Penn State women’s hockey coach Josh Brandwene describes Pennsylvania Furnace’s Jill Holdcroft as a "fearless and intense worker who plays with emotion, adrenaline and jump in her stride that’s a real difference-maker for us."
If you ask Holdcroft, the freshman forward sees herself as a gritty player and forechecker.
"I work hard, which might make up for not having some other essential skills," Holdcroft said. "I love to forecheck and get into the corners and make the other team work even harder to defend against."
Before coming to Penn State, Holdcroft played for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Tier 1 AAA girls’ squad from 2008 to 2012, while also playing two years of varsity boys’ hockey at State College High School. She was the team’s assistant captain and only female.
Her line mate this season, freshman Micayla Catanzariti loves playing with Holdcroft because of her intense passion for the game.
"The speed that she has, even the intensity and enthusiasm she brings to the team is awesome," Catanzariti said. "There could be momentum going one way, and when she’s out there working hard she can change that. She’s that type of player."
Penn State freshman and State College native Tommy Siggins, who played mite hockey with Holdcroft and on the State High freshman team with her, said she’s a real pest to play against.
"She uses her speed to go hard on the forecheck and really does well playing down low in the corners," Siggins said. "She also has great vision and knows when to feed her teammates and when to shoot when she has the puck."
Holdcroft, who plans on majoring in accounting, currently is tied for fourth on the team in scoring with nine goals and two assists.
State High head coach Brett Wilson coached Holdcroft as a volunteer on the JV team her sophomore year and then was varsity coach her junior and senior seasons. He said the team’s opponents treated her with respect.
"They had to; if they let their guard down she'd skate right pasted them," he said. "There were only a few situations during a game, but her teammates had no problem standing up for her if they had to."
"It's great to see a local player make it on to one of the Division 1 programs," Wilson said. "I am not surprised it's Jill. She's such a hard worker and skilled athlete. I'm very proud of her. It's great for this area and the growth of hockey here."
Currently there are no girls’ hockey teams in State College. The closest girls-only team is the ECA Junior Stars based out of Altoona
Hockey runs in the blood of the Holdcroft family. Jill credits her father, Tim, and her two older brothers, Robbie and Steven, for getting her into the game.
"My dad has been with me throughout my entire hockey career," Holdcroft said. "He’s been the one driving long drives and he’s been my coach a number of times."
Tim Holdcroft played for the Penn State club team from 1982 to 1986, along with Jill’s two uncles, Bob and David. Her cousin, Lindsay Holdcroft, a native of Pittsburgh, is the starting goaltender for Dartmouth College.
The Holdcroft family is so passionate about the game of hockey that it has its own backyard ice rink.
When Tim Holdcroft was around 12 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, his family tried to put a rink in the backyard one winter; unfortunately it only lasted a couple of days. He vowed then that if he had the opportunity he would put a rink in the backyard of his own house some day.
When the Holdcrofts built their house 13 years ago on Greenfield Road in Pennsylvania Furnace, his dream came true. The rink is about 85 feet long by 55 feet wide, with curved boards about four feet high at each end and lights at all four corners and in the middle.
Their next addition? A Zamboni.
"That will probably happened in the next couple of years," Tim Holdcroft said.
He said it’s special to watch his daughter play on the same ice surface he once did and to honor him by wearing his number 19.
"Obviously it’s a step up from when I played, but to see her wear the Penn State jersey, wear my number, and to have the name on the back the same as I had 30 years ago when I played, is really special," Holdcroft said.
Wilson, the State High coach, sees Jill as a role model for other girls in the area who are playing hockey, and he has seen the impact she has made already.
"Even when she was in high school you'd see the younger female players around the rink, and they always wanted to talk to Jill after practices or games," he said. "Jill made sure she always had time to talk to them."
"I think that’s just her makeup too," her father said. "She likes to be a kind of a role model. She would love to see girls’ hockey just grow in State College.
"I think she is a little ahead of her time right now because there have been some girls that have played through the years in State College, but very few If she could have a little part in that, I think that would be very special to her."
"It’s just cool to see hockey grow in this town and people talking about it," Jill said. "To be on the first team is a lot of fun."