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NWHL: Exclusive Interview with Taylor Holze of the New York Riveters

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Injuries, surgeries, and a 5'4" frame couldn't stop Taylor Holze from being a part of history last Sunday against the Connecticut Whale.

Mike Murphy

Hard luck has put an early and unceremonious end to more hockey careers than we will ever know and it did its best to stop Taylor Holze of Lynnbrook, New York from getting to where she is today. Taylor Holze, a forward with the New York Riveters, has had to battle her way back from serious injuries that threatened to take hockey away from her during her college career at Boston University. Her head coach at BU Brian Durocher shared his thoughts on what Taylor Holze had to overcome and endure in college hockey after the Terriers celebrated their seniors during the final home game of the 2013-14 season.

"Taylor has had cards dealt to her that you don’t wish on anybody," Durocher said. "With three knee surgeries, an ankle injury, she has persevered. She’s been there to compete all the time. She’s found a home here the last 10 games."

Her career college statistics might not jump off the page when compared to some of her fellow Riveters, but they do a poor job of  telling the story of who Taylor Holze is as a hockey player and a person.

I feel like I can actually get to see what kind of hockey player I can be instead of just trying to get healthy, and I didn't think I'd ever have that chance. So, this is pretty unbelievable. -Taylor Holze

Taylor Holze's game is her speed. The knee and ankle injuries that made her miss her entire freshman year and about half of the 2012-13 season with the Terriers threatened to take her greatest strength away from her, but Holze's love and dedication for the game had her back on the ice to dress in every game of her senior season. To put it simply, Taylor Holze is driven by her love of the game. As a senior at BU Holze put up 11 points in 38 games and not long after that she was drafted by the Boston Blades of the CWHL. However, her sights had always been set on playing hockey in New York.

At 5'4" she is the most diminutive skater on the team, but her outstanding skating ability makes her nearly omnipresent on the ice. Holze is adaptable and willing to play whatever role her coach and team needs her to. Her quick feet make her an invaluable player on the rush and in the neutral zone. With good vision, a high work ethic, and dexterous feet Holze is a great fit on a Riveters' team that is focused on two-way hockey. When Holze got the nod to play in the Riveters' season opener against the Connecticut Whale in the NWHL's first game last Sunday she was used in a limited role by coach Chad Wiseman, but that didn't take away from the fact that she looked comfortable and capable playing professional women's hockey as a New York Riveter.

Meghan Fardelmann and Taylor Holze on the ice at Aviator.

Holze holds the distinction of being the only Riveter to have been born in the state of New York. Her college hockey career took her all across the country and now, as a professional, she finds herself as one of the 22 women to play on New York's first paid professional women's hockey team in Brooklyn. The Riveters' home ice on the Rockaways is just a whisker over 16 miles on the Belt Parkway from where she grew up in Lynnbrook, New York.

Despite a hectic schedule that is also filled with following the New York Rangers, Taylor found the time to do a phone interview with me talking about her road to the NWHL, her role with the Riveters, and what playing professional hockey means to her. Let's get to know #91 on the New York Riveters a little bit better.

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Mike Murphy: When was the first time you stepped onto the ice in a pair of skates? Were you always a forward?

Taylor Holze

"Probably about five, I'd say. I was about six when I started playing organized hockey. When you're little they have you play at every position, but I was always a forward."

MM: Unless I'm mistaken you're the only Riveter that was born in New York. What was growing up as a hockey player in Lynbrook like?

Taylor Holze

"I was definitely one of the few girls I knew playing hockey. I played boys travel hockey growing up. I think the first time that I was on the ice with all girls I was thirteen and I literally stepped on and got right back off [the ice] and my mom made me go back out. I thought it was a joke. That's how bad girl's hockey was back then, mainly because nobody played. So that's a huge testament to how far the game has come, especially on Long Island."

MM: With you being from New York I have to ask; Rangers or Islanders?

Taylor Holze

"Rangers!"

MM: Are there any players in either the men's or the women's game that you modeled your game after as a young player?

Taylor Holze

"When I was younger coaches always said, 'pick a player to model your game after,' but I never really could do that. I liked watching the game as a whole and picking out certain things from different players. I always loved Paul Coffey because of how he skated, that's a little known fact about me. People who read this might be surprised by that. But the biggest compliment I've ever received was having my skating compared to his. Other than that I like studying the game as a whole rather than one specific player."

Taylor Holze battling with Anthony Antenucci of the FDNY in the preseason.

MM: You had a pretty interesting college career and had to endure three knee surgeries and an ankle injury during your time at Boston University, how much did it mean to you to play all the games of your senior year for the 2013-14 season?

Taylor Holze

"That was huge. 'Interesting' is definitely the word I use to describe my college career. To be able to get on the ice for every game pretty much turned into my goal. My junior year I played in every game, but I tore my ACL for the third time in November, so majority of that season I played without an ACL, and that had been my most complete season. I always had health-related goals, which is why this league now is so exciting because I feel like I can have hockey-related goals again and it's not just about me trying to get through my surgeries. I feel like I can actually get to see what kind of hockey player I can be instead of just trying to get healthy, and I didn't think I'd ever have that chance. So, this is pretty unbelievable."

MM: Very little is known about this process- How did you come to be a Riveters' practice player? Can you describe what that process was like?

Taylor Holze

"Living on Long Island I'm very involved in every aspect of the hockey community. So I heard about this through the grapevine when Dani [Rylan] was originally trying to make it a New York CWHL team. I'll never forget the first time that I heard that. Someone told me that it was actually coming to New York and I just started crying. Just the fact that it was going to be so close to me and I can continue doing what I was doing here and have another chance at it. It seemed like the most perfect scenario.

