After racking up 88 points in 53 games with the Okotoks Oilers and being named MVP of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Dylan Holloway decided to make the move to the University of Wisconsin for the 2019-20 season. There was an adjustment period.
"Guys are just bigger, faster and stronger so you're playing against much better competition," observed the forward, who finished with eight goals and nine assists in 35 games with the Badgers. "Guys are older too. So, basically, everything you do on the ice is a lot harder and you have to think more."
There was also a learning curve off the ice.
"In high school you can sometimes procrastinate and get away with things and get away with not doing your homework, but in college it's a lot different," the Bragg Creek, Alta., native said. "You got to stay on top of it and that's something I learned."
English, Holloway says, was his toughest course.
"Writing papers all the time isn't fun."
But the 18-year-old, whose family had a dog most of his life, really enjoyed an Animal Sciences course.
"It was all about companion animals so you learn about pets and stuff so that was probably my favourite class," he said with a smile. "I learned that you can't feed live mice to a pet snake."
Holloway, a natural centre who played left wing much of this season, also studied his own game and figured out how it fit within NCAA hockey.
"The first half of the year was a big change for me, especially getting used to school and the college lifestyle so there was a lot to learn," Holloway admits. "I learned quite a bit and tried to apply that in the second half of the year and it seemed to pay off."
Five of Holloway's eight goals came in his final 10 games. He's now projected to be a first-round pick whenever the National Hockey League draft takes place. Holloway ended up No. 12 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters while TSN director of scouting Craig Button had him No. 14 on his list of top prospects.
Holloway spoke with TSN via Zoom this week revealing his NHL role models and how head coach Tony Granato helped him take the next step in his development. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
At 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, how did you hold up physically this year?
"I put on weight last summer so I felt prepared to play at that level and against guys who were that size. I felt pretty comfortable."
How did Badgers strength and conditioning coach Jim Snider help you?
"In the summer his training program really helped me out and I gained some weight and that helped me in the corners. Also, during the year we worked out quite a bit and I was able to maintain most of my muscle and that helped me as games got more tiring."
What did you learn from head coach Tony Granato?
"He's an unbelievable coach. He knows so much about the game. He helped me with my defensive-zone habits, my positional play and that sort of thing and the transition to college hockey."
How did you develop in your own end?
"I became a lot better. Sometimes in the AJHL you can get away with swinging too much and not supporting your wingers, but in NCAA hockey you got to be good at that."
What stood out about teammate and fellow freshman Cole Caufield?
"He's a great guy off the ice and, obviously, on the ice the way he puts the puck in the net is special. He has a special talent for scoring goals and it was cool to watch him every day."
What do you notice about the way the Montreal Canadiens prospect shoots the puck?
"He's not afraid to shoot from anywhere. He'll shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone. One thing I noticed was just how quick and accurate it was. I was surprised, especially with his one-timers. I'd feed him some one-Ts after practice and the shot was always where he wanted it."
What was it like rooming with Los Angeles Kings prospect Alex Turcotte? Who was the messy guy?
"At the start of the year we were both kind of messy. Our dorm room was probably messier than anyone on the team, but towards the end of the year we put our heads together and said, 'You know what, we got to clean it up,' and we had one of the cleanest rooms. I guess we kind of grew up."
There were high expectations for the Badgers this season, but you guys finished at the bottom of the Big 10 standings. What happened?
"We were just a young team. We had a lot of guys who were super skilled and I feel like some games we just thought our skill would take over, but at the end of the day it takes a lot more than skill to win a hockey game. You have to buy-in for each other and that sort of thing so I think we learned a lot and it'll help us next year."
What was campus life like?
"It was super cool. The Badger identity runs deep, especially with our alumni. Everyone cheers for the other sports teams. We were cheering for the basketball and football teams and all that."
Any memorable interactions with alumni?
"When ASU came to town it was alumni weekend so a bunch were here, something like 150, and we met a few and they're pretty cool guys. They went through the college experience and were telling their stories."
Any story stick out?
"(Laugh) They told a couple good ones, but I don't know if I can say in this interview, but some good ones, for sure."
Okay, but can you tell us which alumnus told the best stories? You don’t have to give the details.
"Probably Dany Heatley. He's a beauty. He's awesome."
How many interviews have you done with NHL teams since the season ended?
"Ah, geez, I've done quite a few, probably 25 or 26 on FaceTime."
What's the toughest question you've gotten?
"Would I rather have $20 in my pocket right now or have to fish out $100 from a toilet? That was a weird one. I knew it was like a test."
What did you say?
"I said, 'The $100, because I'm not afraid to go to the dirty areas.'"
Your dad Bruce played professionally, including a couple games with the Vancouver Canucks. What's the best advice he has given you?
"The big thing that he's always preached is that I shouldn't worry about what I can't control. Obviously, with different teams the coach is going to like certain players and one coach could see you as a certain player while another coach sees you differently so the big thing is to focus on what you can control and not let the outside noise distract you or get you down. That's the big thing that helped me, especially in my draft year, because I know there's rankings all the time and different scouting reports on you. But, at the end of the day, if you do what you're supposed to be doing things will work out."
Central Scouting had you at No. 12 on their North American skater list. How do you feel about where you stand heading into the draft?
"Well, it's a huge honour to be ranked by NHL Central Scouting, but my goal was a little higher. At the end of the day, [where I get picked] will be based on each team and what they're looking for."
Which NHL player or players do you view as role models?
"The two players I've modelled my game after are Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Toews. They're both 200-foot centres and great leaders so I definitely try to learn from what they bring."
What's your life like now? How are you keeping busy?
"I'm lucky, because I kind of live in the country so there's lots of things I can do to keep busy. I've been working out quite a bit and my gym just opened up. I've played some pick-up basketball with my friends and the rivers are kind of muddy right now, but I like going fly fishing."
What's your basketball game like?
"I'd say I'm more of a three-point shooter. I try to model my game after Steph Curry, but I'm not that good."
What's your focus this off-season?
"A big thing I'm working on is explosiveness. I think having that break-away speed on the ice is super important and something that if you want to be good you need and it's something I've worked on over the years and that has paid off. I feel like my skating is one of my biggest strengths right now so I'll continue to keep working on that. That's a big goal of mine."
Speaking of big goals, how much is the 2021 World Juniors, set for nearby Edmonton, on your radar?
"It's huge. If I was lucky enough to make the team I'd have a bunch of friends and family be able to come watch so it'd be a dream come true. It's a huge goal for me."