Cole Holowenko is a bit of a goofball.
Not in the ‘all goaltenders have bats in the belfry’ sense.
He doesn’t talk to his goal-posts like Patrick Roy, or knit touques like Jacques Plante.
He doesn’t throw up before every game like Glenn Hall used to do, and he doesn’t insist on wearing the same unwashed shirt for every start, like ex-Philadelphia Flyers great Pelle Lindbergh.
“I think you can blame (Ron) Hextall for that stereotype about superstitious goalies,” Holowenko said, pointing the finger at another Flyers great who insisted on hitting the posts and crossbar with his stick at the beginning and ending of every period.
Holowenko is not entirely without his oddities. He puts his equipment on left-side first, and squirts his face with water before every game.
But that’s it.
“I don’t really know why I even do that,” he said. “It’s something that came from my old man and it’s something I’ve been doing since peewee. But honestly, a lot of people have said I’m one of the most normal goalies out there.”
The theory is that goaltenders do such things to off-set the nature of the position they play.
To willingly put yourself in front of pucks being shot 70-plus miles per hour is something not everyone is willing to do.
Add to that the pressure that is magnified with each goal let in, and it’s no wonder goalies seek solace in odd rituals.
“How would you like it if at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light went on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?” Plante once lamented.
So if Holowenko really is a goofball, maybe it’s a defence mechanism, a way of coping with his hockey reality?
“I’m pretty easy going, I guess. I just like to have fun with the guys and have a good time,” he said. “I’ve got to have the fun off the ice because I take things pretty serious on the ice. Maybe too serious sometimes.”
Holowenko is a classic example of why you shouldn’t judge the book by its cover.
He likes to spend his spare time at the nearest beach, and looks the part. You could plunk him down in the surf at Santa Cruz in California, and no one would be able to pick him out from the rest of the beach bums.
He was once approached at random while shopping with an offer to model for Abercrombie and Fitch.
“My teammates razzed me quite a bit about that, called me Zoolander,” Holowenko laughed. “I never really thought much about that. I just figured it was one of those random things that seems to happen to me once in a while.”
But dig deeper, and you find out some unexpected things about this 17-year-old from Penticton.
“Really, I’m pretty book-smart and I pull down straight A’s in school,” he said. “You wouldn’t know it, because I have a habit of saying some dumb things without thinking sometimes.”
Here’s the thing.
Get this kid on the ice and the switch flips. It’s all business.
The smiling face is replaced by a stone slate, Holowenko glaring out his goalie mask with that ‘you’re not beating me tonight’ intensity.
This time last year, Holowenko was struggling at his first full Western Hockey League training camp.
Drafted 29th overall, in the second round of the 2008 bantam draft, Holowenko carried the expectations of a young franchise that had yet to produce a homegrown netminding star.
His preseason performance was underwhelming, and he ended up getting re-assigned to the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL.
“It sucked to not make the team, but I viewed it as an opportunity to get lots of ice-time in a good place to develop,” Holowenko said. “You’ve got to pay your dues to get where you want to be, and playing in Merritt really helped my mental state.”
The Centennials weren’t a good team last year, finishing 22-36-0-2. Only one team (Williams Lake, 354) surrendered more goals than Merritt’s 319.
Many nights, Holowenko played the role of duck in shooting gallery.
He played 31 games and faced 946 shots, posting a goals-against average of 5.42 and a save percentage of .858.
He was called up to Chilliwack late in the season, logging 50 minutes with a GAA of 6.01 and a SP of .706.
Now, he finds himself in the middle of a goalie battle, with himself, Lucas Gore and Braden Gamble fighting for two spots.
“It’s a good challenge, and it’s a good competition, which is only going to make me better,” he said. “Mentally, it gets tiring, but you’ve just got to battle through it. I’ve got to be better than two older guys to earn my spot on the team, and that’s what I’m focussing on.”
The toughest part for any kid in this situation, particularly one with the happy-go-lucky life-view that Holowenko sports, is knowing that the eventual outcome involves the departure of himself, or one of his friends.
“Whatever’s best for the team, you’ve got to trust the coaching staff to do whatever it takes to win,” Holowenko said. “If it’s me, I’d be disappointed at first. I’d have to go hammer things out in junior A and try to show them I think they made a mistake.”