PHOTO: Nikos Frazier/The Vindicator
Growing up in Michigan, hockey was plentiful in the Wolverine State for defenseman Steve Holtz, though the minor hockey experience for the 20-year-old had it’s ups and downs, “Exciting, disappointing, sad, happy, I felt all the emotions in my experience with minor hockey in Michigan,” said Holtz, “There’s no shortage of teams throughout the state and they are all very strong.”
Beginning his minor hockey career through the Compuware program based out of Plymouth, Michigan, Holtz went on to play for the Honeybaked Bantam Minor AAA team before experiencing his first setback in his hockey tenure. After being cut from each of the AAA teams he had tried out for at the Bantam Major level, Holtz played AA for a season before finding a spot with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies U15 team.
The next season, Holtz made an attempt to advance to the U16 level but was let go from every team he tried out for, “I know it’s not the best way of going about it but there was part of me that was debating quitting hockey after that point,” Holtz mentioned, “I was playing high school golf at the time and I was a really good golfer so I thought about hanging up the skates and almost starting pursuing that.”
Instead of hitting the links, Steve hit the road and moved to Canada to join the Markham Majors, a team based in Markham, Ontario and owned by Holtz grandfather, Jerry Jacobs, and proved to be the right call, “I played in Markham for a season under Andre Darwell and Andrew Campoli, two really good coaches of mine who had a huge impact on my hockey career,” said Holtz, “I had a pretty solid year there and grew about 5 inches and gained 30 pounds before going back to Michigan to graduate with my buddies.”
After joining the Compuware U18 team for his senior season in high school back in his home state, Holtz had a breakout season, “I think because I was playing hockey just to have fun,” the now 6’4″, 190-pound rearguard mentioned, “I wasn’t worried about making the jump to junior or having NCAA schools look at me, I was just having fun playing the game and that is when you play at your best.”
“Ever since then, I’ve had really good luck in getting interest from NCAA schools and junior teams and that was my breakout year,” Holtz continued, “I’ve been doubted my whole career and I’ll probably be doubted again but I’m really happy about where I’ve come from and I think it’s a great story.”
The White Lake, Michigan native continued his hockey path to join the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League, where he played two seasons, getting into 58 games. “I had a great first year and felt a lot more confident and comfortable with the whole junior experience heading into my second season,” said Holtz, “I was comfortable with the coaching staff and my billet family and the second time around, things were a lot easier for me.”
Coming out West to play the game will be a first for Holtz, who is looking forward to making his way to British Columbia for his final season of Junior ‘A’ hockey, “I was able to reach out to Coach (Fred) Harbinson and I had a bunch of questions on a notepad,” said Holtz, “The further I went down the list, the more I got excited about playing in Penticton and I knew that was the place I wanted to be.”
There will be a familiar face for the right-handed shot defender when he gets to town as his teammate in Youngstown from a season ago, Tristan Amonte, will also suit up for Penticton this season, “It always helps having a guy you are familiar with already while getting to know the rest of your teammates. I actually spoke with him about coming out the Vees before making my decision and it will be helpful to have a guy in the locker room that you already know.”
When it comes to his play on the ice, Holtz likes his movement as his best asset, “Skating is the best aspect of my game,” said Holtz, “I’d say I’m a puck moving defenseman and I get the puck out of the defensive zone as quick as possible. I think I’m dangerous with the puck as far as being poised and patient in making plays and picking my spots in joining the rush up ice.”
Holtz and the rest of the Vees are set to hit the ice in August 19th ahead of the 2019/20 season with the first game of the exhibition schedule taking place on Wednesday, August 21st in West Kelowna against the Warriors. Season tickets are on sale now and are available by contacting Laura Carleton at (250) 493-8337 ext. 4.