Hockey has changed, and so has Benn Olson.
Until recently, Olson embraced the harder, more old-fashioned virtues of the sport as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound defenseman for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Aggressive, tough and punishing, Olson's style was about as subtle as a whack in the nose. He was once assessed 22 penalty minutes in a single period and often displayed his skating ability only while going to and from the penalty box.
Olson has dramatically broadened his game of late and is showcasing his more skilled side.
"I still like to make the big hit and to fight when I have the chance, but I can't afford to be in the penalty box," Olson said. "I have a lot more confidence now that I can get in the right position so I don't have to hook someone."
In a career that has spanned 166 regular-season games in Kamloops and Seattle, Olson has scored a total of two goals and 12 assists with 457 penalty minutes. In his last five games, however, Olson has a goal and three assists.
Part of the change is an adjustment to rules emphasized this season that limit obstruction.
"I think it's been tough for all the big guys," he said. "Last year you could hold along the wall and just about get away with anything. Now, if you're on someone for more than a second, it's a penalty."
Olson and the T-birds can't afford many penalties with defensemen Jeremy Schappert and Sena Acolatse out with injuries.
"Benn is not one-dimensional or just a fighter," Seattle coach Rob Sumner said. "There's not much room in the game for that anymore. He's continuously improved his skill levels, but he still has that defense and element of toughness."
Olson scored the second goal of his career to help the T-birds get to overtime against the Tri-City Americans on Wednesday and the shot that beat star goaltender Carey Price late in the third period was no fluke.
Olson unleashed a high, hard shot from the point that rang off the post and in, the only shot of 40 Price faced that he didn't stop.
Even though Tri-City won the game in overtime, the point helped Seattle, 33-19-3-11, stay in the race for second place in the division and the home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Much of Olson's improvement has come after practice, working with Seattle assistant Jim McTaggart to develop quicker feet and better lateral skating.
"I like scoring goals," Olson said. "I also like being known for my fighting ability."
Olson, who is from Port McNeill, B.C., and known as Big Benn, isn't sure why his first name carries an extra consonant.
"You'd have to ask my parents," Olson said. "Or my brother Glenn. I'm still not sure why they decided to do that."
• The annual Hockey Challenge put on by the T-birds last Saturday at KeyArena raised more than $140,000 for Ronald McDonald House charities. In nine years, the Hockey Challenge has raised more than $3.5 million.
• The Kent City Council appropriated more than $600,000 at its meeting this week to continue the process to build the $67 million Kent Events Center. The T-birds hope to play there beginning in the 2008-09 season.
Final approval for the project is expected next month.