Holzer adds German flavour to Leafs' 1st-half success | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaHolzer adds German flavour to Leafs' 1st-half success

Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 11:13 PM

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Korbinian Holzer of the Toronto Maple Leafs during a game against the New York Islanders on February 28, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Korbinian Holzer of the Toronto Maple Leafs during a game against the New York Islanders on February 28, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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There are plenty of reasons for the faithful of the Toronto Maple Leafs to be excited about as the team enters the second-half of the condensed schedule. German defenceman Korbinian Holzer is one of the reasons.

After all the disappointment over the past several seasons, most of the Toronto Maple Leafs faithful don't care how they win, just that their beloved boys in blue and white win.

Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle sees it differently. His team is on a three-game win streak after a hang-on-for-dear-life 5-4 victory at home over the provincial rival Ottawa Senators on Wednesday to hit the halfway point at a respectable 15-9-0, but he sees plenty of areas that need work.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," said Carlyle, who was asked if liked the way his team performed in the first 24 games. "Some nights I do. Some nights I don't.

"We haven't had too many nights where we had everything going."

Inconsistency aside, there were signs in the first-half that the Maple Leafs finally will host a playoff game at the Air Canada Centre for the first time since May 4, 2004.

Carlyle's team has exhibited an ability to steal games when it's not at its best. Nazem Kadri has arrived. James van Riemsdyk has fit in on the first line in the absence of injured Joffrey Lupul. The play of goalies James Reimer and Ben Scrivens has been solid. Thanks to the effectiveness of Marlies coach Dallas Eakins and his staff, an unheralded group of AHLers has contributed to the cause.

For example, take 25-year-old defenceman Korbinian Holzer. Who would have pegged him to be playing so well for Toronto and ahead of John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner and Mike Komisarek when the lockout finally and training camp commenced?

Proved himself

After a few seasons in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, a world junior tournament for his native Germany, the 2010 Olympics, two world championships and two full seasons with the Marlies, the Maple Leafs wanted to see exactly what they had in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Holzer.

"There comes a time when you need to see if a player can play at the NHL level," Carlyle said. "I know it was a long time ago, but there was a pretty good organization that used to do that and that was the Montreal Canadiens.

"He's a big guy who can move the puck. He makes a good first pass. He's intelligent. He has fit in as a good teammate."

When Carlyle won the Stanley Cup in Anaheim, he had a defence that included Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin as well as dependable depth players like Sean O'Donnell and Kent Huskins.

Now he has high-priced Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson and three guys who were in the AHL last year in Holzer, Mike Kostka and Mark Fraser. But the Leafs brass thought highly enough of Holzer's play this season that they signed him to a two-year extension worth $787,500 a season earlier this week.

Holzer said he owes plenty to his mother and father back in Badtolz, a Bavarian town not far from Munich. The two retired bankers supported Holzer and his two older brothers hockey dreams financially and with the investment of time driving them to various practices, games and tournaments, not unlike any ordinary Canadian.

The interest in hockey began when the middle Holzer boy, Tobias, was watching a game on television. He said to his mother that's what he wanted to do.

"She said if one of you are going to play, all of you are going to play," Korbinian recalled. "I was the youngest. I was only three. So I started young."

While Tobias, now 29, and Sebastien, 31, packed it in, Korbinian kept at it.

He developed enough that when he was playing division 2 in Germany for Eisbaren Regensburg he started to garner interest. He remembers sitting on the team bus after a game, when a teammate came aboard and handed him a business card. It was from Maple Leafs scout Peter Ihnacak.

Holzer was told that Ihnacak liked the way he played.

In Holzer's draft year, he listened to the 2006 NHL entry draft on the internet for the first two rounds. He stopped following it to do something else and returned later to read the entire draft list to see where some of his fellow countrymen were taken.

Then he got excited when he saw in the fourth round somebody from Munich was taken. It was him.

"I kept running my finger back and forth, back and forth, back and forth," he said. "I couldn't believe it was me. I guess you could say I was pretty excited."

Something the Leafs faithful will be if Holzer and his teammates continue to develop in the second half. Maybe even Carlyle will follow suit.

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