THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL

  
                                                  CHASING A DREAM
 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    In loving memory of Granny & my brother, Cole Hamblin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Rest easy Hammer, CH18
 
 
 
 
My names Austin Lotz, for those of you who don’t know me I am a junior hockey goalie. No I’m not drafted or signed, and no I’m not playing right now. I am currently spending my 5th and final year of junior hockey at home, recovering from shoulder surgery. When Lowsy asked me to participate in his new website and write this article, I struggled for a week or two to find a topic. It’s not that there isn’t anything for me to say, but being a player who is still driven to be a professional hockey player and is still working his ass off every day to become one, it was tough for me to come up with an interesting aspect of my career and share it, without crossing the line of “acceptable”. So here’s my story, the gigantic ups and downs that come with not only being a junior hockey player, but also a young goalie.
 
 Looking back at what got me to the Western Hockey League; it’s mind-blowing to think about how many things had to fall into place in order for it to happen. People say all the time that, “you have to be good to be lucky and you have to be lucky to be good”. In my case that couldn’t have been more true. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t born with the talent of stopping a puck. At a young age I was forced into the net by my bigger buddy Cole, who left me no option but to stand there while he ripped pucks at me, and eventually I got good. My mom would drag me out to goalie camps where I would sometimes get bag skated, and as a young overweight kid, that’s not always the most fun thing in the world. Eventually after many sessions I got in better shape and I started to move well. With the help of my goalie coaches such as Gordie Tumlinson, who has been a massive impact on my life and has put in countless hours in my young minor hockey days of developing my skills. Ryan Cyr, who in the past 8 years has transformed me from the chubby un orthodox goalie into a slick more sound tender that you need to be to make it in todays game. When you look back at all those hours of driving to practice, summer camps, games and all the effort you put into workouts, you’d think no doubt I deserved the junior career and success I’ve had. Now if you take into consideration all the pieces that had to fall in place for me to succeed, you start to see how meaningful the “butterfly effect” really is.
 
I start off my 1st year peewee, I make the bantam AA team. I was the smallest kid on the team and I played every third game, but I was honoured to be age advanced two years playing with guys that were twice my size. Everything is looking great for my career. Then the next year, they decide that I cannot age advance my second year of peewee to play on my bantam team. So there I was after age advancing to bantam my first year peewee, stuck playing peewee house level hockey... All I remember from that time is sitting in my living room watching my favourite team, the Vancouver Canucks play, thinking how the hell am I ever going to get there while I’m stuck in this small town, playing house hockey with 3 goalies on my team playing every third game?
What I didn’t know, was that year turned out to be one of the most memorable years of my life. Playing with friends and seeing familiar faces, laughing, winning hockey games, it ended up being a blast. The point is at the time it seemed like the end of the world. But I was 12. Looking back now, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
 
 
Things like this happened numerous times throughout my career. I was cut from my midget team my first year (age 15) and that same year I was cut from team Manitoba. It turned out the next year I would come to Everett for my first year of junior eligibility and make the team. At the time, not making team Manitoba at 15 years old, you start to think, “if I’m not even in the top two in Manitoba, how am I ever going to be a top goalie in Canada?” In my Bantam draft year, 21 goalies were drafted before I was drafted. 21. I was devastated. But the next year, I worked hard in the summer with Jeff Fisher and Elite Performance and had a good training camp, and was one of only 5 goalies my age to make it. When you’re playing you don’t realize it at the moment, unless you’re an all-star that you’re going to go through patches in your career and in your life that are going to bring you down. The key to success is to not burry yourself in those downs. As soon as you feel sorry for yourself, your done and this game will eat you up so fast. Believe me…
 
 My 17-year-old year. I was coming into training camp with Everett where they expected me to be the starter; I couldn’t wait for the opportunity. Being a starting goaltender in a 72 game competitive league isn’t easy. The first half of my 17-year-old season didn’t go as planned, I felt like I was losing games for my team; I also spent a month on the Injured Reserve for the first time in my career with a bad groin. By the time Christmas came around I was so down on my self I lost my ability to be the smiling kid that everyone loved. I was all alone at 17 years old, 2000 miles away from my family, in a different country…it was a very lonely time. Things were so bad. I was playing so damn bad; I was parked at a red light, at 7am heading to school. These three guys in an old two door pick up truck pull up beside my car. They roll down the window and stare at me. Heat of the moment, I roll down mine to see what the tough guy wants. He looks me in the eye, noticeably drunk from the night before and says “you sucked last night Lotz!” while his buddies, laugh, I roll up my window. As they drive away he throws an orange at my car. Looking back now, it was one of the funniest stories I have from my time in Everett, but at the time, I was playing terrible, and all I would do was go home and feel sorry for myself. I went home at Christmas break, spent time with my family and friends and played very well in the second half of the season. I didn’t know it at the time, but that first half of the season probably cost me hearing my name called at the NHL entry draft.
 
