All signs indicate Brian Holzinger is not about to fall victim to the Hobey Baker jinx.
Over the years many former Hobey Baker recipients—the award is annually presented to the top U.S. collegiate hockey player—have seemingly fallen off the face of the earth or have had limited success in the pro ranks.
But Holzinger, who captured the trophy during his senior season, 1994-95, at Bowling Green University, has proven this year that he is one of the NHL’s brightest upcoming stars.
When the Buffalo Sabres went looking for some of their other players to step forward after captain Pat LaFontaine was sidelined indefinitely from the side effects of a concussion, Holzinger was one of those individuals who assumed more duties.
“You never want to see a team guy go down,” said Holzinger, a center, who at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, has almost the same stature of LaFontaine. “But it’s given me the opportunity to step in and play in situations I probably normally wouldn’t be playing in if Pat was in the lineup. And it’s an opportunity for me to go out there and prove I can play in this league.”
As a rookie, Holzinger had his share of struggles in the NHL last season. He had averaged almost two points per game during his final year at Bowling Green (68 points including 35 goals in 38 games) but discovered pro points were harder to come by.
|Holzinger was traded to the Lighting in the 1999-2000 season. Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Lighting.|
In 58 appearances with the Sabres last season, he earned 20 points. The Buffalo franchise also thought Holz-inger needed some more grooming and sent him to their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester where he picked up 45 points in 36 regular season and playoff outings.
Holzinger, 24, was well aware he’d have to undergo plenty of adjustments once he reached the pros.
“This is such a different schedule for one thing,” he said. “You’re playing 35 games in college, maybe 40 tops. And here you’re playing 82 and traveling every other day. So it takes a bit of an adjustment. I think last year was a good adjustment year for me. I think I’ve handled it pretty well and I’ve been trying to carry it over this year.”
There’s also contrasting styles in the way the game is played in college and what is the norm in the pros.
“The guys are definitely bigger and stronger (in the NHL),” Holzinger added. “There’s a lot of one-on-one battles and clutching and grabbing that you have to learn to fight through. That probably is something that took me the longest to learn—the pro game if you want to call it.”
Like he frequently did in college, Holzinger has had numerous opportunities to display his quick set of wheels.
“My bread and butter and my asset in this game is my speed,” he said. “When I’m using my skating abilities, I’m able to create not only scoring opportunities for myself but for my teammates as well. When I’m skating, I’m a pretty confident player and when I’m not, things go the other way. But it’s definitely my skating that’s going to keep me in this league.”
While offense was his main focus at Bowling Green, Holzinger has quickly learned the importance of playing solidly both ways.
“Everybody wants a two-way player on this team,” he said. “You have to be able to play good, hard-nosed defense in order to stay in this league. Last year I took that for granted a little bit and this year I’m really trying to bear down on defensive plays. I’m not the big guy who’s going to go in the corner hammering guys but if I can use my speed and quickness and box guys out—keep them from getting to the net, I should be in good shape especially against the bigger guys who are going to be physically stronger than myself.”
Though his reputation preceded him to the NHL, Holzinger is by no means resting on his laurels. “In order to be successful at this thing you have to go out and play and you have to leave whatever accomplishments you had in the past behind you,” said Holzinger, the Sabres’ sixth-round selection, 124th overall, at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s time to move on.”
Besides, Holzinger is now pursuing his pro goals.
“I was always a Steve Yzerman fan,” he said. “I liked the way he played and thought one day I could be a player just like him. He’s a great skater, he’s a great playmaker and he’s great defensively, he’s great offensively. He has all the tools. Hopefully one day I can be just like him and be an all-star in this league.”
Should Holzinger continue to improve, that day probably won’t be too far off.
Michael Adams is a Toronto-based freelance sportswriter.
This first appeared in the 04/1997 issue of Hockey
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey
Posted: Nov 10, 2001, 10:33
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