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Hollweg’s energy is a boost to Wolf Pack

Hartford goaltender Steve Valiquette noticed.

And it is never a bad thing when the boss takes notice, which is what general manager Jim Schoenfeld did.

Both Valiquette and Schoenfeld made it a point to walk up to rookie left wing Ryan Hollweg in the hallway outside the Hartford dressing room after a sloppy 5-1 loss in Philadelphia on Jan. 28th. There, they had a few quick compliments to offer to Hollweg.

From the get-go the Wolf Pack were sluggish and seemingly unprepared, and the Phantoms pounced on the visitors for two quick strikes. The game continued downhill from that point.

Philadelphia continued to take the body to the visitors well into the third period, and when the Phantoms’ Ben Stafford notched a goal that made it 4-1, the Phantoms and a rowdy crowd of 10,921 threatened to break the score even more wide open.

That is when Hollweg took matters into his own hand, with the Wolf Pack having failed to match Philadelphia’s intensity and physical play all night.

On the line change following the Stafford goal, Philadelphia sent out a line that included Riley Cote, a Philadelphia enforcer who has scraps with the likes of Shawn Thornton and Brandon Sugden on his card this season.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Hollweg obliged Cote 18 seconds after the goal, surrendering (at least) two inches Cote, who stands 6-foot-1 and comes in at 210 pounds.

Hollweg’s moxie caught the eyes of several of the Hartford brass taking in the game from from the Spectrum’s press box.

“You always want to leave an impression,” Hollweg explained. “I know that Cote is a tough guy, but I’m not going to back down from anybody.”

Slowly over the course of his rookie season, Hollweg has been opening up eyes and leaving impressions with his kamikaze brand of hockey throughout the Eastern Conference, which features the likes of the tough customers in Providence, Philadelphia and Springfield. Hollweg is a strong, sturdy player on his skates, comfortable in traffic and strong on the boards, strengths that serve him well in conference play.

Through 53 games, Hollweg has put 174 penalty minutes on the board and chipped in some offense as well (6g, 5a), solid numbers for a player coming off an over-age year in the WHL and a concussion.

“Every night I’m just trying to play my game, which is energy, finishing my checks and just working hard. You never have an excuse to not work hard every night.”

“I like to describe myself as an energy player, a hard-working player,” explained the 21-year-old Hollweg, a native of Downey, Calif., who holds dual citizenship through his Canadian-born mother.

Hollweg came to the AHL this season after captaining Medicine Hat to the 2004 Memorial Cup semifinals, where they bowed out to the Gatineau Olympiques. He capped his junior career with a solid 25- goal, 32-assist season to go with 117 penalty minutes over 52 games last season.

“(The AHL) a great league with a lot of great players. It’s a challenge for myself going from junior to pro. There is always something new to learn.”

As much as the AHL challenges Hollweg, his WHL career was an up-and- down affair. He suffered a serious concussion four games into the 2002-03 season after striking his head on the ice.

The concussion ended Hollweg’s season, and his career prospects were in serious doubt. Ordered to refrain from physical activity, he spent the season sidelined and languishing, something that hardly boded well for a player taken in the eighth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

Hollweg admits that several doctors told him to write off his hockey career and focus his energies in a different direction.

“It just wasn’t an option for me. I wanted to get as many opinions as I could.”

So he did, and soon he found his way to Peter E. Sheptak, a neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh who has served as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ team neurosurgeon for more than 20 years.

Eventually Sheptak cleared Hollweg for action, and Hollweg has been playing since.

“(The injury has) made me a stronger person, a stronger player.”

“It just makes you realize how fortunate you are to play hockey as a career. I don’t want to take anything for granted, and that makes it that much more special.”