The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/19/11 at 09:30 AM ET
Every year or two, some young pup comes along and is told by his coach that he’s going to be the next Tomas Holmstrom. The player inevitably watches video of Holmstrom doing his thing in front of opposing teams’ goaltenders and assumes that emulating Holmstrom is enough. What they don’t tend to take into account are the subtleties that make Holmstrom one of the best net-front men this side of Dino Ciccarelli:
1. Holmstrom usually spends 10 to 20 minutes after every practice tipping pucks to make sure that his hand-eye coordination remains razor sharp;
2. Holmstrom actually scouts the goaltenders he’s about to face, watching video of them playing so that he can adjust his game to account for their stylistic tendencies, positioning, size and of course their levels of irritability. I would argue that Holmstrom’s probably a better-positioned goaltender than half of the league’s starting netminders;
3. Holmstrom also works very hard to retrieve rebounds and pass them back to his more highly-skilled teammates, to the point that his ability to chase the puck into the corner or behind the net corral it, shovel it to his teammates and then skitter back to the net may very well match his ability to screen goaltenders while attempting to tip 90-mile-per-hour pucks past them;
4. Holmstrom’s specialized equipment includes but is not limited to padding taped to the backs of his legs and ankles, protection for his lower back, shoulder pads that have almost all their padding across his back and shoulders, to the point that he almost looks like he’s wearing nothing but shoulder caps when you see him from the front, and of course extensive padding for his arms and wrists, as well as a stick that is short, incredibly stiff so that he can lean upon it like a “tripod,” and has a near-flat blade taped with one horizontal strip of black tape on each side of the blade, a trick he learned from Igor Larionov;
5. And while Holmstrom’s often accused of dropping to the ice to embellish calls, he’s incredibly patient and tolerant of pain and punishment as he absorbs endless hacks, whacks, slashes, cross-checks and punches to the head from opposing defensemen and goaltenders, knowing that if he dares retaliate, it’s Holmstrom who will end up going to the penalty box.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James penned a spectacular profile of Holmstrom, who points out that it’s Scotty Bowman who is responsible for the role the Swenglish-speaking, equally grumpy and sometimes silly net-front pest who’s just as happy to be the butt of his own jokes as he is to stick his butt in front of opposing goaltenders:
“I was not allowed to leave the net with Scotty,” Holmstrom said. “Not even if the puck went in the corner—he would go, ‘No, no, no. You stay in front of the net.’ That’s how it started. Then Dino Ciccarelli left, and he was the guy around the net, and Keith Primeau left the same year, he was guy around the net. So there was a spot for me there.”
Rarely has a player so taken to a spot. Holmstrom wears extra padding to ward off all the sticks he gets hit with up and down his back, and he has grown used to getting punched in the back of the head. Those who’ve tried to emulate him can’t quite believe it.
“He’s been taking that since I was a little kid,” Drew Miller said. “I remember watching him and how he’d get himself into position for an unbelievable tip. Now being here myself and trying to get in front of the net and battle like he does, you really figure out how hard it is and you gain a lot of respect for what he does.”
For Holmstrom, it comes down to knowing what he has to do to be effective: Go to the net or go into the corners to retrieve pucks for his linemates.
“They know where I’m going to be, and I don’t pout if they don’t pass me the puck,” he said. “They know I’m going to the net.”
Then there is the fact that Holmstrom, who’s actually Nicklas Lidstrom’s carpool buddy and best pal on the team, and plans on applying for U.S. citizenship so that he, his wife and his “freakshow’s” worth of kids can spend their days in Novi, remains the master of a brand of northern Swedish humor that only someone who’s practically from Lapland can fully grasp, though he never stops trying to make himself understood:
“He’s great humor relief,” [Danny] Cleary said. “He keeps it loose, even in the tightest situation. He’s got good one-liners. But it is funny how he’s been here a number of years—you’d think he’d pick up a little bit of English slang.”
I know that the Wings won’t retire Tomas Holmstrom’s number when he retires, but I maintain the belief that the Wings should raise his hockey pants to the rafters, placing them in front of a “shooter tutor” cutout of a goalie.
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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.