Sooners on Ice: A Talk with Goaltender Nick Holmes

During the Gladiators Labor Day weekend Hockey Tournament, I got a chance to sit down and chat with junior goaltender Nick Holmes and former team Captain Blake Martin. Nick transferred to OU his sophomore season from UCO (University of Central Oklahoma) and has now positioned himself well with the OU hockey program. Ready to get the season started and hit the ice, here is a look into a program ready to bring Norman a hockey championship this year.

*Comments are from Nick unless noted during the conversation pieces*

I couldn’t resist my first question being about your transfer from UCO to OU. Are you happy about your decision to make the transfer?

“Absolutely. There’s a lot of reasons for that, personal and team. When I lived at UCO, there wasn’t a lot of people there. Coming from Chicago, I’m a big city guy. I’d walk through campus and see one or 2 people. We lived with the same guys we played hockey with, went to school with. When there’s not a lot of people there, it’s hard to lose yourself, when you need to be lost. It’s hard to take time to yourself. Here (at OU), I have the guys; the guys are the greatest group of guys ever. I’ve never been on a team this close before. I can always just go someones house. I can go to Behm/Jacob’s house, they can all come to my house, it doesn’t matter. We can find random places to go to hang out. At UCO, you couldn’t do that. We had 3 room mates from the hockey team, 4 guys next to us, 4 guys under us. There, it was a big problem that if you knocked on a door and walked in, some people would get upset. It’s understandable, it’s their house, it’s just the way they lived.

If you come to my house and knock on the door and you wait for us to answer it, we’re like who is at my house? But if you knock on the door and walk in, we’re like, “Oh! It’s one of the boys.. no big deal, they’re here”. You never need to call with our team. We’re so close (at OU) that we don’t even, that would bother me if someone knocked on my door & waited for me to open it. I feel like we are so close, you can just walk in, & sit on the couch & just start hanging out. One of our freshman this year, Jeff Coates, brand new guy, hasn’t played a game yet, we’ve only had 2 weeks of practice. No one was at my house, he needed to do his laundry. I had to work. He stayed at my house doing laundry, watching tv. No one else is there, that’s how close & trustworthy we are to each other. A brand new kid I didn’t know 2 weeks ago, is sitting in my house & no one is there. When Jon, Joel & Darrell, who are my room mates come home, no big deal. “Hey buddy, what’s going on, what are you doing?”

That’s how our team is and it’s pretty cool. A lot of stuff gets left on ice. It’s going to happen, someone will get hit & they don’t like it. A slash, I’ll get a puck in the face; soon as we get off the ice, it’s like it never happened. Leave it on the ice. At UCO, it was always like, if there was a problem, it was hard to keep hockey at hockey & house stuff at house stuff.  For me it was hard , as a big city guy. I’m used to just going out & going somewhere else for the time being until I can take that down. The stress part of the situation, that’s one thing.

With other colleges I’ve been to, I went to Iowa, my buddies go to NIU, OU is the cleanest campus I’ve ever seen. If I’m walking down & I see an empty Gatorade bottle on the ground, which is highly unlikely anyway, if I sit there for 2 minutes, waiting, someone will pick it & put it in the trash can. That’s another thing, I actually like going to school, because I’m not looking at trash. The brand new buildings, the nice green grass, the good looking girls, it’s the cleanest campus I’ve ever seen. Not saying that Edmond wasn’t clean, but compared to other schools I’ve been to. Iowa City, it was a big party school, so it’s not as clean, it’s more spread out. NIU is dirty. It’s still a good school, I don’t wanna cut em down, it is a dirty school. It’s nice walking through campus and knowing that it’s clean, I can go there & be happy where I’m at.

I wouldn’t transfer. I wouldn’t pick another school. I wouldn’t go play for another school. They take care of us more than any other team. We get the sleeper bus. We get two people to a hotel room, so we get our own bed. UCO we didn’t get our own bed. 3-4 to a room. As a freshman, you’re stuck with a junior or senior so you never got a bed. There were times I was playing the next day and I’m on the floor.”

Did you get to go back to Illinois during the summer break at all for a visit?

I went back for a week and Jon Schanke went with me. We both stayed here this summer. Last year I went back for my sisters wedding. This summer was just a week. It’s cool that Jon took the drive with me all the way there. He got a little piece of Chicago now. It wasn’t a lot but it was definitely needed, just hung out with all my buddies. Got to see my sister, brother, mom and dad. It was a good week. It was a lot of fun.

