Hard work pays off.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, I didn’t just make that up. Those words have proven true for long before even I was born.

If you were sitting beside me as I work away on this latest post, your eyes couldn’t help but catch sight of the large display of sports DVDs sitting on my shelf. The collection spans fictional movies with Hollywood A-listers cast in lead roles, an assortment of based-on-true stories – again with Hollywood A-listers cast in lead roles, as well as a plethora of famous NHL games and behind the scenes action captured on disc. Now how many of these stories would be any good if it were one of a cake walk to victory?

Mark Wahlberg worked hard and battled through adversity after losing both his job and his wife before making the Philadelphia Eagles in the tale of Vince Papale. Denzel Washington faced a battery of ethnic walls and barriers coming from both inside and outside of his team in the tale of the Titans. And who can forget Matthew McConaughey and the struggle through both extreme sorrow and unattainable expectation in the recounting of the Marshall University story?

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News is made good when hard work and perseverance pays off.

With that in mind, the recent signing of Korbinian Holzer to a one-year, one-way deal, is good news.

It hasn’t been the shortest route to the NHL for the German born rearguard, but he has worked hard the entire way. Toronto 2006 draft mates Jiri Tlusty (1st round), Nikolai Kulemin (2nd round), James Reimer (4th round) and Viktor Stalberg (6th round) all cracked the NHL lineup ahead of Korbinian who was selected 111th overall by the Maple Leafs. The blueliner didn’t make the jump to the North American pro game until 2010/11, again well after many of his 2006 compatriots.

It was a story, however, told by Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins long before Korbinian was ever the AHL club’s stud defenceman, that indicated the quality of his work ethic.

Dallas had not even assumed the head coaching role, but rather was still working in player development. It was his duty to keep tabs on all the budding prospects, checking in from time to time and helping assess their potential when the group gathered in early July for development camp.

It may not have been Korbinian’s first camp, but it was one of them, when his bell was rung in a scrimmage by an opposing forward. I’m not going to point any fingers, but stories say it was a gritty winger that we’ll call ‘Nikky K’ who knocked the wind out of Holzer’s sails.

Come the following year as Dallas made arrangements for the upcoming development camp, Korbinian respectfully requested to bow out. Although not noted, thoughts of the events the last time around may have come into the mind of the now-Marlies coach as he accepted Korbinian’s refusal. But it was still Dallas’ intention to keep constant contact with the German defender.

After an email was sent to check-in with Korbinian during the time the Leafs were holding their development camp, Dallas was sufficiently perturbed by a missed return call from the rearguard dialled from a California number.

Here’s a guy in his late teens or early twenties, has the summer off with a few dollars in his pocket from playing pro hockey in the German league, calling from a California number. I don’t have to be a mind-reader to imagine what Dallas was thinking.

The story though was not at all how it appeared. When Dallas finally gained contact with the transposed German, he could only be impressed with what had actually transpired.

With no prodding from either his then present German team or his drafting club in Toronto, Korbinian had taken it upon himself to commit to an intense off-season training regimen. Most of the ice-surfaces in Germany are removed come June as roller-hockey takes over, so finding time to skate can be tough.

The young defenceman packed his bags, bought a plane ticket, and headed to Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles¬†(that’s practically Hollywood, right?). Training at a facility used to condition athletes from a wide array of difference sports was not subsidized, nor was he granted sponsorship or scholarship to attend. Korbinian flipped the bill all on his own, and he has continued to do so every summer since.

“I knew right then that this kid was serious about becoming a hockey player,” said Dallas.

Now, years later, Korbinian sits with two full seasons of North American hockey under his belt, a run to the AHL Calder Cup finals and a piece of paper in hand that almost guarantees a spot on the Maple Leafs opening night. Hard work really does pay off.

Holzer spent the season as the Marlies top-two defenceman. He twice received a call from the Maple Leafs, soaking up the practice time as he never stepped foot on the ice during a game. Like Vince Papale’s route to the NFL, Korbinian’s journey to the national league is a little bit longer.

As he takes to ACC ice this fall, the hard work most certainly will have been worth it. And when he blocks a crucial shot, crushes his opponent into the end boards, or finds the back of the net with a blast from the point, you can be sure all will want to hear to story of Korbinian Holzer.

Because no one wants to read the tale of a cake walk.

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