By Tori Wittenbrock
Associate Sports Editor
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Gamblers (5-5 USHL Eastern conf.) are excited to be getting into the 2023 season with a new addition to their roster this year, second round NHL Draft pick — 43rd overall — by the Arizona Coyotes, Julian Lutz from Weingarten, Germany.
Lutz said that he is excited to be in Green Bay playing for the Gamblers, and to have the opportunity to advance his career because all he has ever wanted to do is play hockey.
Lutz said he got his start in hockey as a product of his parent’s influence and the hockey-centered environment in which he was raised.
“Just growing up in a small town in Germany where hockey was the only thing they played. Having parents with a background in it. My dad loved watching hockey, so he brought me to the rink and I started skating,” said Lutz.
Although he has begun to make a name for himself on the hockey scene now, Lutz said his journey on skates began a bit unconventionally.
“Fun fact, my first time on the ice was with figure skaters — that was by accident — but I wanted out there pretty quickly so I started playing hockey and just fell in love with it. I never wanted anything else,” said Lutz.
Lutz’s passion and dedication to hockey are evident on the ice. He said he has never had another interest that has eclipsed his love of the sport.
“It’s pretty much just always been hockey. Here and there a little soccer. Everybody plays soccer some time in their life — in Germany, especially. Other than that, nothing crazy, maybe a little table tennis, but really nothing serious other than hockey.”
Although he is becoming a big name of his own in the hockey world, Lutz said that there are a few professional players he has always admired.
“I was always a big fan of Russian players to be honest,” said Lutz. “Alexander Ovechkin was always a big idol for me growing up. Also, some Canadian players, like Sidney Crosby because of his performance on the ice, and off the ice how he behaves,” explained Lutz.
“My first experience seeing NHL guys was with the World Championships in Europe, so I was always a big fan of the Russian players, and obviously Germany, too, growing up there and being German. The greatest experience was 2010 in Germany with the World Championship, to be able to see Germany against Russia in the semi-finals. That was pretty big.”
The mental side of things
According to Lutz, there is a lot more to hockey than just the physical side of the game. The mental toughness it takes can be draining at times, said Lutz.
“Probably the biggest challenge is the mental side of the game. As you go higher and higher in hockey, it gets to be more and more, and in every part you just want to get better and progress, and it’s a challenge every day.”
However, Lutz said he has a couple of strategies that have worked for him so far to keep him in the right space mentally before each game.
“I try to develop in every situation and to get better as a human being every day, and to just enjoy the process. I also work with a couple of professional guys that give me advice and just everyone that teaches me is good,” said Lutz.
Lutz, 19, said that even though he is still young himself, he has some advice for those just starting out in their hockey careers.
“Just enjoy it. It’s a long process, so just enjoy it everyday. Have fun and listen to your parents. I’m thankful for having parents that push me every day. They wanted the best for me every step of the way and my dad went to every game and supported me and always gave me advice,” said Lutz.
Finally seeing success in the sport you have always dreamed of playing professionally can be really rewarding, and Lutz said that each of the sacrifices he made to get where he is today were totally worth it.
“Obviously there are some sacrifices I have had to do, but I never felt that something is missing. I never felt a desire to do anything else and I always thought that the things I do are the right things. I never really missed out on anything. I was interested in all of the things I did, so I did them, and that was always hockey. All my friends were hockey players too, and I have always enjoyed it as a sport,” said Lutz.
Overcoming a setback
Being an athlete, however, does not come with the occasional setback, and Lutz is no exception.
“The injuries were pretty big for me. My first pro-season coming into the Draft year, I had a pretty big injury and was out for six months, so always during that time there is a lot of frustration going on and you don’t know if you’ll come back, but at the end of the day you have that time to learn, especially with the mental side of the game. You can learn a lot and come back even hungrier,” said Lutz of his experience with injuries.
“A big thing I learned is having patience. It kept me going back to the fact that I should enjoy the game and enjoy the process more.”
Like many young athletes, Lutz said that playing professionally has always been the goal. According to Lutz, being drafted was his dream-come-true.
A dream come true
“I had pretty big dreams right when I started playing hockey. I always had the NHL in vision and it was a special day. I was with my family in Montreal.
“Watching the first round, not getting picked was a little bit frustrating, but I was so happy when my name got called up and I got to have that special moment with my family and to have my brothers with me. They were so happy about it, and it was a dream coming true.”
Living in a different country at such a young age, however, has not come without its struggles.
“I do (miss home) a little bit. You can’t, not miss home. I always call my parents everyday, and these days you can video call everyone, so we keep in touch, but it was time for me to start something new. It’s a whole new experience and you don’t have a lot of time to really miss home, but I am happy to be able to see them again some time soon.
“The US is different. The food is very different. I lived two years alone in Germany, so now it’s like being back with a family. It’s awesome here. I think that probably food is the biggest change. There are a lot of good players out here. The practices are a lot different, but I’m liking it a lot.”
Lutz said, however, that he is really enjoying his journey so far with the Gamblers.
“I haven’t been here long, so I haven’t seen a lot of the city yet, but hanging around with the guys, and getting to know them better has been great. I think we have an awesome group of guys, and a lot of games right from the beginning, but I like (Green Bay) so far.”
Off the ice, team bonding has been a big part of helping Lutz to feel at home in Green Bay.
“We hang out a lot after practice, and outside of hockey. We play some cards sometimes, things like that.”
Going forward, Lutz said he has nothing but high hopes for the team’s performance the rest of this season.
“I think something we are working on right now is just being a team and working hard everyday. Just enjoying the process. I’m here for a reason, and I love the game everyday. I give it my best every day. It’s a great opportunity for me to step up as a leader and influence other players, too.”