The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/25/12 at 05:50 PM ET
During the Detroit Red Wings’ 5-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes last night, a sequence of play more or less encapsulated Tomas Holmstrom’s 1,000-plus-game tenure with the team: after going to his “office” in front of Cam Ward, Holmstrom was cross-checked from behind into Ward by Hurrianes defenseman Tim Gleason. When Holmstrom attempted to extricate himself from Ward, Gleason punched Holmstrom in the head, removing his helmet, and as Holmstrom shoved Gleason back in an attempt to plain old get away from his opponent, Gleason punched Holmstrom’s face again, but by the time the referees blew play dead with the puck on Red Wings players’ sticks, something predictable ensued: thanks to Holmstrom’s reputation, Gleason received a roughing penalty, but Holmstrom was also assessed a phantom goaltender interference penalty for getting the stuffing beaten out of him. For every legitimate penalty Holmstrom’s assessed for bumping goalies, he endures twenty or more infractions from opposing teams’ players or goaltenders, and he absorbs their abuse like a happy human pincushion.
Holmstrom left the penalty box two minutes later and got right back to work attempting to screen one of the many goaltenders he scouts via video in an attempt to emulate their movements while trying to tip pucks traveling at 80-plus miles an hour, absorbing cross-checks, slashes and otherwise uncalled infractions and toeing the line that is the top of the goal crease along the way, and his fearlessness in terms of doing a very dirty job very, very well—while receiving a ridiculous amount of punishment along the way—explains why the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominated Holmstrom for the Masterton Trophy as the Wings player who embodies perseverance and dedication to hockey.
It should come as no surprise that Holmstrom’s carpool buddy endorsed #96’s nomination while speaking to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
“He’s been part of the team for a long time and his perseverance is second to none,” longtime teammate and fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We know what he’s been going through with his bad knees. His knees weren’t the best when he got here 15 years ago.”
“The way he battles through injuries and able to come back and play,” Lidstrom said. “We know the beating he’s been taking in front of the net and in the offensive zone, but he keeps getting up there and getting back in there. He’s got so much determination and will to get back in there again. You can tell with his bad knees that he’s not giving up at all. It shows a lot about his character.”
Holmstrom, 39, has had countless knee operations in his 15 seasons with Detroit and two hernia surgeries.
“It’s got to be rough the body to play the way he does,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s pretty amazing that he could play as many games as he has.”
“That’s the toughest part, when you have to play hurt and go through all that,” Holmstrom said. “But when you play a long time, I’m sure all the guys are going to go through that sooner or later. That’s how it is. If you can play and you’re really banged up, you do it.”
He was drafted 257th overall by Detroit in the 1994 NHL Entry draft. At the time scouts said Holmstrom was too slow and too skinny to make in the league.
“If you can’t skate, you can’t play,” Holmstrom said. “I know I don’t have the best skills but I’ve been working on it a lot, try to get better skating, a better shot, pretty much get a better all-around game to stay in the league and try to get better around the net. You always want to do better and better. That’s a big part of it. You know there’s always someone who wants to take your spot, someone who wants to beat you, just try to get better all the time.”
Holmstrom offered a predictable reaction to his nomination while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James, possibly using the two English words he employs most often in the process:
“That’s a big honor, for sure,” Holmstrom said, smiling. “Make me really happy, actually. Shows I do something right out there.”
Holmstrom, 39, was chosen for forging a 15-season career in the NHL after being drafted 257th overall in 1994. He has become known as one of the best in the game at hovering around the net and screening goaltenders.
“I remember my first year, I walked into the rink and you just try to break the lineup,” Holmstrom said. “So then I signed a two-year deal and got sent down to Adirondack. It was like, I’m going to play out my two years and see what happens. Now it’s 15 years, over a thousand games later, and four Stanley Cups. It’s been fun.”
In recent years, the Masterton has often gone to a player who’s come back from a severe injury, but the original intent of the award was to recognize perseverance and dedication in any form. Holmstrom has dealt with injuries to nearly every part of his body over the years, though, with his style of playing taking an especially hard toll on his knees.
