Walz brothers ending and beginning varsity careers this year
Andrew and Nate Walz are playing their first year of varsity hockey together this season.
JAMESTOWN — Andrew Walz has a pretty distinct first memory when it comes to playing hockey with his younger brother Nate,
"We were in Wahpeton, and I was a defenseman at the time," Andrew said. "I gave (Nate) a pass in overtime for a breakaway and he shot the puck over the goalie and over the glass into the netting from below the hash marks.
"He’s always been crazy competitive so he was pretty mad then but now it is a good laugh to look back at," he said.
The youth hockey game in Wahpeton kick-started nearly a decade's worth of hockey-related memories for the pair of brothers, but this season is especially special since it marks the first — and only — year the pair have been on the same prep hockey roster.
"Playing with Nate is nice because we are finally on the same schedule and can work on different things together," Andrew said. "We’ve played quite a bit of hockey together in the spring and summer but high school is quite a bit different for us."
Andrew, a senior, has been a part of the Jamestown High School varsity hockey roster since his sophomore season while Nate is in his first year as a part of the varsity squad.
"I got into hockey because my dad played and my older brother Ben did as well so I guess it was just the expectation to play," Andrew said. "I grew up around it and had a stick in my hand playing in the kitchen when I learned how to walk."
The boys' father, Don, is a current assistant coach for the Blue Jay squad, and Ben was a goalkeeper for the Jays from 2010 to 2013.
"My first hockey memories come from watching Ben," Andrew said. "I loved watching every game he played when I was little. I remember some of those games like yesterday, I’ll never forget his last regular season game against Bismarck High at Vets Arena when he got a shutout and the Jays won 4-0."
In his senior year, Ben played in 15 games and allowed 38 goals for a 90% save percentage.
Andrew has followed in his older brother's footsteps and has strapped on the goalie pads for the Jays for the past three seasons.
"I love hockey because there really isn’t another sport like it and it’s super fun to play, the friends and memories that come from it aren’t quite like any other sport," Andrew said. "I’ve stuck with it because I just haven’t ever had it not be fun. I love the sport and the guys in the locker room make it something to look forward to every day."
Andrew was the Jays' backup goalkeeper to two-year starter Brode Hillstrom last season. He played 4.83 games last season and went 4-0 averaging just 1.03 goals allowed per game. He was ranked third in the state with a 94.4 save percentage.
After Hillstrom graduated, the goalie responsibilities fell to Andrew and the senior has not disappointed.
"At the beginning of August I was in a hockey league that I played a couple of games in to get ready for the season," Andrew said. "Then I injured my knee in football season so I was out for a couple of months to be ready for this hockey season and am finally starting to feel 100%. The team is helping a lot with that, lots of guys have stepped up which is good to see.'
Andrew has played 11.33 games this season and has allowed 36 total goals for an average of 3.18 per game. He's 5-6 on the year and has a save percentage of 89.3 to rank him 20th out of 33 total North Dakota goalies.
"Being the starter comes with a lot of pressure," Andrew said. "I got super lucky to have a guy like Brode in front of me to learn from and push me. During his time, Brode was like a mentor. I’m very thankful for the goalies that came through Jamestown before me and hope I can live up to that expectation for the rest of the young goalies that are coming up to be Blue Jays."
While Andrew and Ben have been a sort of calming and steady influence for the Jays, Nate has proven to be a bit more of a spitfire.
Nate is one of 10 prep skaters with nine total points so far this season. The sophomore is ranked 92nd out of 313 skaters in terms of points accumulated. He has notched six goals and has been credited with three assists. Nate is the Jays' third-leading scorer behind seniors Brooks Roaldson and Gavin Gerhardt.
"Nate separates himself with his speed and competitiveness," Andrew said. "When he plays mad he’s at his best. He’s pretty easy to get motivated in the moments that matter."
Nate said that Andrew has helped him become more competitive. Since last season, Nate said he has gotten better at making faster puck-handling decisions — a necessary quality in a forward — as the speed of a varsity game is faster and generally, there is less time to think about your moves.
Fortunately for Nate, he's not solely responsible for his development as a player.
"Andrew helps me where he can and he's made me more competitive (as an athlete)," Nate said. "My dad has helped me with getting to know the game better. For the rest of the season, I want to help our team win games."
The Blue Jays are currently fifth in the West Region hockey standings at 5-5 in conference standings. Overall the Jays are 5-6 with 17 points. Last season, the Jays wound up in first in the West Region and fifth in the state. Andrew said he is really hoping to experience a similar finish to cap off all those hockey memories he has with Nate.
"My emotions during hockey season are very up and down because everyone has such high expectations and it takes a lot for us to get to where we want to be," Andrew said. "My goal for the year is to just take it game by game and do my best for the team to put us in a situation to win because when the boys buzz we can do anything. We all have a common goal in the end and that’s to play in the Ralph (at the state tournament) in February."