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Standing in the Hall of Fame


Former IU club hockey coach inducted into ACHA Hall

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By Robby Howard



Rich Holdeman almost never opened the email that sent him to the Hall of Fame.

He had retired from coaching the IU club hockey team in 2006. When he scrolled through his inbox, he didn’t understand why the American Collegiate Hockey Association had sent him a message. He had moved on from his hockey days.

“I just had no idea,” he said. “It was not even anything on my radar screen. It took a while to sort of process what they were saying.”

On May 4, Holdeman became the sixth non-player to be inducted in the ACHA Hall of Fame in Naples, Fla., and the first non-player from Division II to receive the honor. Holdeman coached at IU for 13 seasons from 1992-2003 and 2004-06.

It’s a coaching career that he never planned.

And a hockey career his parents never thought would start.

And it’s only one small part of who Holdeman — a Yale University biological psychology graduate who serves as pastor at Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church — is today.

***

Holdeman couldn’t skate.

He started playing hockey when he was 6 years old. His dad, a former basketball player, had to scramble just to learn what equipment to buy his son.

When he went to his first clinic, his parents thought it would be a short-lived career as they watched from outside the small children’s rink in his hometown of Columbus, Ind.

“They both felt like I would never learn how to skate, let alone play hockey,” he said. “It just looked like it was totally hopeless.”

When he was 10, he went to a camp at Notre Dame. When he left, he could skate.

His hockey career was officially born.

“When I came back to play next season, I had made a significant jump I think in confidence,” Holdeman said. “I was finally getting my skating together. From then on, I was actually a pretty effective player.”

He played center and wing for the Columbus Icemen, the high school club hockey team that pooled students from both Columbus East and Columbus North, for all four years of high school. His team finished third during his last three years in high school.

He wanted to keep playing hockey. But college coaches weren’t looking for players from southern Indiana.

He did a post-graduate year at Culver Military Academy, where he played hockey and soccer, and also met his future wife, Amy.

After receiving a range of offers from Ivy League schools, Holdeman found himself at Yale the next fall.

The soccer coach wanted him.

“Yale was the only place where they were trying to encourage me to play,” he said.

His soccer career would only last into the first few weeks of his sophomore year.

But his hockey career had much more time left than four years at Yale.

***

Holdeman didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life after he graduated.

His brother had gone to Culver to play hockey, and was in a tournament in Massachusetts. He travelled to see him, and catch up with some old acquaintances from the program, such as coach Al Clark.

Clark’s wife, Blair, sat next to him at the game and inquired about his future. She  suggested he come back to Culver to work as an intern and help coach the team.

Holdeman’s hockey career still had life.

“That was really a huge turning point for me,” he said. “Going from playing to coaching, any player will tell you that is a tough transition to make. I thought I knew a fair bit about the game from playing, but you have to think about the game in a whole different way when you’re coaching.”

Clark, who started coaching at Culver in 1976, gave Holdeman responsibility from the moment he came back.

Suddenly, Holdeman and his wife had been at Culver for three years instead of the one he had intended.

But he was ready to move.

He wanted to teach cell biology to college students. That meant going back to school. He chose IU because of its Ph.D program.

He knew IU had a club hockey team, but didn’t have any interest in coaching.

The team had other ideas.

The IU hockey club coach had just retired. One of the players knew Holdeman’s younger brother. He knew that Holdeman had a hockey coaching background.
Holdeman’s phone started ringing.

Students hired Holdeman. Since hockey is a club sport at IU, a student board within the recreational sports department runs the team.

After Holdeman finished the first season, he never received the small stipend he had been promised. After further investigation, he figured out that several of the team’s bills hadn’t been paid.

“I decided at that point that if I was going to keep involved,” he said, “I was going to have to take a much more active role in not just the coaching on the ice stuff, but the organization of the team.”

It was a burden on Holdeman. Looking back on coaching and doing his Ph.D studies, he said he gets tired just thinking about the combination.

When he was with his wife, she could tell his mind would be elsewhere sometimes.

“She used to be talking to me, and I had this far off look in my eye, and she’d say, ‘you’re thinking about your power play aren’t you?’ It’s hard when you’re doing that stuff to not be consumed with it,” Holdeman said. “So often I was thinking about my
power play.”

The program really started to grow in the 1994-95 season. That year, Holdeman learned of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Hoosiers went from playing 20 games and a small tournament each season to playing over 40 games and competing in a national tournament.

“It wasn’t just that IU’s program changed,” Holdeman said. “The whole landscape of club college hockey changed. It went from being very disorganized to being fairly organized at the national level.”

Holdeman soon learned his team was actually good.

In their first year in the ACHA, IU went to the national championship game hosted by Colorado State. Although the Hoosiers lost the game 5-3, Holdeman had established the Hoosiers on the national map by only his third year.

“We went from kind of being nowhere, to suddenly, it turns out we’re one of the better teams in this division we’re in,” he said.

In his 13 seasons, 11 of which were in the ACHA, Holdeman coached IU to three national championship game appearances. The Hoosiers went to four national semifinals. They never had a losing record.

Holdeman won Coach of the Year in 2002, the first year the ACHA presented the award at the Division II level.

But he left the team in 2006. He had other career goals.

***

Holdeman is now the pastor at the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church.
He also lectures on cell biology and molecular genetics at IU.

Holdeman now jokes about his unique background that blends biology, religion and hockey.

“We started a group,” he said. “There’s no one in it.”

When he went out to eat with some of the ACHA members after his induction, it came up that he is a pastor and lecturer. It got awkward.

“When that came out, it was kind of like everyone just stared at me,” Holdeman said with a laugh. “‘Let’s move on,’ ya’ know. ‘Let’s talk about something else.’ It’s not the normal combination. I can’t really explain. I can say that in all those different spheres, I do work with students.”

Holdeman said he doesn’t preach to his students or his players. But, he does try to lead his life by example. He said his goal is always to try to help other people in everything he does.

“I try to tell them what I think that means is I’m trying to do the best job I can to help you be successful and to do the things I’m supposed to do to help you have a good experience,” he said.

When Holdeman was inducted, the ACHA gave him a microphone to briefly speak. He said that was a mistake.

“I’m thinking, ‘you don’t give a microphone to a pastor,’” he said. “But they did.”

He thanked his wife, who was in attendance, and all of the former players and coaches who helped the program.

Then he thanked his rival, Jim Martin, who coached at Michigan State. Martin had nominated Holdeman for induction.

Martin was responsible for the email Holdeman almost never opened.

“The fact that this rival coach that I had coached against and had been so competitive with was the guy who had nominated me was really special,” Holdeman said. “That meant a lot to me when one of your rivals makes that decision.”

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Rich Holdeman was inducted into the American Collegiate Hockey Association Hall of Fame May 4. Catharine Dahm Buy Photos

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