Holmstrom reiterated that, “Well, things turned out pleasantly well” point to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“I remember my first year walking into the rink and just trying to break into the lineup,” said Holmstrom, a forgotten-about ninth-round draft pick in 1994. “I signed a two-year deal and went down to Adirondack (then the Wings’ minor-league affiliate) and I was going to play out my two years and see what happens. Now, 15 years and 1,000 games and four Stanley Cups later, it’s been fun.”
For sure, the past few seasons have been a struggle from a physical standpoint. All the years that Holmstrom has been hacked and whacked in front of the net are catching up to him. Holmstrom’s knees have been drained and surgically repaired, and are now bone on bone. He wears extra padding to weather the abuse on his shoulders and shins. He’s endured back pain.
“That’s the tough part, when you get hurt and you have to play hurt,” Holmstrom said. “You go through that all when you play a long time. All guys will go through that sooner or later, the injuries. If you can play, and you’re banged up, you do it.”
Holmstrom tells MLive’s Ansar Khan that his long list of imitators flatters him (and MLive’s Brendan Savage is asking readers to weigh in as to whether a player now utilized as a remarkably effective fourth-liner has a future in Detroit)...
“It’s fun to see guys going to the net and staying in front of the goalie and kids coming up and saying, ‘I play like you, Homer. I play in front of the net. I scored two goals the other night, I tipped them in.’ We all can’t be like Pavel (Datsyuk) and Hank (Zetterberg), we got to have some guys doing the grind job around the net.’‘
Of his two sons, the youngest (Isak) wants to be like him, the older one (Max) wants to emulate Datsyuk.
“One has 13 on his back. One is a little softer,’’ Holmstrom said. “One is like me, he goes to the net and is more tougher. The other one seems to be more a skilled guy, tries to find the soft spots.’‘
This has been Holmstrom’s most difficult season. He is experiencing his worst slump, having gone 28 games without a goal since Jan. 17, during which time he has just one assist. With eight goals and 19 points, he is on pace for his least-productive season since 1997-98 (five goals, 22 points in 57 games). Holmstrom said he will decide after the playoffs whether he wants to return next season. Ultimately, it will be management’s decision, as it ponders whether there is room for him and whether he can be effective.
“For sure it’s been a tough year, playing most of the time on the fourth line and limited ice time,’’ Holmstrom said. “I just try to do the best of it. We got a good team. The end goal is not to get me ice time, the end goal is to win the Stanley Cup.’‘
And DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose offers some quotes worth repeating to the mix:
“He’s been part of the team for a long time, his perseverance is second to none,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We know what he’s been going through with his bad knees. His knees weren’t the best when he got here 15 years ago.”
Lidstrom, who has been a teammate and close friend through four Stanley Cup titles, sees why the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has selected Holmstrom as its candidate for this season’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
“The way he’s battling through injuries and able to come back and play, we know the beating he’s been taking in front of the net and in the offensive zone, but he keeps getting up there and getting back in there,” Lidstrom said. “He’s got so much determination and will to get back in there again. You can tell with his bad knees that he’s not giving up at all.”
The Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication. The winner is selected by the PHWA and will be announced at the NHL Award Show in Las Vegas on June 20. The trophy is often awarded to a player who has come back from career- or even life-threatening illness or injury. Last year’s award went to Philadelphia’s Ian Laperriere, who was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome after he was struck in the face by a puck during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. And while Laperriere hasn’t return to the game, he continues to serve the Flyers as a mentor to the younger players in the organization.
“That’s a big honor, for sure,” Holmstrom said after learning of his nomination last Friday. “Makes me really happy; I’m doing something right out there.”
And if Holmstrom receives some ribbing in the Wings’ locker room tomorrow, perhaps induced by Holmstrom himself to serve as the hockey pants of a joke or three at his expense, that’s yoost fine by him.
I know that the Wings probably won’t retire Kris Draper’s #33 or Holmstrom’s #96 despite both players’ remarkable respective tenures with the team—the Wings tend to only retire once-a-generation players’ numbers, meaning that after Nicklas Lidstrom, his most likely future company might be Pavel Datsyuk, assuming that he plays another 8-10 years and wins at least one more Stanley Cup with the organization—but I still believe that the Wings should at least raise a pair of Holmstrom’s hockey pants to the rafters, placing them right in front of a “shooter tutor” cutout of a goaltender.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.