BY GREG SIERING
Thirteen-year-old Dashel Oliver says he doesn’t know when he started playing hockey, just that he’s been on skates and chasing pucks for as long as he can remember. The youngest son of Bill and Kathleen Oliver, Dashel says he’s drawn to the speed and intensity of the game. “It’s not like other sports that have breaks between plays,” he says, “It’s nonstop action, skating at 110 percent during your shift on the ice.”
According to his mother, Dashel was a “rink rat,” running around outside the boards of the Frank Southern Ice Arena, slapping at a puck while his two older brothers—Wesley, 19, and Gibson, 18—were out on the ice. When he was old enough, he started skating and playing with the Bloomington Blades youth hockey program.
A center forward and right winger, his coaches and parents noted Dashel’s talent early on. But despite hard work and visits to hockey development camps, his improvement was hampered by limited time on the ice—the local rink is only open six months out of the year.
So, late this summer, Dashel and his mother moved to Chicago after he was accepted by the elite Chicago Mission hockey club, an organization that has 35 graduates playing professional hockey, including several in the National Hockey League (NHL). During the day, Dashel attends Bridgedale Academy, a private school focused on young hockey players. His days include on-ice practice, strength and agility training, and a full academic schedule. Three to four evenings each week, he practices with his Mission team.
“For a 13-year-old, it’s giving him a sense of independence and responsibility,” Kathleen says. “He has to be responsible every day—for getting up on time for practice, keeping track of his gear, keeping up with his homework, and managing a busy schedule.”
She knows he’s up to the challenge. “Dashel’s work ethic is unmatched,” she says.
Dashel loves his new hockey life, saying, “As soon as we pulled into our new home, I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew I was doing something 13-year-old kids don’t do.” But at the end of the day, he is still a kid who misses his five dogs, his dad, and his friends.
Despite the success and accolades, Dashel is humble about his talent. He says his parents taught him not to showboat. “Gotta keep a level head,” he says. And then, almost in unison, he and his mother say, “Keep your head down. Do your job.”