Stability and experience. Two attributes that aren’t overly flashy but are crucial to a playoff-contending OHL team. It’s why the addition of defenceman Holden Wale at the trade deadline from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was a welcome one.
Acquired by the Rangers just before the clock struck noon on January 10th, Holden admitted being caught off-guard by the news but excited that he was heading to Southwestern Ontario – and closer to home.
“It was just after the morning skate. I got the call back into the office, and when I heard that the team I was being traded to was Kitchener, I was pretty happy,” Wale said. “The organization has so much history, and they develop a lot of excellent hockey players.”
What the Rangers got in return was a player who doesn’t necessarily fill the stat sheet with points but provides consistency to the game.
“I consider myself a solid two-way defender, and I think that I use my skating ability to my advantage,” Wale said.
“Going into the season, I wanted to develop my defending skills even more. In practice, I always work on my stick work, gap control and all the basic but essential stuff like that.”
Holden comes to the team as one of only three 19-year-old blueliners, so he brings some maturity and experience to the roster as well.
The only other Kitchener defenceman with more career OHL games played than Wale is Justin MacPherson.
Wale’s 17 playoff games played is also third-most behind Michael Vukojevic (23) and MacPherson (18 with Niagara).
Wale’s first taste of playoff action involved the Rangers during the 2018 playoffs when his Greyhounds defeated the Blueshirts in seven games during the Western Conference finals.
“That was my first year in the league. It was fun to have that experience, and the atmosphere in The Aud was unreal. It was entertaining to be a part of,” Wale recalled.
The 6’0”, 182-pound defender admitted that getting to play closer to his hometown of Brantford wearing the home jersey was also an exciting perk. “Coming closer to home is nice. My family can come to pretty much every game now,” he said.
It isn’t the first time that he will get the opportunity to do so, though, as he played for the former Cambridge Winter Hawks of the GOJHL the season after he was selected in the fourth round in 2016 by the Greyhounds.
“I was still living at home at that point, so it was nice getting introduced to playing against the older and bigger guys before making the jump to the OHL,” recalled Wale, who had two goals and 19 assists in 49 regular-season games.
Since then, he’s learned how important it “is having that chemistry with the team and always knowing what guys are going to be doing with the puck.”
Proving his point just minutes before the opening face-off in his first game with the Rangers, he was still getting on the same wave-length with starting goaltender Jacob Ingham.
“With Jacob behind us between the pipes, communication is huge. It gives us an advantage out there on the ice,” Wale said.
The Rangers, according to Holden, have an edge up on the competition. This is based on bonds created by the guys on the roster, and the welcoming environment they have created for new players.
“All the guys have been great, so it’s made the Rangers experience awesome so far,” he said, while also describing himself as “a pretty basic guy who enjoys playing video games like a lot of the other guys on the team.”
“Just hanging out and getting to know the boys, especially with this being my new team, is fun for sure.”
It’s that sort of openness that has Wale convinced this edition of the Blueshirts is capable of accomplishing something extraordinary.
“I think we have an excellent group of guys here – on and off the ice. I’m looking forward to going on a run in the playoffs with this group and making some noise.”