead dressed for eight of the 10 Omaha games in the 21-day pod, recording a goal and an assist. In three weeks, Olmstead had played one game fewer in that span than he had in two seasons with Michigan.
“He went from not playing games right into the season being basically delayed and then 21 days in a so-called bubble in Omaha,” Bergeron said. “He got thrown into it right away, and once he got into the swing of things happening faster in games than in practice, I think he was fine.”
Olmstead played all but five games in the COVID bubble season and was limited to one goal against Western Michigan and three assists, but two of his four points came in the final four games.
“I was really thrilled to be playing and to be playing a good amount,” Olmstead said. “Obviously I didn’t have the year offensively that I wanted to, but it was nice to be playing every night and trying to win hockey games.”
He built on that momentum in 2021-22, notching an assist on opening night, scoring five goals and finishing with five assists in 30 games.
That includes a highlight-reel backhander on the breakaway vs. Denver on Jan. 29.
Midway through that season, Bergeron said that Olmstead came to him and was making plans to return to Oxford for another year.
“Only playing nine games my first two seasons I really wanted to get another kick at the can, and Berge wanted me to come back, and I pretty much asked him, ‘would you take me back for one more year?’” Olmstead said. “We talked a bit, and the answer was ‘yes’, and it was a pretty easy choice for me to come back here. I’m really fortunate for Berge letting me come here in the first place, and we just agree on a lot of things as far as the program goes, and trying it get back going in the right direction.”
In an era that is seeing teams retain up to 10 graduate seniors, Olmstead is the only Miami skater to return after logging ice time in four previous campaigns. Goalie Logan Neaton is also in his fifth Division I season.
“What I think it says is that Miami is home for him, whether it be in the community, on campus, he feels like this is home and he found a good set of teammates that he’s got comfort in, and he wanted to come back,” Bergeron said.
This season, Olmstead has played in 19 of 24 games and has scored two goals and added an assist as he has held his own on a team with much improved depth.
“He’s a hard worker, he loves making the team better and whatever he can do to help out with that, he’s definitely the guy,” Savage said.
What has helped Olmstead hold a lineup spot most nights is his versatility. Whether it’s playing center, wing, 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, first, second, third or fourth line, Olmstead always finds a way to help the team.
“I take pride in being able to play 20 minutes on the first line or five minutes on the fourth line, I take pride in being able to play anywhere that the coach needs me,” Olmstead said. “I really just want to help our team win, and that’s what it comes down to. If I’m able to create a positive impact on the game, then I’m feeling pretty happy.”
Now on the home stretch of his fifth and final college season, Olmstead has played in 78 games — 69 with Miami — recording nine goals and nine assists.
“I think over the course of his time here he’s proven to be a guy that can play against any line and he’s a guy that can contribute offensively,” Bergeron said. “I think his versatility is probably his biggest strength, along with his work ethic. And that’s another thing – he’s a consistent guy. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Jack Olmstead. He’s predictable in a good way, and that has been helpful.”
Olmstead would have loved nothing more than to star with the Michigan team he grew up root for practically from infancy, but he has no regrets about moving to Oxford for the last three seasons and getting a chance to play regularly in a town that has become a second home.
“I’ve loved every second of it,” Olmstead said. “Obviously the school stuff can get hard, but we get help with that – we have a lot of really smart teammates that can help with that, and the teachers are great. I wouldn’t give this up for the world – I think it’s a great place to go to college. I’ve got nothing bad to say and never will about this place.”