Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
The connection between the Burnaby Winter Club and the BC Hockey League runs deep. Over the years, countless players from BWC have made the transition to the BCHL, had success in junior and have then gone on to be top players at the next level.
Currently, there are 32 players in the BCHL that come from the Burnaby Winter Club’s U18 program. At the top of this list is the BCHL’s leading scorer Holden Katzalay of the Surrey Eagles.
Katzalay is now in his third BCHL season and, as previously mentioned, currently sits atop the league with 26 points in 14 games. He also leads the league in assists with 17 helpers on the year.
Although he is now four years removed from his days at the Burnaby Winter Club, he still maintains friendships with a lot of his former teammates. This includes players like Chilliwack Chiefs forward and 2019 Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Massimo Rizzo, as well as Coquitlam Express forward Tyler Schleppe. The only difference now is that he gets to line up against them, rather than on the same side.
“It’s a ton of fun,” said Katzalay. “Having that competitive rivalry with people that you’re friends with. It doesn’t really translate off the ice, but when you’re on the ice, it’s a completely different thing. It’s just a lot of fun to be able to compete with guys that you know and that you have a relationship with.”
Katzalay is from Vancouver, B.C. and started playing minor hockey with the Vancouver Thunderbirds. After that, it was off to the North Shore Winter Club for his Atom season and then finally the Burnaby Winter Club for two years where he played with their Elite 15s team before suiting up for the U18 team in 2016-17.
When it came down to it, coaching was the main reason he decided setup shop in Burnaby.
“I just heard that the coaching staff was really good and when I got there that was proven true,” said Katzalay. “They were so willing to help you with anything you needed help with. They were so involved in the players’ lives. It was the best thing for my development.”
Those coaches he is referring to are Leland Mack, who coached the Elite 15s, and Maco Balkovec, who was the U18 coach.
“[Leland] was a really great coach,” said Katzalay. “He really cared for the guys. Maco was also one of the most caring coaches you could have. He would reach out to guys two or three years after they were done with him and congratulate them on their first goal and stuff like that.”
At 17-years-old, Katzalay made the transition from Burnaby Winter Club to the Western Hockey League (WHL) where he became a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
That proved to be a difficult season for him. Katzalay had two assists in 59 games for Seattle and ended up looking for a new opportunity the following year. That’s where the Surrey Eagles entered the picture.
His first year with the Eagles, he regained his scoring touch, putting up 30 points in 52 games. His second season was even better. Through his first 28 games of the season, Katzalay was operating at over a point-per-game pace, notching 33 points in 28 contests.
“I think the biggest thing is just confidence,” he said. “I wasn’t able to build a lot of that in my first season in Seattle, but building that up in my first season in Surrey and being able to carry that into the second season, that was the biggest thing for me and what really helped me excel as a player.”
Midway through the 2019-20 season, the WHL came calling again and Katzalay took an opportunity with the Vancouver Giants. A couple years older and with his confidence now fully back, he was able to enjoy a much more successful stint this time around, producing 16 points in 39 games.
Katzalay is now back with the Eagles for the 2020-21 season, his final year of junior eligibility. He’s the top scorer in the league on possibly the hottest team in the BCHL. The Eagles are riding a seven-game winning streak and have built an 11-point lead at the top of the Coquitlam Pod standings, one win away from clinching first place.
Although he is ineligible to play in the NCAA due to his Major Junior experience, Katzalay is still eager to start the next chapter of his hockey career following the BCHL season. His plan is to go to a U Sports program and he has already had some preliminary talks with a few schools.
Given his production at the BCHL level, it is safe to say he will have plenty of suitors looking to secure his commitment for next season. With his confidence level at an all-time high, it’s a near certainty that he will have a positive impact on whatever team is lucky enough to have him.