Hockey has been Holly Schmelzer’s go-to ever since she was 6 years old.
Ice hockey. Roller hockey. Street hockey. Knee hockey. You name it, she played it growing up.
It helps that the Schmelzers are a hockey family through and through.
Dad, Roger, played growing up as a kid. Older brother Ryan is the senior captain at Division I Canisius College this season.
As for Holly, a senior at Williamsville East, she was second team All-Western New York last year after scoring 15 goals and 25 points for the combined Williamsville team, which placed her eighth and 12th in the WNY Federation, respectively.
She also plays travel, recently switching from the Amherst Knights to the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles 19U team for a bump up from Tier II AA to AAA.
Holly has already established herself as a D-I prospect on the ice. That much is clear.
But she’s experiencing a breakout season in another type of hockey this fall: Field hockey.
After scoring two goals as a sophomore and four as a junior during her first two years on varsity, the forward has 12 goals so far in leading the Flames to an 8-3 record. The figure has her tied for first in Section VI with Akron senior Abby Stone, a three-time All-WNY selection, entering Tuesday’s action. And that’s with missing a pair of games due to ice hockey commitments.
“She’s one of those girls where I wonder if field hockey was her No. 1, how far she could really go with it,” Flames field hockey coach Erin Rajczak said. “I have four girls right now playing field hockey at the Division II level and one at Division III. She could easily play. If she wanted to, a field hockey coach would scoop her up in no time.”
Holly has never been one for rest and relaxation, not that her year-round travel ice hockey schedule even allows it. Practices are held three times a week with games pretty much every weekend.
It was among the reasons why she picked up field hockey as a fifth- and sixth-grader in an intramural club run by Rajczak.
“I knew field hockey was a lot of running, and I honestly wanted to get in good condition and do a fall sport,” Holly said. “I hate sitting around. I played softball and I quit to focus on hockey more, and this spring was honestly really boring. Always from the beginning, I’ve always liked being outside and always doing something.”
But by her own admission, it took Holly a few years to really hit her stride.
“Seventh grade I was not that good,” Holly said with a chuckle. “Eighth grade I picked it up, at least. Sophomore year I played varsity, and definitely the past two years I’ve improved.”
Holly always had the natural talent. Where she has grown is in her understanding and ability to think through the game.
“I kind of just got better at seeing the field more,” Holly said. “Last year I had trouble picking my head up, and I’d kind of look down and wait to see the person’s stick and then make a move. And that wouldn’t work because it’d be too late. This year I’ve learned to pick my head up more and shoot it.”
And when she shoots, the play seems to end with the sound of the heavy plastic ball hitting the backboard inside the net.
“It’s just different. Her shot is so hard and so fast that sometimes it’s like I didn’t even see that ball go in the net,” Rajczak said. “I’ve had other girls who have stick work, but she adds that extra component of speed. Her speed is insane. Extremely fast. The stick work is so quick, it’s hard for defenders to keep up with.”
Lightning shot. Stick work. Speed. That’s not a coincidence. They’re some of the same things Ryan highlighted when describing his sister's play on the ice.
“Her skating, it’s natural,” Ryan said. “She blows by people, and that’s a huge advantage in girls hockey. She also thinks her way through games and has good recognition.”
The fact that Holly can translate those skills from the rink to the field is what sets her apart from other girls. That’s not to say she hasn’t had to go through her fair share of adjustments.
For one, there are no lefty sticks in field hockey. So Holly had to flip her natural shooting motion from the left to the right.
“It was definitely weird at first, but in softball I was a righty so it kind of adjusted easily,” Holly said. “That was definitely a big change for me.”
You also can’t use both sides of the stick. The front side is flat, while the back side is rounded.
“To go right, you have to flip your stick over,” Holly said, “where in hockey you can just move it with both sides of the stick.”
Unlike in ice hockey where you can use your body to fend off other players or use your body to bump someone off the puck in an attempt to gain possession, physicality is nonexistent in field hockey. All players are supposed to have an equal chance to gain control of the ball.
“I constantly get called for that,” Holly said. “In hockey when you can lift their stick up, I try to get under them and that never really works. I always get called for it.”
She also gets the occasional foul for raising her stick as she winds up to take one of her blistering shots. It is legal, just not in a dangerous manner, which leaves the rule open to interpretation.
“Honestly I feel like I do that a lot. I think it’s like when there’s a player around. I’m honestly not really good with the rules here,” Holly laughed. “When there’s a player around, it can’t be too high. But if you have open space I think you can bring it up.”
Whether it be at practice or outside the field of competition, that sociable, no-worries personality is the norm for Holly.
“She’s goofy, and that’s what makes it that much funnier,” Rajczak said. “I love it.”
But don’t let it fool you. She knows when it’s time to be serious.
“On the field, I definitely know I have the ability to be one of the better players, and I like to use that to my ability,” Holly said. “My whole life I never liked to lose, and I just wanted to use that toward my advantage.”
That dates back to growing up, following in the footsteps of her older brother.
“When we were kids, I’m competitive too, but sometimes I would let her win,” Ryan said. “Whenever I beat her she would get pretty upset.”
Ryan has never been the overbearing type, trying to give all the hockey knowledge he has to his younger sister of 7 years. He gives pointers here and there, but for the most part he lets Holly figure it out on her own.
“He was definitely like a role model to me,” Holly said. “I was constantly at the rink with him, so I wanted to be just like him. I was always outside with him and I just wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
When it comes to field hockey, though, Holly’s “second” sport, Ryan has nothing to provide as far as pointers go. He hasn’t really even seen her play outside of the occasional session on the front lawn.
But when it comes to knowing what it’s like having to make big life decisions after high school, Ryan knows a thing or two. He played three years for the Buffalo Junior Sabres after graduating from Will East before starting his freshman year at Canisius.
Holly has been weighing options between D-I and D-III programs, but if there aren't any spots available on rosters for the 2018 season, a postgrad year is on the table.
"There’s options in both, and I don’t know which one I’m going to go with yet," Holly said. “Sooner than later hopefully. ... I’m talking to them but they can’t necessarily make a spot without them saying, 'Do you want to come as a 2019?' It’s in a tough position."
So what advice has Ryan given her? Probably the one thing Holly isn’t fond of: Remaining patient.
“I was just telling her that there’s no pressure in picking somewhere you don’t want to go. There’s no rush,” Ryan said. “It’s October but you’ll have time till the end of the year in making sure it’s a place where she wants to go. Things happen for a reason, so you’ve got to go to a place you can see yourself being.
“She’s doing things the right way. I’m real proud of her.”