J.T. Ketzenberger couldn’t help but be a little timid the first time he took the ice as Urbana High School’s ice hockey goalie two seasons ago.
He was just a freshman — a couple years removed from strapping on the goalie pads for the first time — and on a roster brimming with potential. A roster which could challenge for a state title.
If Ketzenberger didn’t perform, the team could have put those hopes to rest.
“I think I was pretty nervous at first,” he said. “But once the season went on, guys felt confidence in me and I felt comfortable with it.”
Ketzenberger showed he could perform under the pressure and helped the Hawks to the state championship game, a 4-3 loss to Winston Churchill. Two seasons later, the junior is a leader for the Hawks and will be one of the keys to their success as they make a push to return to the state playoffs.
He was always attracted to being the last line of defense no matter what sport he played. In baseball, he was a catcher. In soccer, he was a goalkeeper.
In ice hockey, it was only natural that he step in front of the net. But he started later than most, not putting on the goalie pads until he was around 11.
“It takes a weird person to play goalie,” he said. “It just kind of came naturally to me. And I liked the colors and the pads.”
He proved to be a quick study and coach Toby Heusser had the confidence to play him.
Those feelings have grown over the years and Ketzenberger was named an assistant captain this season, a distinction not frequently given to a goalie.
“He’s an outstanding person off the ice and on the ice,” Heusser said. “He’s someone that players look up to. He’s a great leader on the ice. When he’s talking, people listen. He doesn’t have too much to say. He’s usually pretty quiet. But he’s someone that players respect because of the way he carries himself.”
Added teammate Eric Dann: “He’s a special case. He knows hockey. He knows what to say in the locker room. He says all the right things. He helps other kids out. He’s a very kind, caring person.”
Before and during each game, Ketzenberger has an unfaltering routine.
He listens to music before games while putting his right leg pad on before his left. He uses white tape to wrap his stick from heel to toe. He taps the pipes of the goal the same way each time. During stoppages in play, he skates to each face off circle.
It’s all part of staying focused on the game.
“[The mental aspect] is probably as difficult as the physical part, if not harder,” he said. “You have to get in the zone. If you make one mistake, a goal can go in. So you have to be perfect.”
He had his best performance of the season on Dec. 14 against Middletown.
Under heavy pressure for most of the game, he made 44 saves while allowing one goal. Two games later, he made 26 saves against Walkersville, which scored six goals on him in their first meeting of the season, en route to a 4-2 win. That came after a 6-1 loss to Carrol County, a performance the whole team wanted to forget.
“You have to come back the next day and be ready to play,” said Ketzenberger, who hopes to play junior hockey after high school and then play in college. “It’s not always your fault. But if they score six goals like [against Carrol County], I wasn’t doing everything right.”
Heading into the second half of the season, Urbana (2-4-1) is near the bottom of the Monocacy Valley Hockey League standings with just five points. But its two wins came against Middletown (4-2) and Walkersville (3-3-1), which rank third and fourth, respectively.
The Hawks will have to play nearly flawless hockey the rest of the way to reach the state tournament, but Ketzenberger believes if they get into the tournament, he won’t allow a repeat of his freshman year.
“Playing in the state playoffs, that was probably my favorite moment in my entire career playing hockey,” he said. “I think if we went back, this time, we’d get it.”