December 2, 2023

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Olivier has proved to be a tough customer in first year with Blue Jackets

As Mathieu Olivier recently chatted with the media, his face bore the distinguishing features of his chosen profession. 

There was a mark at the bridge of his nose, where his visor has gouged a consistent gash. There were scrapes and red marks in various places, and was that some bruising that was starting to form? 

For an NHL tough guy, those are the marks of the game, though. And despite how rough Olivier looked on the outside, he said he was no worse for wear.  

“Don’t I look great? I look fantastic right now,” he joked. “It just looks bad. I feel great.” 

He spoke those words after dropping the gloves three times in three games for the Blue Jackets, a career first for Olivier and the first time a CBJ player was assessed a fighting major in three straight games since Jared Boll in January 2012. In fact, the Blue Jackets as a team hadn’t even had fights in three straight games since the spring of 2016.  

“The games have developed that way,” Olivier said. “You don’t plan it. It is what it is. It’s definitely something. It’s a weird feeling.” 

Video: ANA@CBJ: Olivier puts Blue Jackets ahead 1-0 in 1st

At the same time, that was the role Olivier was acquired to play when the Blue Jackets sent a fourth-round pick to Nashville for the 25-year-old this offseason. Columbus felt it was pushed around a bit too much a season ago in certain situations and wanted to avoid that this campaign, and the additions of Olivier and defenseman Erik Gudbranson have added a certain bit of sandpaper to the equation.  

Fighting is a dying art in the NHL, for reasons everyone understands, but in a physical, fast-paced game, it’s still important to have someone who can answer the bell when the temperature of the game calls for it. This year, that’s been Olivier, whose eight scraps tie him for second in the league, one behind Philadelphia’s Nic Deslauriers.  

“He’s a tough kid, I can tell you right now,” head coach Brad Larsen said. “You look at his opponents he’s fought this year, he’s never taken a step back from anyone. … Who he’s fought, how he’s fought, he’s making a name for himself, put it that way.” 

At the end of the day, Oliver comes upon it rightly, too. His father, Simon, racked up the penalty minutes during his pro career, including a career-high 302 in 64 games with Oklahoma City of the CHL in 1997-98. In Simon’s lone ECHL season of 1996-97, the year Mathieu was born, he put up eight goals, 21 points and 230 penalty minutes with the Mississippi Sea Wolves.  

While Mathieu stands 6-1, 217, his father was listed at 5-11, 190, so stirring up trouble runs in the family. 

“He said he had to be a little crazier just to get that space out there,” Mathieu said of his father’s smaller stature. “We have fun with it. It’s always fun to get him to talk about his stories and stuff. He always tells me that I have everything on him (physically), but he’s way crazier than I am. I’ll let him have that.” 

But on top of Olivier’s infusion of toughness into the lineup, he’s played some pretty good hockey, too. Larsen has maintained that Olivier wasn’t added only because he can fight, but because he can play, and the head coach’s line of Olivier with center Sean Kuraly and Eric Robinson is the forward trio with the most ice time on the roster this season. 

Olivier has posted three goals among his eight points, but the trusted trio he’s on is used largely as a checking line that Larsen expects to grind against some of the top opposing lines in the league. Olivier is averaging 11:23 of ice time per game, but he’s also topped 14 minutes in 10 contests this year. 

“Sometimes, there’s games where we’re probably going to play less, and that’s fine,” Olivier said. “(The comeback tie against Calgary), I think we started rolling three lines and we’re trying to score goals get back in the game. Some nights, maybe I’m the guy that’s rolling.  

“That’s something I appreciate in our coaching staff, and that’s fair, I believe. We’re trying to win hockey games. Regarding our role, whatever we need to do, we’re going to do it.” 

It’s not always pretty — just look at Olivier’s face — but he feels good about what he’s been able to contribute. Even if that means dropping the gloves, which still gets different reviews from different members of his family. 

“My wife was not happy,” he said the day after his bout with Lucic included plenty of haymakers. “My mom has seen her fair share of permanent makeup come in the house like that, so she was just like, ‘Brings back memories.'”