Bridgeport Sound Tiger Benn Olson is 24, an undrafted veteran of 98 ECHL games, five WHL seasons before that, without an NHL contract. Olson's teammate (until recently) Anton Klementyev is 21, has an entry level (two-way) NHL contract, and even has a token NHL game under his belt.
One already appears to be a hockey lifer, willing to go from team to team to try to climb the rung and chase the dream. The other took a chance on the team that took a chance on him, coming from Russia to a strange land, in a strange league, to give the NHL path a try as a fifth-round pick.
In the interest of that chase, when the Islanders tried to have Klementyev get more reps on an ECHL loan, he declined and instead fled back home. Two weeks later, Olson is accepting a similar assignment (to a different ECHL team). As was the intent for Klementyev's loan to Idaho, Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson explained to the CTPost, Olson is "going to play a lot of games, and obviously he’ll be back and ready to play with us."
It's not exactly fair to compare their situations: Klementyev's former KHL team was erased in an instant in the Lokomotiv tragedy on the eve of the season; that can get a man to ponder his place, his connections, his family while toiling in a foreign place with a foreign language. He had a contract with his old club's successor waiting for him when he returned home. (Not sure how it compares to his North American deal, which included a low AHL wage but also a nice signing bonus.)
With plenty of Islanders defensive prospects populating the Sound Tigers and in the prospect pipeline, Klementyev's chances of breaking through were always going to be daunting -- though youth was on his side.
Olson -- who does not have an NHL contract -- also faces slim chances, but he is living the life of so many North American pro hockey aspirants. To refuse the loan and chance to play would be to quit the dream.
Each is acting in his own interest, for what he sees as right for him. There's no wrong or right for decisions at the low levels of this oddest of professions.
But their paths are a reminder of how tough it is to make the NHL, how unglamorous the chase when you've yet to taste nice hotels, chartered flights, big bucks, and the singular privilege of Pierre McGuire shouting into a microphone just a few feet away from where you ply your trade.