Last month, Brandon Holt received a text from his head coach at the University of Maine, Ben Barr, suggesting he may want to keep his cell phone nearby.
Barr said the Arizona Coyotes may be calling.
Holt, the Grand Forks Central graduate, was helping out at Judd Caulfield’s hockey camp when the phone rang.
“I was playing kickball with a bunch of squirts when Lee Stempniak called,” Holt said.
Stempniak, the Arizona Coyotes’ director of player development, invited Holt to the team’s NHL development camp as an undrafted free agent. Holt accepted the invite and has spent this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., working out with Coyotes draft picks in front of the team’s management and staff.
“They’ve been keeping us busy,” Holt said from Arizona. “There have been some long days. We’ve had two ice sessions, workouts, fitness testing, some activities. . . the legs are a little sore.”
Holt earned the invite after a strong freshman season with the Black Bears.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound defenseman scored four goals and tallied 11 points in 24 games for Maine. He averaged 17 minutes a game. His ice time increased throughout the season.
“I didn’t really know what to expect as a freshman,” Holt said. “I didn’t know if I was going to play or where I was going to play. I worked my way into the lineup. I didn’t start off great in practice but I had time to work my way in. I had some confidence. I got to play everything from the penalty kill to the power play. Overall, it was a great introduction to the college game. I got to experience a little bit of everything.”
Holt’s season ended early after suffering a hand injury in late January against Providence.
He had surgery and was in different casts for six weeks. It was two months before he got back onto a hockey rink.
“It was a little disappointing for me,” Holt said of the injury.” I didn’t realize right away that it was going to end my season.”
Holt said he’s now close to 100 percent as he competes against Arizona’s prospects.
“There are a lot of Europeans here who have played professional seasons,” Holt said. “It’s kind of cool to skate with them and see where I’m at in comparison with them. It’s been eye-opening in a good way.”
Holt, 22, played three seasons of junior hockey for the New Mexico Ice Wolves in the North American Hockey League before heading to Maine. The 6-foot, left-hander has used his high-end skating ability to have success since leaving Central with back-to-back state titles and 42-straight wins.
Although he’s no longer eligible to be picked in the NHL Draft, Holt can sign with a free agent. The invite to Arizona’s camp shows NHL teams are paying attention to his development.
Holt will return to Maine in the fall for his sophomore season. The Black Bears are expected to have a strong team, bringing back star goalie Victor Ostman and bringing in NHL first-round pick Bradly Nadeau and his brother, Josh.
“The way it looks,” Holt said, “we should have a pretty good team.”