Putting up with yet another photo shoot, Oliver Wahlstrom flashes a mischievous grin, lays his stick on the ice, scoops up the puck and begins to twirl it lacrosse-style over and behind his head.
This is one move even his dad, Joakim, says he has never seen.
“Oliver, can you do that while you’re skating?” Dad asks.
“I think so,” replies the 9-year-old Cumberland, Maine resident.
And off he goes down the ice, whirling and twirling.
“It’s like a fantasy to him,” Joakim says. “He just makes stuff up as he goes.”
It was just over a week before this session at the Wahlstroms’ home rink in Saco, Maine that the latest Oliver creation took the hockey world and Internet by storm.
Competing in a Mini One-on-One event at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, televised between periods of Bruins’ games, Oliver picks up the puck and skates casually through center ice and across the blueline.
A right-handed shot, he bends low to scoop up the puck lacrosse-style, spins completely around, and flings it, perfectly placed, just inside the left goalpost past a bewildered goaltender.
“I worked on it forever,” Oliver says. “I have a between-the-legs one where I go between my legs and pull the puck back. I’m still working on that one.”
The goal was not unlike one Mike Legg scored during an NCAA regional playoff game for Michigan against Minnesota in 1996. In that one, Legg cradled the puck on his stick and came out from behind the net and scored.
Within days of the “Oliver” being shown as a teaser during a Bruins’ game, the move and the smiling kid from Mrs. Wilson’s third grade class at Drowne Road School is all over YouTube and the media.
ESPN SportsCenter analyst Barry Melrose interviews Oliver via satellite. The Wahlstroms appear on the CBS Morning News, and countless news outlets line up to talk to them.
A couple of journalists from Joakim’s native Sweden, where he played professionally, swing by after interviewing novelist Dan Brown in New Hampshire.
It is the latest hockey shot seen ’round the world.
Oliver works on all kinds of moves. He practices them when he’s playing knee hockey in hotel corridors and other tight spaces. He works on them during street hockey. And he works on them with a stick and squishy ball and mini-net while he and his father watch Bruins’ games on television.
“He’s done that since we can remember,” says Joakim, who played hockey at the University of Maine where he met Oliver’s mother, Penelope, a field hockey player. “I think he imagines things and wants to develop them. And he’s very stubborn. He keeps trying something until he can accomplish it, and when he can accomplish it he moves on to the next thing.”
This season, Oliver is playing with a Portland Jr. Pirates team – his father is the general manager of the organization – with kids a few years older.
“The biggest thing he has is creativity,” says Jay Pecora, a skills coach with the Jr. Pirates. “He’s got a passion. It doesn’t come from his mom and dad. It comes from him. The drive he has, it’s scary to see at 9, because I have some 19-year-olds who don’t have that passion.”
Roddick Kocera, Oliver’s coach, says his maturity and work ethic help him fit in nicely with the older kids.
But the trick shots are only a small part of his game.
“His hands, his shot, his strength and his balance are just amazing,” Kocera says. “He’s my first line center, and he’s 9, playing with 12-year-olds. We’ve scored 22 goals and he has 12 of them.”
He’s a 9-year-old who likes gym class and writing in school. He also plays lacrosse and soccer and likes to ride his dirt bike in his free time. But, of course, he likes hockey best of all.
His sister, Alexandra, 11, has an edge on him in soccer, but not on the ice.
“In soccer, she’s way better than I am,” Oliver says with another grin. “She’s a goal scorer. Like I am in hockey.”
The proof is peppered all over the Internet.
Allen Lessels is a writer with the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, N.H.