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Eden Prairie assistant's battle with cancer brings tears, inspiration

By LOREN NELSON, Special to the Star Tribune, 03/03/16, 11:27PM CST


Steve Olinger’s presence at Xcel Energy Center was hardly a given after the news he received in early January.

Eden Prairie assistant coach Steve Olinger. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Steve Olinger assumed his usual position behind the Eden Prairie bench on Thursday night, the assistant coach’s shock of white hair contrasting with his black coaches’ jacket.

As per tradition, Olinger exchanged handshakes with Eagles head coach Lee Smith and fellow assistant Paul Ranheim before the Class 2A quarterfinal against Anoka. Then Olinger and Smith shook hands again after Eden Prairie’s 7-3 victory over the Tornadoes, pausing for an extra second or two.

The moment had special meaning. Olinger’s presence at Xcel Energy Center was hardly a given after the news he received in early January.

“I was diagnosed with skin cancer,” Olinger said. “Stage four melanoma. About as bad as it gets.”

Olinger was the head coach at Chaska/Chanhassen when Smith convinced him to join the Eagles’ staff five years ago.

“The initial blow,” Smith said, referring to hearing about Olinger, “was like getting socked in the gut. More so than being a coach, he’s your friend.”

Olinger has been undergoing immunotherapy, and the effects of the first wave of treatments forced him to miss the Eagles’ final five games of the regular season. He returned for the section playoffs.

“When it happened, I think it brought tears to everyone’s eyes,” Eden Prairie junior forward Casey Mittelstadt said. “When you come back to the bench, and he’s standing there, it’s pretty special.”

Nicknamed “The Governor” by Smith because of his ability to initiate long conversations with friends and strangers alike, the always upbeat Olinger is optimistic the treatments will work.

“This is the same thing Jimmy Carter had, actually,” Olinger said. “And he ended up cancer free.”

Brotherly advice

When Cade Borchardt scored the lone goal for Burnsville in its 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Wayzata on Thursday, no was more thrilled than Borchardt’s older brother, Cole.

“He liked my goal and celebration, so he was pretty pumped about that after the first period,” said Cade, Burnsville’s leading scorer with 32 goals.

Cole, himself a former Blaze standout, survived a 2014 car crash but suffered major brain damage, among numerous other serious injuries. He keeps stats for the varsity team and offers advice and inspiration in the locker room.

“He tries to get us going,” Cade said. “He was in our shoes, so it’s nice hearing from him. Especially someone who has gone through a lot like him.”

Depth the difference

All three of Wayzata’s top lines provided scoring in the Trojans’ 3-1 win over Burnsville. And the fourth line saw plenty of action, too, Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary said.

First-line center Mark Senden, second-line right wing Luke Paterson and third-line right wing Dillon Riley scored in the second period.

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