Growing up in the greater Buffalo region, hundreds of thousands of children have aspired to don the uniforms of their hometown and represent their city on the field or on the ice. As children grow, that dream shifts, and former street hockey stars become armchair coaches and general managers. For Queen City native Nathan Oliver, the latter has become a reality, and on May 11, he took the reigns of the crowned monarchs, the Buffalo Beauts.
Oliver garnered the offer from last season’s GM, Mandy Cronin. Cronin learned of a position opening up in her own home region, and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. She reached out to Oliver, who cautiously considered the idea. “It was very unexpected…She told me I was the league’s top candidate for the GM position in Buffalo; I was excited – nervous! It totally caught me off guard. But I would say it made sense when I looked at how this past season went for me.
“The Wednesday after she called me, I had a conference call with Dani Rylan and Shelly Picard, and it was kind of like things were already underway. We talked about how things were gearing up for Buffalo in season six, and they felt very comfortable having me at the helm and it kind of just went from there.”
“It’s very surreal…there are a number of different ways I can describe it. There’s the dream come true’ aspect of it, to be able to run your own Buffalo sports team…there are a lot of different emotions to it, but the bottom line is that I’m happy, and when you feel that happiness, you should follow it and let it blossom into what it is.”
The tenured reporter and community outreach coordinator says there is a lot of work to be done, but is taking things day-by-day. One of his proudest achievements was being a part of the staff that created a very positive culture in the Beauts organization last season, and he wants to see that carried through his new position. When asked about his first steps, he shared his thoughts on this. “It is really important for me that we create a positive environment around the Beauts…for most of us, we have regular jobs outside of [hockey]. I want to provide an environment that helps the players grow as a person, in addition to improving as a player.”
That positivity has been the engine driving the offseason, and Oliver said he saw it firsthand when he was named GM. “The outpouring of support that I have received – the congratulations have been overwhelming. It makes it feel like has come full circle. The support from the players has been tremendous – the calls and the texts – everyone saying how glad they are for me, and that I’m in this role now. That means the world to me.”
The wheels are already turning in the Nathan Oliver era. Last week he signed his first player, defender Dominique Kremer. Kremer comes to the shores of Lake Erie from the Swedish league, a strong first move for the first-year GM. Oliver is also gathering insight from veteran players in regard to players they’ve played against and believe would be a good fit for Buffalo. Things are coming together nicely for the team, and Oliver says that they are reaching toward those goals already. “We’re going to be tough to beat in our own zone, especially when you look at a premier goalie like Carly Jackson…Then we have [Lisa] Chesson coming back, we have [MJ] Pelletier, we have Kremer, and there are going to be a few others(!) Each one that I’ve named is a number one defender for most clubs, and we’ve got three of them. We’re going to be very tough to score against.”
Oliver thinks that the biggest challenge for his team is going to be remaining consistent. The Beauts struggled with consistency in the 2019-20 season; after coming hot out of the gate, the squad dropped off hard, frequently losing leads and losing 12 of their last 14 games. “We were a young team last season – Buie, Accursi, Neumann, Fujimagari, Stacey, and Delay were the only ones with professional experience. Now the bulk of our players have at least a year under their belts. Consistency can be achieved because of the growing pains we had last season and what we’ve done to correct them, having improvements to our overall talent, but improvements to our veteran play.”
After careful consideration, Oliver says his biggest challenge will be filling out the role players on the roster. “Salary cap amount has remained at $150,000, but minimum player salary has increased from $4,000 to $5,000, so you lose some money there that you had to work with. You’ve got to find the third line players that give you that secondary scoring, but are still responsible in their own zone, and you need to be mindful of the right picks for the extended roster. Maybe they don’t get into game action often, but they have to be ready to go. They have to be able to understand their role on the team, and be comfortable in that role, as well.”
Oliver will have perhaps the most interesting season as a Beauts GM in the organization’s history. For the first time, they will be competing regionally with top talent, and the Beauts saw a player who skated for them last year, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, head to Toronto. Oliver and his predecessor have certainly addressed some of the team’s weaknesses from the previous season, though, and if he can sign some scoring support, the Beauts will certainly be improved for season six.