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From Germany, with love Add to ...

Korbinian Holzer was only 3 when his older brother found a hockey game on television and was mesmerized by what he saw.

In a story now well-known in the family, his sibling watched intently, pointed at the screen and told their mother, in no uncertain terms: "I want to do that."

Living near the small town of Geretsried in the Bavaria region of Germany, Ilse Holzer wasn't familiar with the sport, but still packed up her three boys and took them down to the local rink to learn this foreign game.

All three went on to play eishockey into their 20s, but it was the youngest - known by family and friends as Korby - who fulfilled a lifelong dream when he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday.

A 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenceman, Korbinian Holzer played 12 minutes 46 seconds in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, looking comfortable on a third pairing with Brett Lebda and earning praise from head coach Ron Wilson.

He became the first German player to skate for the Maple Leafs and one of less than 20 born and trained in the country to make the NHL.

His family, meanwhile, watched along online as the game stretched into the wee hours, just as he had done for as long as he can remember.

"We didn't have many [NHL games]broadcast," Holzer said. "I just tried to watch as many as I could over the Internet. On TV, there's almost nothing.

"I remember one time, watching the 1996 Stanley Cup final, with [German defenceman]Uwe Krupp, when he scored the winning goal in overtime. I was probably the only one. I was up until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. It was a long night for me and at school the next day."

Holzer was only 8, but already well on his way to NHL fanaticism, collecting hockey cards and idolizing Scott Niedermayer.

At 14, he gave up soccer to focus on hockey, moving away from his hometown and excelling in Germany's junior system. His size and dependable all-around game caught the eye of Toronto scouts four years later, and the Leafs picked him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft.

Still a long shot at that point to make the NHL, Holzer continued to stand out at the world championships and Olympics, where he squared off against his idol in Vancouver this past February.

"It was unbelievable," Holzer said of staring down Niedermayer on the Canadian side.

On Monday, Holzer boarded a plane with the rest of the Leafs bound for a trip through the NHL's sunbelt, with back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and Florida Panthers on Wednesday, as part of an eye-opening experience for the 22-year-old from a world away.

Called up last week after Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf went down with an injury, Holzer said he realizes his time in the NHL may be limited this season. However, after three years in Germany's top pro league, where there have been attendance woes and other financial issues, he was ready to play for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL for less than half what he made in Dusseldorf.

Before he left Germany, Holzer told the local Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper he would have always regretted never taking a chance on the NHL. "If I didn't try, I don't think it would agree with me in 30 years," he said.

Now that he's donned a Maple Leafs jersey, even in a limited capacity, it's been what he had hoped for.

"When I realized I was staying with hockey and trying to be a professional, I think every kid [that does that]dreams about being in the NHL," Holzer said. "I'm happy to be here. It's a great chance for me."

 

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