Nate Oliver has conducted hundreds of interviews as a contributor for The Hockey Writers. This time, he was the interviewee. That’s because earlier this week, the NWHL announced that Oliver will take over as general manager of the Buffalo Beauts for the 2020-21 season.
“It feels very surreal. It all happened so fast,” said Oliver.
Last season, Oliver served as the team’s community coordinator. Among other duties, he handled the team’s social media accounts and ran all the game day media operations. “But my main role was getting the players out and involved in the Buffalo communities,” he added.
On a team that had 22 players, only six of them were from Buffalo. The rest were from Minnesota, Canada, Slovakia, and even one from Taiwan. “Aside from getting the Beauts name out there, I wanted to make that connection between the players and the fans,” said Oliver. “It’s a very tangible league… meaning you go to any WNHL game and after the game, you get to meet all the players; they sign autographs and take pictures. We tried to make it a little extra special with the Beauts. I lined up at least one event every month in the community.”
Not only did Oliver, a 40-year-old lifelong Buffalonian, help players get situated in the Nickel City, he was also a de-facto Assistant General Manager for the Beauts. There were a few times, on some road trips, where he served as the proxy GM for the team.
Getting the Call
Oliver replaces Mandy Cronin who is taking the reins as the GM of the NWHL’s newest expansion team in Toronto.
When he got the call from the NWHL’s Commissioner, Dani Rylan, and Deputy Commissioner Michelle Picard, gauging his interest for the role, he didn’t have to take time to think about it. “In some ways it was a dream come true,” he said with a smile that could be felt over the phone. “I’m a Buffalo boy, born and raised. It’s kind of like fantasy, to some extent, to become the GM for a hometown team.”
It All Started at the Nagano Olympics
Oliver has been following women’s hockey for more than half his life, citing the 1998 Olympic games in Nagano, Japan where he truly found his love for the game.
“It might sound odd for a guy to say this, but growing up, some of my hockey heroes, in addition to the Alexander Mogilnys and the Pat LaFontaines, were Jennifer Botterill and A.J. Mleczko and seeing them play Cammi Granato and Sarah Tueting at those ‘98 Nagano Games.”
Following the Women’s Game
Oliver has been covering hockey for nearly a decade. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had the chance to interview and get to know many of those same players that I idolized on the men’s and women’s scene.”
He’s no stranger to the women’s game. “I’ve known the veterans on the team, like Kelsey Neumann and Taylor Accursi for a number of years and I’ve always had a good rapport with them.”
Oliver is admittedly obsessed with hockey. “I can’t help myself. I’m always perusing stats, perusing the different leagues in the world, whether it’s the NWHL and looking at our competition or up and comers in the NCAA or youth sports out of Canada, or the leagues in Sweden, Finland and Russia,” he said excitedly. “I’m always talking to different coaches and players that are involved in the women’s game… seeing who might be the fit out there and who might be available for the Beauts.”
The Path to General Manager
Oliver has worked in higher education and facilities management for the better part of 15 years and currently oversees a staff of more than 100 as Associate Director for the Campus Living Department at the University of Buffalo. “Managing people is what I do naturally, but hockey is my passion and my love,” said Oliver. “It’s strange how the two kind of woven together. Strange in a good way.”
He prides himself on his communication and organization skills as well as always being prepared. Above that, he believes in a code of respect. “I’m a firm believer in treating others as you’d like to be treated and doing what you can to help others,” said Oliver. “I think that’s what life is all about and you can certainly apply that to hockey.”
Building a Winner
Right now, we’re trying to get the roster established. Cronin had signed four players before leaving for Toronto. Oliver’s first official signing was announced Tuesday, defender Dominique Kremer. She played for Djurgardens IF of the SDHL last season.
While winning is obviously important, Oliver sees a bigger picture. “Yes, we want to win hockey games. Yes, we want to bring the Isobal Cup back to Buffalo and win a championship. But the biggest thing that I see for the team is that I want the players to have a very positive environment to play in.”
He believes being a part of a team like the Beauts has a ripple effect, creating opportunities that can pay dividends later on down the road. “Maybe a door opens up and they make a connection with a local youth hockey team or with coaching staff while playing in Buffalo and get a job in here and stay.”
A Strong Foundation
Fortunately for Oliver, he already has a great working relationship with Beauts head coach, Pete Perram. “I got to know him very well this past season,” added Oliver. “He knows the game and the women’s game especially.”
Oliver has also been talking almost every day with his two alternate captains from this past season that are already under contract, forward Taylor Accursi and defender M.J. Pelletier. He know they’ll play a critical role as the team looks to improve next season.
A Love for the Game and Buffalo
Oliver is honored to be leading the Beauts. “The NWHL and this team are near and dear to my heart and I’m fully invested in them,” he said proudly. “I feel very fortunate that I’m a lifelong Buffalonian–there’s no other place than I’d rather be.”
Having traveled with the team last season, Oliver has no question in his mind which city has the best fans. “The Beauts have the best fans in the NWHL. They bend over backwards to support us every game. They hang up sign and posters in the rink and they come out to our practices. The community loves this team and the players love it back.”
The new Beauts GM added, “There’s no doubt we have a good thing here and it’s only going to continue to get better and better.”