Girls' hockey became a high school varsity sport in Minnesota in 1994. Four years later, women's hockey made its Olympic debut.
Lynn Olson played a big role in both of those landmark developments, and on Thursday the women's hockey pioneer from Richfield was named the 2020 winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Olson will be honored along with the 2020 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame class and the yet-to-be-named Class of 2021 as part of the hall induction ceremony in December of 2021.
"Surprised. Honored. Humbled," Olson said of her reaction. "I never imagined they'd give it to me. … It was always a labor of love. I was very passionate about seeing that it happened for my daughters as well as any other girls and women out there."
Olson's lobbying for girls' and women's hockey in Minnesota goes back to the 1970s. She helped organize the Minnesota Women's Hockey League and was elected its president in 1984. Two years later, the league joined the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association, and Olson served as its women's hockey director until 2007.
On Nov. 14, 1994, Olson coached Holy Angels against South St. Paul in the first varsity girls' high school game sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League.
"It was a long process, and there were a lot of individuals who didn't want to see girls' hockey come about because they were afraid it was going to take the ice away from their boys," Olson said in May. "So that was not fun sometimes, but it all turned out well, and look where we are now. It's absolutely fantastic."
Minnesota had 24 girls' teams in that inaugural 1994-95 season. It now boasts 116, with a two-class state tournament at Xcel Energy Center. In addition, 126 women from Minnesota were on NCAA Division I rosters in 2019-20, the most of any state.
The other achievement of which Olson is most proud is her lobbying efforts toward the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee to have women's hockey included in the Olympics. The sport was approved by the IOC in 1992, and the United States won the gold medal in that inaugural tournament in '98.
"The Olympic part was just the icing on the cake," she said. "We'd worked so hard to get it going at the youth level."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman praised Olson in a statement: "It is difficult to imagine that there is anyone whose body of work better fits the description of 'outstanding service to hockey in the United States.' Her passion for our game, her determination that it be as available and welcoming to girls and women as to boys and men, and her relentless pursuit of that goal have been transformative."
The annual award was presented to the NHL by the New York Rangers in 1966 in honor of Lester Patrick, who was a player, coach, general manager and pioneer in hockey's development for 50 years.
Olson is the fourth consecutive Minnesotan to win the award, joining Dr. Jack Blatherwick last year, Jim Johannson in 2018 and Peter Lindberg in 2017.