It took only three seconds into Tyler Biggs’ first on-ice session with champion figure skater and Toronto Maple Leafs skating consultant Barb Underhill this summer to pinpoint an area of weakness.
Biggs, the Leafs’ first-round draft pick in 2011, needed to tighten his core when skating if he wanted to elevate his game and skating ability to the next level.
And after a series of private and group sessions with Underhill, Biggs found the results he was looking for starting with the 2012 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in August.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound power forward burst onto the ice, and more importantly the score sheet, finishing second in scoring with four goals and seven points in five games for Team USA.
“I worked pretty hard this summer up in Toronto training,” said the Binghamton, N.Y. native, who signed his first pro contract during the same week. “I was in a really good place before I went into camp, and it’s nice when you get a couple of bounces and some things go your way.”
“Honestly, it’s so hard to explain just because of how great [Underhill] really is,” Biggs added. “I remember my first session, [and] the littlest thing of tightening my core made me almost a half a step faster than I was before.”
The 1984 world champion was not surprised by Biggs’ effort and was glad to hear how comfortable he was on the ice.
“He said he felt really good, and that’s sort of what I am after,” Underhill said. “When a player feels really good they’re going to be more confident, and when you have confidence your game just gets so much better.”
Team USA General Manager Jim Johannson said Biggs, who also attended the 2011 camp, had improved since a year ago.
“His play elevated as the week went on and as we got into international competition,” Johannson said. “For us, he needs to be a physical presence but also a guy that can create things in the offensive zone, and he showed that in camp.”
Biggs was one of the standouts at camp hoping to eventually earn a roster spot for the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. Team USA will have their second camp in December in Helsinki, Finland before announcing the final roster.
“There is a lot of pride because I know going into camp it can be your last time ever wearing that jersey,” he said. “You have to make the most of it and just have fun most importantly.”
Biggs scored one of the biggest goals of his young career while wearing the USA sweater at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship when he found the back of the net 4:22 into overtime in a 5-4 semifinal victory over Canada.
“That’s up there,” he admitted. “There’s not too many opportunities like that I’ve had in my hockey career. You feel so good. You feel like you won the gold medal right there, but obviously you have to regroup.”
In May, Biggs decided to leave Miami (Ohio) and turn pro after producing nine goals and eight assists as a freshman. If he doesn’t make the Maple Leafs he could possibly play for Toronto’s AHL affiliate or return to Major Junior hockey.
From 2009-2011 Biggs was a member of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program where he served as a captain of the Under-18 squad in his final season, ranking third on the team with 19 goals.
“Going into the NTDP, I didn’t really know what kind of player I wanted to be,” Biggs said.
“I was a bigger player and I maybe tried to play a finesse game a little too much.
“I owe the [NTDP] for making me the player I am today.”
It’s a role that Biggs has now embraced and is ready to bring to the 2013 World Junior Championship.
“The role I can see myself playing on that team I feel pretty confident about,” he said. “Obviously if I work hard this year and have a good start to the year, keep grinding away, I think things will come and hopefully I will get that opportunity.”
Blake Holtquist was bitten by the hockey
bug since he first laced up a pair of skates at the tender age of 4. On and off the ice, Blake is never far from the game. In addition to playing for both the Chicago Bruins and the Elmhurst YMCA, Blake spends hours at home shooting and stickhandling around his house. When he does put down his hockey stick, Blake is involved in a number of community events, including the “Race to Ryall,” which benefits the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. Blake also participated in the “Cop on Top” to raise money for the Special Olympics, and ran the 2012 Illinois Law Enforcement Special Olympics Torch Run.