Do you have any added excitement over it being the 10 year anniversary for the OU hockey program?

We are pretty excited about those cream jerseys we keep hearing about.

You haven’t seen them yet?

We have not. I haven’t even seen my helmet yet. Mine & Fernie’s (Colin Fernandes) helmet got painted but we haven’t seen them. The 10th yr, I mean it’s cool, but we’re focusing on the same thing as last year, but it is in the back of our heads. We are thinking about it, the cream jerseys. We are thinking about those grays. But, we are here to win a national championship.

I’m ready to see those jerseys. I’m ready to see my helmet. My helmet is red based, with OU on the side I guess and number 35. I didn’t change the 9-11 backplate. We are definitely going to be the best dressed team in college hockey not just ACHA, but all of college hockey.

photo by David Dudich. At Texas Tornado exhibition game Sept. 7th.

What can you tell me about the program itself and your network of coaches?

It’s kind of overwhelming how much we get helped out. They help us with homework (tutors), movies on the bus or games, always get good meals on the road. They take good care of us. We have a nice locker room with stalls. Weight room, our own washer & dryer. It might not seem like much but a lot of teams don’t have that. We have a weight trainer, a medical trainer. We have Chris Perry who does everything for us. Andrew who sharpens our skates, mends out jerseys, takes care of anything custom we want. (Austin) Miller & Peter (Arvanitis) are always there if we need someone to talk to. Larry (Donovan), everyone knows Larry. He’ll do anything for us. Nicest guy in the world. The school counselors & teachers really help us to work around practice and games.

About second year coach Peter Arvanitis and Asst. Austin Miller, with additional comments from Blake Martin:

Nick- It’s nice that Pete is here everyday. He’s here before us everyday, he leaves after us everyday. We work hard and the coaches make us work hard. But we keep it fun.

Blake- Gotta have fun. Hockey is fun. It’s a sport.

Nick- Once you take it seriously, you’re not having fun. You get burnt out if you take it too seriously. We do a lot of things as a team that we have never done on any other team I’ve been on before. We have BBQ’s, softball games, kickball games. We do a lot of things together. One person says, “Hey, let’s get together on Sunday”, and most or everyone shows up.

Blake- That’s why you need a captain. It’s mandatory, no optional shit. If we have an activity, you show up. Last year was actually the first year we had everyone show up for team activities.

Nick- It was my first year here. I saw it as, ya know, everyone showed up, everyone is having fun, everyone wanted to be there. I don’t know who we are gonna get to fill HIS (Martin’s) shoes. Who’s going to be that Captain that texts everyone to tell them practice has changed times. He was the only one who could do that without us rioting. That’s the truth to.

Blake- But you know what was a problem in my first three years here? We would have 2 captains and 4 asst. captains. So who’s in charge? Who’s in control? One guy says something, then here comes another telling you something different. Pete and Miller understood that. That’s why last year was the first year (with changes in the structure).

Nick- I think it went pretty well last year, with everything. I think Pete does great. Since I work here (at the rink), I see him in that office every day. I see him watching hockey tapes non-stop. He’s reading books, calling NCAA coaches, just to say “Hey, what do you guys do in this situation. This is what I’m doing, what do you think?” We see it out there. “Hey this team is doing this, let’s try it”. I’ve seen that light on every day this summer. I go in there, he is on the phone, calling recruits, coaches, trying to make us better as a team.

Makes you guys put in a little extra effort?

Nick- Absolutely. Especially when he says something to you, that maybe you don’t agree with. You still sit down & think about it for a second and you do it, not only because he’s your coach, but because you see him doing it. You know there is a reason behind it, even if you don’t know that reason.

Blake- I think he could be here awhile, if he wants to.

Nick- I think he said he found a goalie coach for us, that he used to play with or something. He’s supposed to be coming out once a week. We haven’t seen him yet. He said he’s coming. So not only all that, but he’s bringing a goalie coach for us. I haven’t had a goalie coach since I played for the Steel, in the USHL. It was something we asked for (this year), all the goalies. It’s fine that we are helping out each other, but bad habits do happen. And some days, you just don’t want to hear it from a team mate. It’s nice when you have a coach, that can tell you you’re holding your glove up a little low or your not out as far, or this is why you’re having a bad day. Some days you have bad days and you don’t realize what you are doing wrong. If we have a goalie coach out there, that’s going to be real nice, real nice for us. There’s not a lot of ACHA teams that have that.