           
Fast forward to the end of the season, I returned home after losing to Portland in an amazing first round, 6 game series. I’m sitting at home when I get a call from Hockey Canada. “Austin Lotz?” He questioned. “Yes?” I replied. “I’m here at the U18 training camp, were heading to Russia for the tournament in a couple days, wondering if you’d like to join our team for the 2013 U18’s in Sochi Russia.” I remember that like it was yesterday, I remember is running outside to my dads shop saying “dad, I’m going to play for team Canada!” with a tear in my eye I was so excited and I could see how pumped he was. This was a huge high in my career. We get to Russia and have a few skates, and after a couple skates I start to feel like my late addition may mean that I’m the odd man out. There were 2 other goalies there, Philippe Desrosier and Spencer Martin. We go back to the hotel, our coach Don Hay announces they will be having individual meetings to discuss rolls and if I remember correctly make the final cuts. He calls me into the room, where I see him and goalie coach Ron Tugnutt. They both inform me that my hunch was correct, I will be the third goalie there in Sochi, and won’t be dressing for the tournament. Obviously a disappointing meeting for myself, but at the time I was just proud of being there and was going to be prepared if those plans ended up changing. We ended up winning the tournament there in Sochi. I never stepped on the ice for any regulation games, yet I still feel proud of this accomplishment. It is now a memory that my family and I can share by looking at my ring or my medal. It was a bitter sweet time for me, but looking back, I was very lucky to be apart of a gold winning team with an amazing group of guys.
 
 
 
 
 There have been many amazing experiences in my young hockey career. Whether it was doing stuff for children or people in need at hospitals, which happens to be one of the more rewarding accomplishments in my life thus far. Seeing other people smile just from your voice and presence is something no one can take away from you, or bad ass stuff like the whole team getting in trouble for going out after curfew and having a little to much fun, the memories are all golden ones. Yet probably none better then simple bus trips with the boys in the back of the bus, playing cards, watching movies, chirping about things like their height or their ego, maybe their huge head, and their regretful tattoos. Whether you were a rookie or a 5th year vet, the bond with the boys is like no other and is something you miss every day once it’s gone. Cherish it fellas.
 
 
 
 
The Season from Hell…
 
My 19-year-old season started off great, I came to camp the most athletically and mentally fit I had ever been. I was coming off a good development camp with the Vancouver Canucks, and was looking forward to heading to the Youngstars Tournament with them as well. Everything was going well, tips camp went well, there was a lot of buzz about myself being the backbone for the team this year, and was invited to Vancouver’s main camp after the Youngstars Tournament. Hockey couldn’t have been going better. Then everything and I mean everything changed.
 
 I was on my flight back to Seattle after Canucks camp. I was obviously disappointed about being reassigned from Vancouver to Everett, but was still excited for the season ahead. I landed and it turned out they lost my luggage which included my American cell phone. It took until the next night for me to get my phone. When I got back to my billets house around 12 o’clock at night I turned on my Canadian phone to inform loved ones that I landed safe. I had a message on my phone via twitter. It was from my best friend, Cole Hamblin. “Lotzy, can you give me a call on your billet house phone or something man, its kind of important.” He said. I replied to him (obviously too late) with “what happened?” I then tried to call him and wasn’t getting an answer. At the time I didn’t think much of it and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning to a phone call from Cole. Cole informed me that he has been diagnosed with cancer. That was by far the hardest phone call of my life. Being on the phone with someone you love, who is hurting and not having the physical ability of being there with him or her may be the most pain I ever could have imagined.  Little did I know that it could get much worse.
           
