By Andrew Sodergren
Naples Daily News
Last year, Jamie Holden split the season between the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons and the AHL’s Cleveland Barons, helping Fresno reach the Northern Conference finals with a brilliant playoff run.
The recently-signed Florida Everblades goaltender felt good about his professional hockey career and looked forward to another season of growth, hopefully in the AHL.
He thought he had a two-way NHL contract lined up, but it fell through at the last minute. He was left to ponder his options, and wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to play in the ECHL for the entire season, so he took on another opportunity. His alma mater Quinnipiac needed an assistant coach for the women’s program, and when head coach Mike Barrett found out Holden might be available, he quickly contacted him.
“We interviewed a few candidates who were good candidates,” Barrett said. “But we knew a lot about Jamie from his playing days here at Quinnipiac. We knew about his character and that he was an extremely dedicated student. I thought he’d be the perfect fit for our program.”
Holden interviewed for the job and was hired, and Barrett got more than he could have bargained for.
“Jamie didn’t have the coaching experience, but you wouldn’t know it with how he handled himself here,” Barrett said. “The man put in many 16-hour days for us. He did whatever he could to help the team out.”
While Holden was initially brought in to work with the goaltenders, he also embraced the role of preparing video packages for the team. Following weekend games, he’d put the video together to present to the team for breakdown purposes. He’d also put the video packages together for upcoming opponents, helping the team get ready for the next games on the schedule.
“As a coach, you see the game from a different perspective,” Holden said. “You get to learn what coaches expect of players. It helps you find out what coaches are thinking. I also think I learned even more about the game doing the videos. You see what the power-play is trying to accomplish and what the penalty-kill is trying to accomplish. You really break down every aspect of the game as a coach, and I believe that’s helped me as a player.”
Holden became so adept at putting together the video packages that Barrett would allow him to present the videos to the team without Barrett first seeing it.
“That was new to me,” Barrett said. “Usually, I had the person who was doing the video present it to me first and I’d take a look at it and go over the video with the team myself. He became so good at it, I allowed him to make the presentations on his own.”
Barrett said Holden’s demeanor and tireless work ethic immediately captured the respect of the team, even when he was being critical in the video sessions.
“He had an outstanding way of presenting where he would get his point across but was never disrespectful about it,” Barrett said. “I think the girls appreciated that.”
Quinnipiac struggled to an 8-24-2 record this season, but Barrett felt Holden made a tremendous impact on his players. His wealth of goaltending knowledge helped senior Janelle Wolitski tremendously. Wolitski was buried on the bench early in the season, but with Holden’s help, emerged to split time with Laura Brennan in the team’s last 14 games.
“Janelle told me she learned more about the position in one month with Jamie than she had her entire life,” Barrett said. “That shows what type of teacher he was.”
Holden had opportunities to play hockey during the season, with a few ECHL teams making offers. But Holden turned them down and honored his coaching commitment with his alma mater.
“I got a couple calls during the season but I had a commitment here and didn’t want to let the school down,” Holden said. “I wasn’t about to leave the team high and dry in the middle of the season.”
Holden was contacted by Everblades president/general manager Craig Brush a week after the Quinnipiac season ended, and he was again ready to suit up and play.
“I actually started to get the urge to play toward the end of our season (at Quinnipiac),” Holden said. “Mr. Brush called me and I thought, ‘Why not come down to Florida.’ I had noticed when I played in Fresno last year that the Everblades were one of the top drawing teams in the league. I also knew they were a winning team, so it was a good fit for me.”
Holden didn’t know he’d be thrown into the fire so quickly, though. When he signed, the Everblades still had starter Craig Kowalski on the team. Kowalski was in the midst of playing in 15 consecutive games, and Holden was originally brought in to back up Kowalski and give him some rest. Kowalski was called up to the NHL by the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, giving Holden a much more important role.
“I’ve been off for 10 months and I thought I’d get a chance to slowly get myself where I needed to be,” Holden said. “I figured with Kowalski here, they already had a strong goalie and I’d be here to help him out. Things have changed and I’ve got to get myself ready a little quicker, but I don’t mind the pressure. I’m very competitive and I’m looking forward to this challenge.”
Holden made his debut Wednesday night against South Carolina, allowing four goals on 19 shots in a 5-2 Everblades loss.
“I wasn’t happy with the game; my personal goal every game is to hold the team to three goals or less and I didn’t do it,” Holden said. “But I got one under my belt and I’ll get better from here.”