GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Steven Holtz didn’t score this weekend for the Michigan Wolverines. In fact, his only contributions to the box score were a pair of penalties. But the weekend still marked a milestone for the junior defenseman.
Friday’s game against Wisconsin was his first in 11 weeks and the first since he was admitted to the University of Michigan hospital with complications caused by an adenovirus infection.
At that point, the adenovirus had spread throughout much of the team, causing several players to miss games. According to Paula Weston, of U.S. College Hockey Online, we now know that Holtz is one six players who were hospitalized with difficulties with RSV, a common respiratory virus that is rarely life-threatening.
Holtz stayed home for the Wolverines’ road series against Notre Dame. He told USCHO.com that the teammates he lives with checked on him through the door when they got home and that he “told them to get away and leave me alone.”
Holtz said he has no memory of that and that if it wasn’t for teammate Jacob Truscott, he doesn’t know if he would’ve survived.
Later that night, Truscott got up to use the bathroom.
“He heard me in my bedroom, wheezing,” Holtz told Weston. “(I was) gasping for air. My room is right next to the washroom. He heard it and he said he stopped and stood in front of my door to see what it was, because it sounded so abnormal. He said that all of a sudden it stopped, and then he opened the door, and I was sitting, having a seizure.”
An ambulance rushed Holtz to the hospital where he was admitted to the intensive care unit, intubated and placed in a medically induced coma.
“They think that I had another seizure in the ambulance as well,” Holtz said. “I had two seizures that they know of. They think I could have been having seizures all day that day because of my condition when they found me.”
Holtz was the only player to have any seizures or memory loss, but it forced doctors to investigate whether Holtz was fighting something besides RSV. Tests didn’t show any other issues and doctors were able to get the infection under control.
Holtz was eventually discharged more than a week later, but he faced a long road back to the rink. He told Connor Earegood of The Michigan Daily that the infection did a number on his body, saying he lost much of his muscle memory and at times “struggled to even speak like his usual self.” He called the early days of his rehabilitation “awkward,” saying his first time back on the ice felt like he was “just learning to skate.”
But Holtz was able to keep at it and he eventually regained his form.
“That muscle memory, it just clicked at one point,” Holtz told Earegood. “I was fighting the puck a little bit in practice. I was kind of being the drill ruiner again. But I think, over time, I just gained a little confidence.”
The on-ice rehab wasn’t his only obstacle. Because of his time spent in the hospital, Holtz failed to complete several classes for the fall semester and he needed to make up the work to maintain eligibility with the NCAA.
According to Earegood, Holtz found out last Wednesday that he was finally cleared to play. Holtz, who usually plays on the third defensive pairing, got the start in Friday’s 6-2 win over the Badgers.
“I was nervous. I felt like I was playing in my first game again. I remember telling some of the guys before that I forgot what I do before the game. I forgot what it’s like to play in a game, especially at Yost (Ice Arena). I kind of had the same jitters that I had my first game here,” Holtz said after the game. “I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was actually dreaming about playing. I couldn’t nap, just super fired up. And when they called my name for the starting lineup you get the goosebumps and it’s hard to stand still on the blue line there, just trying to keep my balance.”
Interim coach Brandon Naurato said he was happy to see Holtz’s hard work and determination pay off.
“I think his smile says it all. (It was) an emotional roller coaster for all of us, especially for him and his family,” Naurato said. “We’re happy to be a part of his journey and it’s just really cool to see what he went through and for him to get back and all the work that went into that from a lot of different people. I’m just happy to see him smiling.”
The No. 5 Wolverines, who are riding a five-game winning streak, return to the ice this weekend. Michigan will travel to East Lansing on Friday to take on Michigan State and will play the Spartans again Saturday night in Detroit for the annual “Duel in the D.”