Dylan Holloway didn’t get an invite to Canada’s national under-17 development camp last summer, but with the camp in his backyard he wasn’t about to let his disappointment get in the way of an opportunity to learn.
"I live 30 minutes away [in Bragg Creek, southwest of Calgary], so I came and watched just to see the competition, and what this was all about,” Holloway says. “It motivated me quite a bit. I understood that I had to get better to be a part of these camps and tournaments, so I just kept working hard.”
Obviously, the hard work paid off.
Fast forward one year, and Holloway is on the ice in Calgary this week, competing at Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp and aiming to crack the Canadian roster for the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which opens Aug. 6 in Edmonton and Red Deer.
What changed? What allowed Holloway to go from the outside looking in at the top 111 players in his age group, to a place as one of the best 44 in the country?
It started early. With the motivation from his U17 snub driving him, the 16-year-old burst onto the scene as an Alberta Junior Hockey League rookie last fall, recording points in 13 of his first 16 games for the first-place Okotoks Oilers.
So when Josh Williams went down with a collarbone injury in practice just days before the start of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, it was Holloway who was selected despite not attending summer camp.
“I was actually playing a game in Drumheller, and after the game the coaches brought me into the dressing room and told me I got the call to go play U17s,” he says. “I was ecstatic. It’s sad to see an injury like that, but for me to get called up, I was happy about that.”
“We’re always tracking for that guy who may need to come in because of injury, and he was a player that really got onto our radar fairly early in the season,” says Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen. “The start he had in Okotoks, and talking to guys who were watching – his name always seemed to come quickly. He trended so quickly in the first few months, that when there was an opening we went right to him.”
Holloway joined a star-studded Canada Red roster that included all three CHL No. 1 picks for the 2001 age group – Peyton Krebs, Alexis Lafrenière and Ryan Suzuki – and held his own, helping the team to a place in the gold medal game.
And although a 6-4 loss to the United States meant silver, the University of Wisconsin commit left Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C., with something just as valuable – confidence.
“The competition is so good,” he says. “You have to play and play smart; there is no time to do circles or not back-check, you have to do all those little things. So I tried to bring that back to my club team.”
He slid right back into the line-up in Okotoks and continued to produce before earning his second tour of international duty less than a month later, this time with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Truro, N.S., in December.
The youngest player on the West roster, Holloway posted two goals in the tournament, including the final marker in a 5-1 win over the U.S. in the gold medal game that gave the Canadian side its fifth WJAC title.
He credits his U17 experience for helping prepare him for the road to gold in the Maritimes.
“It helped me quite a bit,” Holloway says. “Being in [the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge], I knew what the routine was – get up in the morning, eat, stretch, pre-game skate – so it helped me prepare for the World Junior A Challenge.”
Unfortunately, the second half of the season wasn’t quite as successful as the first; Holloway was bit by the injury bug in late December, missing the final 23 games of the regular season, although his body of work was enough to earn him a place on the AJHL South Division All-Rookie Team.
He returned in time for the playoffs, scoring in all four games of the Oilers’ sweep of the Camrose Kodiaks in the second round, and chipping in seven points in total as Okotoks reached the AJHL final.
The long playoff run meant a short off-season, but it’s on to the next challenge: wearing red and white and representing Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“He skates extremely well and he’s an intelligent player,” McEwen says. “The way that our coaches want us to play, he is a good fit. He is an elite player in his skill set and the things he has to offer. When we put the evaluation together, we were confident he would have a chance with us.”
Now it’s up to Holloway to make the most of that chance.
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