May 20, 2014
TORONTO— Being relied on in the final minute of play to clinch a playoff series for your team does more than just give you a chance to pad your stats with an empty-net goal.
Korbinian Holzer put the icing on the cake for the Toronto Marlies when he scored at 19:55 of the third period in Toronto’s 4-0 win over the Chicago Wolves to advance to the Western Conference final. But to him the goal was “no big deal.”
“It gives you confidence, you want to be that guy out there to protect the lead,” said the German-born defenceman. “I’m happy that the coaches have that trust in me.”
Holzer’s time with the Maple Leafs organization has had its ups and downs, including a 22-game stint with the big club in 2013 that resulted in him being sent back to the AHL. But his time at the minor-league level has been valuable to the Marlies as he’s continued to be their most relied upon defenceman for the third straight post-season.
“He’s the anchor,” said goaltender Drew MacIntyre. “Korby’s been so good all year in the room, just taking a leadership role. He’s one of our top leaders, everybody knows that. And in the playoffs, like tonight (Game 4 vs. Chicago), he stood up after the second period and settled the ship.
“It’s a growing process. The first year I came over I wasn’t too young of a guy, I had a couple years pro in Germany and the Olympics, but it was a new environment, new country,” added Holzer. “You got to adapt and I think I’ve been put in situations where I can grow as a leader and I like that.”
When Holzer was returned to the Marlies after struggling with the Leafs, coach Randy Carlyle advised him that if he wanted to make it back to the NHL he would need to work on his gap control. Marlies coach Steve Spott believes he has fixed that issue.
“His gap control is at an NHL level,” said Spott.
“I obviously learned what it takes to get up there,” said Holzer. “It was great for me to get the sniff, but you want to make the jump.”
Holzer has spent his time with the Marlies in a shutdown pairing. First he teamed with former Leaf Mark Fraser, then he worked with Kevin Marshall and now he is grooming rookie Andrew MacWilliam. Wanting to get back to the NHL, however, Holzer knew he would have to do more than just stop teams’ top lines in the AHL.
This year, for the first time in his career, the 26-year-old played on the power play and scored a career-high five goals and 23 points. In comparison, Holzer had just five goals in his past 186 AHL contests.
“It’s great to get the opportunity to get a two-way game,” said Holzer. “The first opening meeting with Spott, (the coaches) asked what I can improve on and I said I think I can improve on the offensive side. So (Spott) put me on the power play and told me be confident with your shot.”
Holzer has one year remaining on his contract with Toronto, but he isn’t concerned right now about where his career may go. For now he has his eyes set on taking the Marlies to their second Calder Cup final in the past two seasons.
“People will notice so you just try and make an impression,” said Holzer. “I’m 26, but I want to get up there. I think I can play there and I’m ready to play in that league. If the opportunity comes (again) you got to be ready…Team success brings individual success and I think that’s going to be the biggest part.”
Whether Holzer can ever crack it with the Maple Leafs is yet to be determined. His first go-round didn’t go as planned and depth has brought in younger blue liners who have earned their own look as well. Spott, however, is rooting for him to get another chance.
“There’s a guy, that when you talk about class and respect he’s all of the above. I hope he has a chance to play next year in the National Hockey League.”