dinamoriga.eu: You are now into your second season here in Riga? How has it been for you here so far?
Holt: I feel like I am having the most fun I have ever had playing hockey as a professional. When I was in the United States and grinding through the minor league systems and watching all the politics unfold and all the other stuff that is not performance related deciding on who is going where – it became very business-like and not fun any more. When I came here and saw the people here and the fans and how they treat the players and the team – it’s such a warm-hearted country. If I had my way I would stay here for ten years.
dinamoriga.eu: Do you think that this is reflective of the KHL as a whole?
Holt: I don’t think it is like that everywhere in the KHL. I think that if you look at all the other cities and all the other teams, Riga is just so far and away the best play to be. It is the best life, it is the best city, the best people, the best fans, the best arena…everything. If I were to play on another team in a city where the people do not respect us and if it became very business-like again you really don’t have anything to play for but yourself so it is nice to be here and feeling an obligation. When I lose a game I am not just disappointed for my own team, I feel like I have disappointed a whole country and that gives me a lot of motivation.
dinamoriga.eu: As you say you are dealing with the expectations of an entire nation…is this putting more pressure on you?
Holt: It is but in my position it is something that I feel that I am good at taking. I find that I end up playing a lot better under that kind of pressure. It has always been something that I have thrived on and I think that being in this environment is really helping.
dinamoriga.eu: You also had your wife and children out here living with you for a while. How did they find the lifestyle here?
Holt: I think that they really liked it. They are back in the States now but they were here for two and half months and it was their first time over here and I think that they found it to be an easier transition than they thought. Everybody here can speak English and you can go through your day to day life like you do in the States with relative ease.
But the downside of it was that they were kind of alone here. So many of the other player’s wives live so close to here like in Sweden and Germany so they can go home all the time and come back. A lot of the time my wife and kids were left here on their own and when we go on the road for a week it’s just them by themselves and so they decided to go back but I think they really enjoyed the city and they loved going to the games.
dinamoriga.eu: What if you were to stay here long-term, perhaps like for the next ten years as you mention…would they come back and live then?
Holt: If I were to stay here for ten years I think they would come here a lot longer and I think they would be happy with that. It is not like playing in some small town in Russia where it is not a very fun place to be. They like it and if it came to it and I had the opportunity I would like to stay.
dinamoriga.eu: Do you still hold ambitions to return to the US and play in the NHL?
Holt: I would go but I am only going to go for a one way contract. I am not going to go back to the States to try and fight through the triple A system and try and fight through the minors. I am not interested in doing that and it isn’t worth the money or the time to keep getting buried under draft picks and things like that so if I am going to go back it is going to be to a team that wants me to play now and want me to step in and say, ‘hey you have a legitimate chance to start.’
That was the whole intention of coming here. My roads to the NHL kept getting blocked and I needed a different path to go so I came here to try and get more credit and hopefully open a few more eyes to what I can do over here because this is quickly becoming a highly respected league. Their have been games when the KHL teams have beaten the NHL teams in the exhibitions and so if I can build credit and if the right person can see you on the right day then maybe they can go ahead say they want me to play for them now but without that opportunity I have no intention of leaving here.
With this US national team opportunity that has just come up I am hoping that can maybe open a few doors and we will see where it can go.
dinamoriga.eu: To change topic a little bit, tell us about your understudy this season, Maris Jucers.
Holt: I have known since seeing him in the summer time that he is capable of playing here and I have been in his seat where it’s hard to get into games. In the games where he steps in they are really going to look at him to perform and it is hard to do that when you go three weeks without playing so I think he is doing a really great job.
This is the highest level over here and it really comes about just winning. When you are in the minors you are constantly competing with your partner to try and get called up or to try and progress your own career to the next level but when you get to the top it really does not become so much of a competitive atmosphere as it does a partnership and we are both easy going guys and we are both friendly guys and I think that our friendship off the ice helps us get along on the ice.
When there are TV timeouts or anything we are constantly talking to each other and giving other pointers about things we see and we are not sitting quietly sitting and hoping in our minds that the other is going to fail so that we can get back in there. It has really been a good atmosphere and I really like having him on the team.
Dinamoriga.eu: Was there a similar atmosphere last season?
Holt: It was similar last year but it was a little more competitive because we were kind of in the same split time situation but he came in where I am now. When he signed here I think everybody was looking at Mikael Tellqvist to carry more of the load but it ended up working out as a 50/50 thing. He was also a very friendly easy-going kind of guy and he could have gone the other way and could have come in and said this is my job and stay out of my way but he wasn’t like that. He was friendly and I think again our friendship off the ice complimented what we doing on the ice.
dinamoriga.eu: After a difficult beginning to the season, the team is now performing much stronger. What has changed?
Holt: It really hurt a lot of our players losing [Karlis] Skrastins who they had known and played with for years and everyone knew someone on the team [Lokomotiv] and I think that everybody dealt with it in a different way but right of the bat we started with a very tough schedule on the road.
We just needed some scoring confidence because we were doing a pretty good job at keeping pucks out but we weren’t putting them in. We were losing one-nothing, two-nothing and 2-1 in shootouts. We just couldn’t put pucks in. We needed the 7-1 slaughter [against Vityaz] to jumpstart the scoring. If we can get three goals a game it then becomes my responsibility because I feel like I can give up three or less a game so if we can get three goals we should get points every night.
You can feel a little more confidence in the locker room and players are not squeezing the sticks so tight because when you know you are not scoring and you try so hard to score you never score. It never works like that. You score all the time when you are relaxed and don’t care. I think the confidence is growing and just now we are settling into it.