PHOTO: Jack Murray
With the 2019/20 season coming to a close, we will take a look at each of the six 20-year-olds on the Vees roster and look back on their junior hockey careers. First up: defenseman Steve Holtz.
After playing in two seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League, Steve Holtz made his way to Penticton for his 20-year-old season. “I wasn’t really planning on playing another season of junior hockey,” said the Vees rearguard, “Things didn’t work out the way I had wanted them to but Fred (Harbinson) reached out to me in the summer about coming to play in Penticton and I wanted to take the chance to move out west and play in British Columbia.”
The White Lake, Michigan native led all blue liners with 8 goals on the season while collecting 27 points from the back end during his time with Penticton. Holtz credits Vees assistant coach Patrick Sexton for helping in his development.
“I thought I had a really good year,” Holtz mentioned, “I thought I developed through the year with Paddy as the D coach. He’s a younger guy that just came out of school and I feel like we just kind of connected like friends more than a coach and player relationship. I felt like I could kind of joke around with him and it was almost like he was a brother to me. It added a different level of development to my game and I just trusted him back there and made this a really good year and I really enjoyed my time in Penticton.”
Going through the regular season with 44 wins and earning a five-game first round series victory over the West Kelowna Warriors, the Vees were on a strong path heading into the second round of the playoffs before the season came to an abrupt halt with the COVID-19 outbreak. When did Holtz feel this team was special?
“I had that feeling after the preseason,” Holtz said, “We were on a pretty good roll through the preseason and then got hot at the beginning of the year, winning our first 11 games in a row and I knew we had something special from the start. It all started with the guys, we all bonded so quick and got along right away, whether it be away from the rink or at practice.”
Practices during the season are not normally looked to as a highlight that players will remember but for this year’s Vees, the practices had just as much meaning as game play did, “We had so much tempo and energy in our practices, Fred mentioned it in our team meeting at the end of the year, calling us the ‘One More’ team,” stated Holtz, “Guys always wanted one more rep in practice and to stay out a little longer, it’s things like that that go a mile and made a difference with our team and I genuinely think we had a shot at going a long way down the road.”
The closeness of the bond on the ice stems from how tight knit the team was in the dressing room and away from the rink, “To me, it was the best group of guys I’ve ever played with,” mentioned Holtz, “We all got along really well and it was like a brotherhood. There were times that guys would get on each others nerves but we’d always come to the rink the next day and hit the reset button and get back to being brothers again. It will be hard to find a better group of guys to play with down the road.”
“We had a lot veteran guys on this team that led in different ways,” continued Holtz, “I was more of a player that led by example on the ice. I’m not a huge talker, I like to have my actions lead the way but we had a little bit of everything with guys doing the right things whether the coaches were in the room or not.”
The White Lake, Michigan native, like each of the players who he went to battle with every night, would never have expected his junior hockey career to end in the fashion it did and will always be remembered, “It’s a very strange and unknown feeling that no one has really gone through before,” said Holtz, “For me, it just shows that you can’t take anything for granted. The season just flies by, it feels like yesterday I was just walking through the door and meeting my teammates so you really have to soak in every moment and enjoy your time in junior hockey.”
Holtz will begin his new hockey journey close to home as he is set to suit up with the University of Michigan for the fall of 2020. Hitting the ice with his new squad, or even on his own, is still an uncertainty given the current state of affairs in the world, “It still stings,” mentioned Holtz, “I think that hurt feeling is going to stay with me for a bit and not knowing what could have been for our season but once the situation settles down with the virus, I can get back on the ice and look ahead to college.”
“I can kind of start with some offseason training with lifting some weights and getting back to work,” commented Holtz, “It will be a lot of work to prepare myself for school and hockey and it’s going to be a big transition going from my junior hockey life.”
“I was taking online classes in Penticton but it’s definitely going to be an adjust, being a full-time engineering student at Michigan,” continued Holtz, “Doing that and playing hockey will be a difficult balance but I will do both to the best of my ability and it’s really excited to have that ahead and get that going.”
The Vees would like to thank Steve for his contributions to the team and the city of Penticton and wish him the best in his future endeavours!