The season actually got off to a great start; the first two months I was playing lights out. Playing for Cole every night.  I would always just say to myself “ imagine what he’s going through right now, live his dream for him”. So I did, I played with a full heart every game for that big guy. Posting great numbers. The week after I got the phone call from Cole, Coach Constantine and I discussed the possibilities of me heading back home for a few days, to visit Cole. Kevin Constantine allowing me to do this is something I will never forget, because little did I know, it would be the last time I ever got to see my brother again. 
 
 November 5th, 2014. 8:00am
 
I wake up and check my phone and make sure I didn’t sleep in for morning skate, as we were playing Red Deer in Everett that day. I notice I have a bunch of messages from Jayden, and couple of my friends telling me how sorry they are and passing condolences and love. I immediately get a sinking feeling in my stomach, I built up the courage to ask Jayden what the hell was happening, and she sent me a message back telling me the news. Cole was gone. I lay in bed screaming I was so mad. I was too shocked, and too upset to respond to anyone. All I remember is lying there balling staring at my roof confused of what to do next. Eventually 9:30 comes along and its time for me to get over to the rink for morning skate. On my drive over there I start receiving numerous calls and messages from scavenger reporters, just hours after I hear the news. I get to the rink and struggle to keep it together in front of my teammates. But I do. It wasn’t until after the game that night, once all the boys found out the news through social media, I balled like a baby. We defeated Red Deer 6-3 that night. A game I had no business pulling off the win, but the boys came through for me that night. Something I’ll never forget. After the game Brayden Low brought me the game puck. To this day I still take it with me everywhere I go.  I spent the next 4 months depressed and confused. It was the first death in my life where I had a personally close relationship. It wasn’t easy; I didn’t handle it well, couldn’t sleep, and lost my competitive edge on the ice. I felt lost. People I loved would ask me how things are, but I was Mr.Toughguy… I said I was doing well, no matter what. This ended up costing no one but myself in the long run. I started to play like shit on the ice, losing more games than winning. Ultimately this ended up costing me my starting spot. This is what feeling sorry and not talking about your problems can do to a human, whether you’re 13 years old or a grown man, hiding everything and feeling sorry for yourself will get you no where.  The loss of Cole has taught so many people the value of life, and seeing how many people that big guy touched is really amazing. Love you buddy.
 
There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career so far. From being undrafted, to being the odd man out with team Canada, to losing a best friend. My advice to the young kids and the parents of their kids who aspire to play junior hockey and move on to pro hockey is don’t feel sorry for yourself, it won’t get you anywhere. If things seem like the end of the world keep plugging. Keep working. Hell, that’s what I’m faced with even to this day, I could pack it in, but that’s not my end goal. My goal is to work my ass off with this now extended offseason I have, and continue my career into professional hockey. Don’t take it for granted, the more you work, the more highs that will come.
 
 Where does this leave me? I’ve been blessed with some amazing opportunities throughout my junior career, from NHL training camps, to playing with Everett for 4 years to my short stint with Medicine Hat earlier this season. But as of today, my best memories and what’s most special to me in my heart, are the relationships I have made over the years. Especially my time in Everett. I’ve had amazing billets my whole career, Nelly, Parker, Deb & Lee, Ron & Leah in Everett and Max & Gary in Medicine Hat. Yet probably the most special to me, I’ve gained a sister in my beautiful billet sister, Rowan. Living with her for the past 3 and a half years, has been amazing and seeing her grow into the girl she is today has been one of the sweetest experience so far. To the fans of Everett and whoever else may have followed me so far, thank you. All you guys in Everett have no idea how much your support and loud voices during games helped the boys’ night in and night out. To all my coaches, and general managers that gave me the opportunity to put on the jerseys I did, and go to battle with my brother’s everyday, thank you. To my friends, family back home and my girl Jay, none of this would have been possible without all of your support. Last but not least, the boys. I thank every last one of you. Whether it was going to war on the ice with you night in and night out, or living it up away from the rink, it was never a dull moment. Live it up while you can boys. As for myself now, I will continue to work hard and focus on my dream of playing pro hockey, and wont stop till that dream comes true.  Thank you all.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
                             Dedicated to my loving mother Karen and  father Andy. Thank you both for the life you have given me.
 
 
 
                                                                                                                           Sincerely,
 
                                                                                                    Austin Lotz                                                                                                                        
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                                                                       THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL
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