About the team: 

Nick- We have some depth this year. Our coaches had some time to recruit. Last year, we didn’t [recruit] cause we had the switch, [previous head coach Mark] Berge’s recruits with Pete. Pete & Miller did their own recruiting [this year], so that’s nice. The NAHL guys, me & Fernie in the back, bunch of other playable transfers from D2 & D3 teams. I was surprised with some of the players (the new guys).

Blake- This year, every player that’s come in, has actually played at a high level. Years past, we had kids that played midget A, played house hockey, or hadn’t played for 4 yrs and just decided to come here. Those aren’t the kids that you need to win a championship. But then to, our coaches would never do any recruiting, they would rely on the players to bring in friends that might wanna play. Since Pete & Miller got hired, they’ve actually taken the time. Chris and Andrew have devoted a lot of time, going on recruiting trips. That’s why they’ve got 12 new guys in, who can play hockey. They lose 8 guys next year, so they’ve already started recruiting for next year. You gotta watch kids all year. Find that kid that’s good, but isn’t getting Division I looks, because 3 others on that team are just a bit better. So we look at that kid, find him at the beginning of that season and watch what they do.

It seems like everyone is pretty excited about the team this year

Nick- Yea, we’re pretty happy about it. We are all really excited.

Is there anything you would say to people to motivate them to come out to a game?

I think it’s about awareness. I think that if people come and watch one game, they’re going love it & want to come more. I think the hardest thing is that we are so far from campus. When the frats or sororities wanna go out and wanna drink a little bit, that’s a far drive. It’s a big thing for college students to drink a little bit; drinking and driving, who’s your DD, how many cars you’re taking. For people in Moore, OKC, Edmond, that wanna come watch, they should come out and watch a game. Oklahoma is not the biggest hockey state, but I feel like if they take in one game, they’ll get addicted.

Do you like seeing people tailgate before your games?

Love it. We walk into the rink, with suits on and see people already here and ready to go, that fires me up a little but more. It gets into my head, like “ok wow, there’s people here.” There’s nothing better for us, for a game, than to know there’s going to be people out there cheering for us.

I don’t think many people realize how much fun it is for us when there is more people there, screaming, being belligerent, banging on the glass. Even when they are hating on me, “Holmes you suck, you’re a sieve,” the atmosphere is cool. It does build you up. The schools that bring in the crowds, it brings your energy up. For us players, you feed off the crowd. That’s the one thing for us that I wish was different. We do get fans, and we love our fans, but…if we skated out and there were 3-4, 500 people here? Which isn’t a lot of people, but in this rink, it looks like 2 or 3000. That’s one thing that maybe we could work on. I think if people, if the frats and sororities start coming, if they come and realize “wow this is something different. I like this instead of the same old sorority or frat party, the same old Logans or Seven47 or same ole bars you go to where you see the same people every day”. Just come out and try something new, I guarantee they’re going to like it.

For us, at the end of the day, we play hockey. I could play in an empty barn and love it. I could play with zero fans cause I just love the game.

To have fans, I mean, I know we’re only club, but to have fans….. I goalie coach an eleven yr old. I gave him a team signed jersey for his birthday. His dad called me and said he wanted to frame it and put it in his bedroom. Our guys sign a jersey and it’s no big deal, most of them don’t realize…

He wants to hang it above his bed. I mean hanging above MY bed is a Blackhawks banner, Wayne Gretzky when he played on the Blues, a pic of Tony Esposito and Eddie Belfour from the Blackhawks. So to me, it’s like, THOSE are the guys, but to this 11 yr old, it’s US!

Now, to get ugly. To go back to the end of last season, with the loss to Penn St., would you almost rather see Penn St. not move up to NCAA this year to get another crack at them? I know you’re playing them in the regular season, but you won’t be playing them in the tournament.

Nick- It’s fine. In the tournament, we are going to get our chance. We are going to prove ourselves and beat them in the regular season. If they go far in the their tournament, if they make it to the tournament, that’s just more on their shoulders. If we have that win and they go to their tournament and they win, that’s just more for us. Every time we played Penn St., we should have beat them.

Blake- Should of, would of, could of…

Nick- Well, I’m happy we get to play them again. It’s nice, regardless if they are moving up or not. This year they are allowed to have 18 scholarship players, last year they weren’t, because they were club. Now they’ll have a bunch of USHL players & we’re going to get to play them so it’s going to be fun.

The Oklahoma Sooners open their season at home on Sept. 21 against Arkansas. Come on out and see what all the fuss is about Oklahoma!

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