I just kept following along and was in contact with Dani [Rylan] wanting to be involved with it. There was the New York training camp, but the turnout was not what they wanted in order to evaluate us. There wasn't enough competition. On paper I did not have a stand-out college career. So, when trying to form a team there was not that much to work with in regards to judging me. I think the combination of that and her not having any time to really see me play, there was actually concern about my speed of all things. That was frustrating, but it also felt like it was something that was in my control. I strung along and didn't meet the qualifications for what they were looking for on the roster at that time, but I was offered the chance to be a practice player and jumped at it. I just wanted to be involved in any capacity that I could. I knew I could prove that I could make the team, especially if it was just based my speed. And here we are."

MM: Is your goal after this season to earn a contract with the Riveters or with another NWHL team?

Taylor Holze

"I really obviously wanted to be part of the Riveters ever since I heard about the team. I think I could have maybe spoken to Buffalo, but on that short notice I couldn't commit to that and there was no way for me to make that work. My intentions had always been to play for New York."

MM: So your goal for next season is to earn a contract with the team?

Taylor Holze

"I keep seeing things about practice players being here to supplement the team for this year and then ultimately earn a contract for next year. I 100% would like to earn a contract for next year, but the way that Chad [Wiseman] and Mark [DeSimone] actually presented it from training camp - it was one of the first things they said to everybody - that they are viewing this as a twenty-two person team. Not [a team of] eighteen with four practice players. They don't actually like the term 'practice player'. My intention, every time I'm on the ice, is to try and earn a roster spot. For example, I was given that opportunity to play earlier than I thought I was going to play in the first game. My initial goal was to make it difficult to take me out of that position. Yes, I would love to earn a contract for next year, but my main goal for right now is to earn a spot this year."

Holze flying up the ice in the preseason.

MM: Did you do anything special in regards to training and conditioning to prepare for the season?

Taylor Holze

"My body was pretty out of whack from the four surgeries and compensation from always being injured. So I took the summer to work on flexibility and stability and getting my body realigned and functioning properly. Other than that my game is my skating, and I actually give private power skating lessons. So, teaching and really focusing on the technical aspects of it and having to explain it and how and why I'm doing it has made me such a better skater and just stronger all around. It's cleaned up a lot of my weaknesses. Having to try to explain to someone else why they should or shouldn't be doing what they're doing. I think my teaching has actually been one of the strongest points of my training."

MM: I know I'm not the only one to notice your speed, your twitter followers saw that letter you received from a young fan about you being 'the best skater,' and obviously speed is a big part of your game.

Photo use courtesy of Taylor Holze

What it's all about. (Photo Courtesy of Taylor Holze).

Taylor Holze

"It's always nice to hear that type of feedback, especially since it was one of the staff's concerns about me and it was one of the biggest things I wanted to address."

MM: Coach Wiseman and Dani Rylan have said that the Riveters are a team that will be all about work ethic and blue-collar hockey, do you feel like you are a good fit with the team's systems and identity?

Taylor Holze

"Definitely. I've played on a lot of different teams at BU and I've taken a lot of different identities. I've been on teams that were based all on systems and on teams that were five Canadian Olympians deep and more about creativity. I think I've played really well with structure in systems that are still about speed and just playing smart hockey and I think that is exactly what [Coach Chad Wiseman] is trying to do."

MM: What was your reaction when you heard you'd be dressing for the Riveters' first game?

Taylor Holze

"I was so excited. Not only because my goal is to show that I can play and belong, but also to be a part of that day is something that I can't really put into words. What that meant is just... what a day, what a day for women's hockey."

MM: What was going through your head when you were giving fist bumps to little girls with a Riveters jersey on your back and then stepping out onto the ice as one of the two non-contract players to dress in that game?

Taylor Holze

"I was mainly trying not to have too much going on in my head, because there were just so many emotions. Obviously I was trying to enjoy the moment and let myself be part of that, but I was also trying not to be too distracted, especially being a practice player and wanting to prove myself. I had a job to do.

It was everything- from the little fans who were there who were watching which is just an unbelievable thing. Hockey has given all of us so much. The people that have given so much to you - my mom, coaches, trainers, mentors - you can't ever really pay that back, so the prospect of being able to pay it forward is something that I take very seriously. Being able to do that and immediately seeing how many little girls it was affecting was unbelievable. And personally, from a hockey stand point, being able to get into the first game and achieve my first goal of making the lineup made it an unbelievable day."

MM: I know you have to get going and have some kids to coach so just one last question; is there anything you'd like to say to Riveters fans?

Taylor Holze

"You made the right choice."

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Holze's story is both unique and very familiar to those who follow and love hockey. Not every player can come back from the obstacles and challenges that Holze has faced in her young career, but the passion that we see in so many fans and players helped drive her and guide her to eventually make history with the New York Riveters on October 11th in Stamford, Connecticut.

they are viewing this as a twenty-two person team. Not [a team of] eighteen with four practice players. -Taylor Holze

Taylor Holze isn't taking this opportunity for granted, which isn't surprising considering how hard she had to work to get back on the ice at BU. Much like a thirteenth forward on an NHL team knows they have to seize every opportunity they have, Holze and the three other Riveters' non-contract players skate hard in each and every practice to earn the title of being a New York Riveter over and over again. Taylor Holze, Margot Scharfe, Amber Moore, and Cherie Stewart are not just "practice players" to coach Wiseman and their teammates. They are New York Riveters.

I'd like to thank Taylor for making this interview possible and sharing her story. You can support her by buying her jersey at the NWHL's shop and support all of the Riveters by coming out to their home opener this Sunday night against the Boston Pride at Aviator Sports and Events Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Thanks for reading. Let's go Riveters.