AS TOLD TO BAHIA TAYLOR
Austin Lotz is a small-town Manitoba boy who has become a very good goaltender. Born and raised in St. Adolphe, Lotz was a star with the Eastman Selects before heading out to Everett, Wash., to play in the Western Hockey League.
After a solid, four-year Western Hockey League career, Lotz traded snow for sand and tended the net for the Jacksonville Icemen, the ECHL affiliate of the Manitoba Moose and Winnipeg Jets.
Head Coach, Jason Christie, a fellow Canadian prairie boy, was impressed with his starting goaltender in Jacksonville. “He’s a great goalie,” said Christie. “He gave us the chance to win hockey games and that’s the No. 1 thing. He’s a good kid, too. He works hard at practice and obviously works hard in the game.”
After making a name for himself in Jacksonville, Lotz had stints with the Reading Royals, Brampton Beasts, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and eventually, began this season between the pipes as the starter for the Birmingham Bulls of the Southern Professional Hockey League, where he earned an impressive save percentage of .910. That generated a bump to the ECHL for a short stint in Boise, Idaho with the Steelheads and then, most recently, Lotz was on his way to Kalamazoo to make his mark for the Wings when hockey came to a screeching halt.
Like all of us, Lotz is missing the game amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, calling the time off a “learning curve” and “a tough one at that.” He’s been using his free time to reflect on what’s already been a whirlwind of a year, with four separate stops.
“It was a year I got to meet many different people and I really enjoyed my time in all organizations,” he said.
The easy-going and well-spoken 24-year-old sat down with another goaltender, Game On Magazine’s Bahia Taylor, and took her typical and not-so-typical questions in stride as he shared the inside scoop about what he likes, what he’s learned along the way, his habits and his mentors.
I NOTICE YOU LOOK UP AT THE START OF A GAME. WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?
AL: That’s just something I’ve done since junior. After I lost my buddy Cole Hamblin I started looking up right after he passed away and it’s become a routine of mine. Around that same time my grandmother passed, too so it’s just become a thing for me. I give them a nod before every game because they were my biggest fans.
IT SEEMS THAT AS A GOALIE, YOU SPEND A LOT OF YOUR TIME WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO GET HURT TO MOVE UP THE RANKS. WOULD YOU SAY THAT’S TRUE?
AL:Yes. It’s all about taking advantage of the opportunities that you get. Obviously with goalies there’s only two spots on every team and only one that actually gets to play. Whenever there’s an injury in a higher league it’s tough for the guy who gets injured, but it’s a chance for the guy below. It sucks to say that, but that’s just the way the system works.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SEASON IN WINNIPEG?
AL: Oh, that’s tough. I like the winter for ice fishing, which I love. But the summer at the lake with friends, hanging out on the boat, fishing, or doing water activities is a hard thing to beat.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE WINNIPEG RESTAURANT?
AL: I’m a big breakfast person so I’m going to have to say A and V. It’s a little drive-in hole-in-the-wall that a lot of people don’t know about but it’s so good.
HOW MANY TIMES IN YOUR GOALIE LIFE DID YOU ALMOST PACK IT IN?
AL: Honestly, not once. I’ve gone a time without a position in pro where I thought I might have to go to school and play hockey there, but there’s never been a time where I said to myself that it was too much for me or anything like that. I’ve never really lost sight of my goal to make the NHL. It’s never even crossed my mind to quit.
WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE GOALTENDER?
AL: Marc-Andre Fleury. When I was really young it was Brodeur or Joseph but for the past eight years or so it’s been Fleury. Just because I love watching him play. He’s one of the few guys who doesn’t just stick to the standards of butterfly style, he’s not afraid to make the big window saves or go into a split. From what I hear he’s also a great guy off the ice so it’s hard not to cheer for that.
IS HOCKEY OR GOALTENDING IN YOUR FAMILY?
AL: My Dad was never really a hockey guy. He was a weightlifter/body builder and football kind of guy and my mom was a volleyball hero. But as far as hockey fans go, both sides my family is all in.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
AL: A lot of people. The most consistently influential person in my life is my Dad. He’s watched all my games and he knows me better than anyone else. He’s someone I talk to after every game and I look forward to his feedback whether negative or positive. Coach (Gordie) Tumilson is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. He taught me how to handle myself on the ice and off. He helped my mom with the business side of hockey and helped put me in the right situations to succeed. Also, my wife Caitlyn and my son Garner. Caitlyn has been put through the ringer with me since we met in Jacksonville. There are times where I’m gone for months at a time and she is left to care for our son back home. She’s our rock. And Garner, I just want the best for him so badly and to make him proud.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS A NETMINDER?
AL: Consistency. That falls into the mental side of the game, being able to stay level headed and not get too high or too low.
DO YOU GET NERVOUS BEFORE GAMES?
AL:Very. I get nervous before every game, that’s not a fear of not doing well but it’s the excitement of doing very well. My favourite quote is “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I think a lot of nervousness comes from being excited about my capabilities. That gets my stomach turning, thinking about making a big save or stealing a game for my team.
WHAT’S THE STORY WITH NO. 57?
AL: When I was younger I put ketchup on everything. I was around 12 when I got the opportunity to finally pick my own number. I was playing for the Southwest Jets, everyone loved it and started calling me Heinz. It’s pretty cool to be able to wear it again now.
DO YOU HAVE GOALIE SUPERSTITIONS?
AL:I do. As I’ve matured though, I’ve learned that there are so many variables I can’t control, like a late bus or something, so I’ve eliminated those types of superstitions. I rely on little things that I know, no matter what happens, I’ll be able to do. Like, I always tap my posts the exact same way before a play comes down, I always drink my water from the back of my net the exact same way.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED?
AL:The best piece of hockey-related advice I ever received was from Coach Tumilson. Actually, it’s become a superstition of mine too, before every game I send a text that is simply “STPHF.” It stands for stop the puck, have fun. That’s something Gordie has stressed to me over the years. At the end of the day it’s my job to focus on stopping the puck and if I do that, I’ll be having fun.
SUM UP YOUR LAST SEASON IN THE JETS ORGANIZATION WITH JACKSONVILLE FOR ME?
AL: I arrived in December, midway through the season and got in the net right away and played well my first couple games. I played a lot of hockey. They played me almost every game. My team here, they just work so hard. I’ve always been a hardworking guy, so I feel like I fit right in. It was just amazing. We won a lot of hockey games, especially in the second half. We’re a very young team, and I’m a young veteran so to speak. I look around the room at the rookies and they don’t even seem like rookies anymore, they are like seasoned vets. I took a lot of steps forward with this team and it was really exciting to see the take-off of hockey in Jacksonville as well. Our fans are some of the best fans in the league.
EIGHT QUICK HITTERS WITH AUSTIN LOTZ…
What’s your favourite shot to save?
Either a back door or a two on one, one-timer, glove save.
Do you have any tattoos?
One. Me and my sister got our birthdates in Roman numerals before I left home for Everett. We wanted to make sure that no matter where I was playing, we had a bit of each other with us.
What do you love on your pizza?
Mushrooms. Double mushrooms, double cheese.
Chocolate or vanilla?
AL: Vanilla. Always.
Cats or dogs?
If you could master any instrument what would it be?
The guitar. Girls love the guitar!
Wood stick or composite?
Wood. Wood for a goalie stick for me. I’ve tried a couple composite sticks and I find I have a tough time handling the puck with them. Definitely wood.
What would I find is most repeated on your playlist right now?
I’ve had Eric Church on repeat for the past five years. Can’t get enough of that guy.