March 21, 2014

Tomas Holmstrom

Here's a few photos that tell you most of what you need to know about how Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom played the game of hockey:






The man they called "Homer" made his home right at the top of the opposing goaltender's crease. No one was better at screening goaltenders and crashing the net. It was far from an easy job - why do you think so few players excel at it as long as Holmstrom did? But this strong and courageous bull was rewarded as a power play fixture in Detroit.

He also won four Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal in a career that exceeded over 1000 NHL games played.

Not bad for a guy a lot of people did not think had much of a chance to play in the NHL. His compete level was undeniable, as was his intelligence factor. But the former Lulea star was a cumbersome skater lacking quickness and he had no offensive flash. Though he worked tirelessly to improve his skating he always seemed awkward out there. Injuries over the years did not help (and there were a lot of injuries!). But ultimately his skating never really limited his even strength time.

"My role is to be in front of the net, digging pucks from out of the corners and feeding the puck to my linemates," Holmstrom said. "If shots are coming from the point, I have to get in front of the net and screen the goalie. While I am doing that, it is important for me to keep sight of the puck in case I can tip it in or jump on a rebound. If the puck goes into the corner, I try to move it to the point. If you're going to deliver pucks you've got to have good hands too. So you need skill and grit together."

The man they call Demolition Man certainly knew his role well.

"Goalies today are too good," Holmstrom continued. "Shots without any traffic in front of them are routine saves for them. I learned long ago that my skills are limited. But if I can make a pest of myself by blocking the sightlines of a goalie or maybe even gently bump him -- anything to distract him -- well, then, I've done my job."

Holmstrom was one of the bravest warriors I've ever seen play in the NHL. He's a mucker who camped out in front of the opponent's net, letting goalies slash at his ankles and defensemen jab at his kidneys so he can draw penalties, deflect flying pucks, pounce on rebounds and create chaos.

"Tomas is pesky because he's relentless," said Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith. "He is relentless on the puck and he's relentless in front of the net and fighting for loose pucks. He just plays hard. What happens is the other players are so ticked off because Tomas won't give up that they cross-check him or knock him down just to get rid of him and end up taking a penalty.

"What makes him different from a lot of other pesky players is Tomas Holmstrom is a power-play specialist who you can put out there with anybody. His ability to get other teams to concentrate on him, and to have goaltenders concerned about him has helped us tremendously. Sometimes it frees up somebody else for a rebound. Plus, Tomas tips a lot of pucks in front and can put it in himself. He protects the puck extremely well and it's hard to get it off him."

"Homer gives our power play so many options," coach Dave Lewis said. "He's another dimension for the other team to worry about down low. But also he gives the guys up front other options because of things he's capable of doing, like tipping the puck, redirecting, passing it."

Aside from his power play prowess, the thing that made Holmstrom so effective was that he was so disciplined at his craft. Night in, night out he would head straight to the crease. He rarely got called for goaltender interference. And no matter how badly opposing defenders mistreated him - think of the countless slashed and crosschecks he endured - he rarely retaliated.

A classic diamond in the rough, Holmstrom was taken 257th overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Hespent two additional seasons in the Swedish Elite League before joining the Red Wings in 1996-97. Filtered in and out of the lineup during his first two NHL campaigns, Holmstrom became a regular during his superlative playoff performance in the spring of 1998. Then, he notched seven goals (two more than he managed during the entire regular season) and finished third in team scoring with 19 points in 22 playoff contests.

"Tomas was a definite key in our winning the Stanley Cup that year," says Holland. "He was used sparingly during the regular season and waited his turn. We had some injuries going into the playoffs, so Tomas pounced on the opportunity and took advantage of it.

The was no doubting Tomas come spring time especially. He always seemed to play his best hockey in the playoffs.

2002 is another example. He scored just 8 goals in the regular season, then scored another 8 goals (second most on the team) in 23 playoff games to help Detroit win another Stanley Cup.

In all he won four Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal. He also won the respect of everyone in hockey - teammates and opposition alike. He was one of the most valuable role players I have ever seen in the game of hockey. Ryan Smyth and Dino Ciccarelli are two very strong comparables.

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