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By Nick Nollenberger | SJBarracuda.com | #NollysNotes
Patrick Holway hasn’t had much time to explore San Jose since the Barracuda signed him to a professional tryout (PTO) out of the ECHL on December 10. In part, because the team played five of its next seven games on the road. Holway was also placed into the AHL’s COVID-19 protocol on December 26, forcing him to sit out one game.
“It has been pretty interesting. I haven’t been able to get out of the hotel much. Not trying to venture out with Covid and everything,” said Holway. “It’s a fun little city so far, I like going out, I grab meals, go to Top Golf, golf courses, stuff like that.”
If he continues this trajectory, he’ll be around for longer than maybe he expected, which will afford him plenty of time to check out his surroundings.
When Holway signed his PTO in December, he became the sixth defenseman this season alone that the team has added via PTO. And when he drew into the lineup the following night, he became the 12th different d-man to appear in a game for the Sharks’ top affiliate this year.
The other PTO signees: Connor McDonald, Patrick McNally and Adam Parsells each appeared in just two games with the Barracuda before being released from their contract. And Matt Foley and Alec Rauhauser signed but never got into a game.
Holway, who has now appeared in 14 games with the Barracuda, notching a goal and an assist, along with 23 penalty minutes, has not just been a warm body to fill the roster. He’s played and he’s played well. Holway went from an unknown signee to being on the team’s top power-play unit. Whether it’s COVID, the re-introduction of the NHL’s taxi squad, recalls or injuries, Holway has been given a golden opportunity with the Barracuda and he has sprinted with it.
Averaging just under 17 minutes of ice time per game, Holway, who boasts the best plus/minus on the team (+6), is the only defenseman on the Barracuda this year, who has played more than two games, to have a positive rating. And he is the only defenseman on the team who has a plus-rating (+7) during five-on-five play.
Analytics wise, when Holway has been on the ice, the team’s actual expected goals-against is -5.47 which is the best among defensemen on the club. In other words, while he’s on the ice, the Barracuda are giving up five less goals than the antalytics say they should. If the team was supposed to give up 10 goals, they’d only allow five with him on the ice. Offensively, the team’s expected goals-for while he’s on the ice is +2.80, best among D on the team. It’s not a huge sample size, 14 games, but simply put, when he’s on the ice the team is scoring more and giving up less.
Put the numbers aside, he’s passed the eye test too. For his size, six-foot-five, 215-pounds, he deceptively fleet of foot, shifty enough, and often wins his battles in the corners. On top of that, he’s not afraid to jump into the rush and present himself as an offensive option.
“We’re not just looking at him as a spot-filler,” said assistant coach Michael Chiasson who oversees the team’s defense. “He’s playing some big minutes for us and he’s doing a great job.”
“He’s turned into something that the organization is looking at and trying to figure out. Ok, what’s the development plan here? What’s the plan going forward for a guy like Patrick Holway? Obviously drafted, spent some time in college, then that transfer year, and all that stuff. So he’s a little bit older, a little bit more mature, so that confidence and maturity comes with it for sure. There’s a plan for Patrick within this organization right now.”
Holway’s path to the professional ranks has been far from a straight line. In 2015, his draft year, he elected to play out his final year of under-18 hockey with Boston Advantage AAA instead of taking his skills to the United State Hockey League (USHL) or even the North American Hockey League (NAHL), which is often the path for players in the United States with college aspirations.
“I aged out of U-18 hockey, I wanted to play out my year with Boston Advantage,” said Holway. “I played out of there my last U-18 year, I didn’t quite feel the need to go off to junior hockey, and then I went out the year after.”
While playing with Boston Advantage he signed his National Letter of Intent (NLI) to attend and play hockey for the University of Maine Black Bears, passing up the opportunity to go to Boston University, the Alma Mater of his dad Richard Holway who played both football and hockey for the Terriers.
“It was between Maine and BU,” said Patrick. “My dad wasn’t the happiest at the time, but he was a great father, let me make my own decision on where I wanted to go and he supported me through and through.”
His decision to stay closer to home and play his final season of U-18 hockey worked out as the Red Wings selected the native of Cohasset, Mass., in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (170th overall).
Holway says he didn’t even watch the draft in fear he wouldn’t get his name called.
“I didn’t really watch the draft, I didn’t want to get my hopes up and then kind of be let down. So I didn’t even watch it, my phone was actually off and then my agent ended up calling my dad.”
Although his only season in the USHL was a challenging one for a multitude of reasons, including it being his first time away from home, the year was critical to his preparation for college.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys go into college too fast, I haven’t seen many guys go too slow. So no rush to get into school. I was going into Hockey East as well, you’ve got a lot of top-tier talent in that league like BU and BC.”
— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) December 19, 2021
That slow and steady developmental path has been a hallmark of Holway’s journey. After two years at the University of Maine, he’d enter the transfer portal, citing personal reasons. He’d swap to in-division rival Merrimack College which was just over an hour from his hometown. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he’d be forced to sit out the entire 2018-19 season.
“That was one of the harder things I’ve had to do. Having to watch all the games, whether your team is doing well or not. You know, if they’re losing you want to help, if they’re winning you want to be there with them. It was a tough year, but another experience that I was able to learn a lot and kind of grow from it.”
Following his senior season at Merrimack, Holway would finally turn pro and officially join the Red Wings organization, five years after his draft year, signing on with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins to finish up the 2020-21 season. He would appear in six games with the Griffins, a valuable experience and a catalyst for his play so far with the Barracuda.
“I had played my first season of pro in Grand Rapids so I had some AHL experience, but really I just wanted to focus on my game, not being nervous and just being confident.”
After going unsigned by the Wings, Holway would latch on with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, double-A affiliate of the Washington Capitals, to begin his first full season of pro hockey.
“Obviously my goal was to keep moving up the latter, but South Carolina is an awesome spot and I enjoyed every minute I was there. The staff, the team, the ownership, they treated everyone great. My focus was there when I was there but in the back of my head I always wanted to move up.”
With an ever-thinning d-core, the Barracuda flew Holway from Salt Lake City, where the Stingrays were playing the Utah Grizzlies, to San Jose on the night of December 9. He would sign his PTO the next day and join the team for morning skate.
“Patty has done a good job, coming in right from the get-go in a tough situation and he’s just impressed every day,” said Chiasson. "Yeah, he’s had some bad shifts or a bad period, but overall as a whole, he’s continued to get better. He’s locked things down defensively for us. He plays firm, he makes a good simple pass… so there are some things that we’ve got to work on and continue to develop but he’s been a great find for us as an organization and we’re really happy with his progress.”
The Barracuda have rarely had the same lineup or personnel to choose from on a game-to-game basis this year, but Holway has been a revelation since he was inserted into the lineup in early December. His continued development, increased role, and experience will no doubt be critical in the Barracuda's successes down the back nine of the season.