Players from basketball families star for Thomas Jefferson hockey team

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Friday, February 7, 2020 | 6:54 PM


Both families have rich histories in Western Pennsylvania high school basketball, particularly in the South Hills.

Dan Holzer is in his 25th season coaching the boys team at Upper St. Clair. He was a three-year starter at Thomas Jefferson and 1983 graduate. He also played at Alliance.

Lisa Fairman is in her second year in charge of the TJ girls program after coaching seven years at Belle Vernon. She played basketball at TJ for four years — Fairman’s maiden name is Pritchard — and graduated in 1991.

Three of her children are former TJ hoopsters. They are Eric, now an assistant at his alma mater, Alysa and Garret. The youngest, Graci, is a sophomore point guard.

So how did Holzer’s son, Riley, and Fairman’s son, Hunter, end up as leading players on the surging TJ ice hockey team?

Riley Holzer is a 5-foot-8, 190-pound junior forward and one of the Jaguars’ leading scorers. Through Feb. 3, he had racked up 16 goals and a team-high 26 assists, good for 42 points, to rank second in scoring behind junior forward Will O’Brien’s 29 goals and 46 points.

“I have been excited from Riley’s first varsity game as a freshman,” said Dan, his dad. “I can’t believe his junior year is almost over. I have enjoyed every moment he is on the ice for TJ. He loves playing hockey and that is what truly matters.

“He started playing hockey, I believe, when he was 6. I took him to get skating lessons after his close friend and teammate to this day, Jake Gardiner, told him about it.”

Hunter Fairman is a 6-1, 152-pound junior forward and the Jaguars’ third-leading scorer with 19 goals, 21 assists and 40 points.

“Hockey was the only sport that no one in our family played,” said Lisa, his mom. “As a young child, Hunter had severe environmental allergies which caused ulcers on his eyes, and he had to have eye surgery. The doctor told us Hunter would not be able to continue playing baseball and that he needed more of a controlled climate environment.

“After hearing that on the way home, Hunter asked if he could try hockey because it is indoors and played where it’s cold. It was like it was meant to be because once he laced up the skates, he fell in love with hockey. We’ve had the opportunity to travel the country with his AAU program, and he won a national championship in 2018.

“I love that Hunter plays hockey for TJ. I told my children at a young age that even though basketball is my passion, I wanted them to do what makes them happy and play the sports they are passionate about.”

TJ was 16-1 in the PIHL Class A Southwest Division following a 9-5 win Feb. 3 against North Hills. Fairman netted four goals; Holzer contributed two goals and two assists.

“Our season has been almost perfect,” Holzer, 17, said. “We have really come together and have been playing more as a team. When we play together, we are hard to beat. If we are down a couple goals, we don’t panic and just take the game shift by shift.

“This year, we set four goals: Win the preseason championship, the division, the Pens Cup and states. If we keep playing the way we have been playing, I believe we can accomplish all four.”

The Jaguars extended their winning streak to 14 with the victory over North Hills.

“We have played well, but we have goals that we set earlier in the year and they still haven’t been reached,” said Fairman, 16. “The expectations were to win the Pens Cup and state playoffs, and that has not changed. Having everyone buying into what our coaches are teaching is definitely our biggest strength.”

Fairman credits his four siblings for helping mold him into the athlete he is today.

“Unlike my brothers and sisters, I only play one sport and they always joke around with me about it,” Fairman said. “It was, for sure, different when I told my parents I wanted to play hockey. No one in our family ever played hockey.

“Almost every day, there is a conversation about basketball in my house. I enjoy listening to my mom and oldest brother talk about it. However, the worst is when we are watching a college game and every second my mom or my brother is pausing the game to watch the nice play that just happened. I’m just like, can you pause the game any more?

“I think playing hockey gave my mom and dad excitement because they had the chance to meet new people and travel to crazy places. I definitely could not be where I am right now if it wasn’t for my brothers working out with me and pushing me to get better, or my sister Alysa, who drives me everywhere and is probably my biggest supporter. Also, my little sister Graci, who when we were younger always wanted to play hockey or basketball outside.”

One notable trait Hunter shares with his siblings is his aggressiveness. He leads the Jaguars in penalties and penalty minutes; Holzer ranked second.

Riley Holzer actually was a gym rat as a youth. He played hoops from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“He played travel basketball in grades three to eight and I was his coach,” Dan Holzer said. “He could really shoot and was a pretty good passer. I really enjoyed watching him grow as a kid and an athlete.

“I thought he might continue basketball in high school, but as a 15-year-old he made the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U15 team. The time commitment at the AAU hockey level wouldn’t allow him to continue hoops. I’m so proud of him and wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s what he loves to do.”

Between his time in school and at the gym, Riley Holzer developed a fondness for the sport of hockey.

“At first, it was different,” he said, “but I knew hockey was my better sport, and my dad supported me with the decision to play hockey instead of basketball.”

The Holzers live in West Jefferson Hills while the Fairmans are Pleasant Hills residents. Members of both families are able to attend TJ’s hockey games on a regular basis.

Lisa Fairman, a certified personal trainer, is the wife of Eric Sr., a 1990 Baldwin graduate who competed in baseball and attended the International Culinary Academy.

“I get to see most of Hunter’s games. I do miss some when they conflict with my games,” said TJ’s girls hoops coach. “We have always been a big basketball family. No one in our family skates or ever played hockey.

“However, I think it’s awesome that even though my children all love basketball, they each found a passion to play a different sport except for Graci. My three oldest followed their dream of playing in college. Hunter hopes to continue playing hockey after high school, and Graci dreams of playing basketball in college.”

Fairman’s linemates are Eddie Pazo and Ryan Kelly, both junior forwards. O’Brien and sophomore forward Colby Bilski skate alongside Holzer.

“I get to see almost all of Riley’s games,” his dad said. “Our team plays Tuesday and Friday nights. High school hockey is usually Monday, Tuesday or Thursday.

“Nobody in our family skates. I think I’ve only been on ice skates three or four times in my life. But my wife Carol and I enjoy every minute watching Riley play for TJ. Carol works full-time but does a great job of supporting Riley. She always makes sure that his homework and any school work is done.”

Fairman, Holzer, O’Brien, Pazo and TJ’s junior goaltender, Luke Ripepi, were selected as PIHL all-stars this season.

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