Puck Stops Here
What is it like to get hit by a rock-solid piece of hard rubber flying at 90 mph? Ask University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) goalie Chris Holt, and he'll tell you it hurts. Even with 35 pounds of pads, Holt said, there are plenty of vulnerable spots where the padding is very thin.
The sophomore goaltender from South Surrey, British Columbia, was a sixth-round draft choice by the New York Rangers in 2003. "Holtzy," as he is known to his teammates, said he is playing his best hockey this season and is in great shape – something he credits to a busy summer of on-campus workouts and Ranger hockey camps.
"This summer was pretty much non-existent," Holt said. "It felt like the regular season just continued, but by far it was the most beneficial summer that I've had. I credit this to a lot of the places I went and the people I worked with."
Holt said a good goalie must have agility, flexibility and good reflexes, and must be mentally strong for the high-pressure position. "If you make a mistake, it costs your team a goal, and that could cost your team a game," Holt said. "There are no irrelevant mistakes as a goaltender. You have to be on your game, or your team doesn't have a chance."
The goalie said he can mentally picture shots coming at him and make routine saves so that when the shots happen in a game, his muscles will know what to do. If he has been struggling in his performance, Holt said that prior to a game, he may listen to some "focus CDs" provided by sports psychologist Jack Stark. "If I've been playing well, I don't talk with too many people, and I do my own thing."
Physical preparation for a game also is key for a winning performance. In the hours before going on the ice, Holt will keep busy getting his fill of water. "During a game, you might sweat off three to four pounds, so I'll drink six or seven glasses of water at home before we do our pre-game skate. And, of course, during the game you've got plenty of liquids to drink," he said.
As the lights dim at the Qwest Center Omaha and the train whistle sounds off, the UNO Mavericks skate out onto the ice from beneath a blown-up Maverick head. "It's an adrenalin rush, and you feel like a kid coming out of the bull's head with all the smoke and the crowd going crazy," Holt said. "I look forward to it every single game."
During a game, Holt said, a goalie must keep his mind on the action, even if he is not deflecting many shots. "In games where you don't get a lot of shots, it's tough to stay focused and on top of your game," he said. "I usually like to have about 30 shots a game."
And what about those hard-flying pucks that hit him in the head? "It's really loud… a sharp pain, and you're unable to hear anything for about 10 minutes," he said. "The helmet is designed to deflect the puck rather than to absorb the full impact, and it can get kind of scary."
Speaking of helmets, sharp-eyed spectators may have noticed Holt sporting new headgear partway through this season. He is wearing a new helmet that he designed himself. The front top shows a steer's head with both Canadian and American flags bordering "Holtzy" beneath his chin. The two nations' flags emphasize that Holt is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. The sides of the helmet contain the text "UNO" and a desert island with a cornstalk, which symbolizes Nebraska.
Some fans might wonder what has brought about the dramatic rise in the team's performance this season. "We have a lot more talented team than last year, and our freshmen are producing a great deal of offense," Holt said. "Billy Thomas, one of our star players, is leading our team in points, along with Scott Parse and Bryan Marshall. Last year we seemed to rely on one line of players, whereas this year we have a lot of depth, all the lines are contributing and our defense is a lot better. All around we've matured as a team. We're doing a lot of the little things right, and it is contributing to our success."
As for himself, Holt said, he is more mature and has adapted to this level of play. "Add together maturity in the net and game awareness, and it's showing up in the win column and stats," he said.
After last weekend's games at Notre Dame, the Mavs remain in fourth place in the conference. The Mavericks host the league-leading Michigan Wolverines this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12.
Holt predicts this weekend's series with Michigan will be extremely physical. "We are two teams that don't like each other," he said. "Last year, we almost upset them in the playoffs in their arena, and there's a lot of bad blood from last season. We love being the underdog and trying to knock off this giant in the Michigan Wolverines."
The Maverick goalie predicts it will be fun to watch, and he's hoping for big crowds. "You're going to get what you paid for!" he said.
Tim Fitzgerald is manager of photographic services at UNO.
October 2012 > A Closer Look at IS&T's NUCIA
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fall 2004 > Dean Olson: Assessing the Threat
fall 2004 > Tom Warren: From the Chiefs to the Chief