DETROIT – When you think about perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, it’s hard not to immediately think of Tomas Holmstrom in the Wings’ locker room.
Because of that, Holmstrom has been chosen as the Wings’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Detroit chapter of the of the Professional Writers’ Association.
“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 annual award is given to the player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“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.”
Earlier this season, Holmstrom played in his 1,000th game, becoming just the sixth player in a Wings uniform to do so. He has made a living around the blue paint of the goal crease since joining the team in the fall of 1996.
“I remember my first year walking into the rink, just trying to break the lineup,” Holmstrom said. “I signed a two-year deal and got sent down to Adirondack and it was like I’m going to play out my two years and see what happens. Now it’s 15 years and 1,000 games later and four Stanley Cups, it’s been fun.”
Holmstrom takes a lot of pride in earning his reputation for his net-front presence.
“It’s fun to see guys popping up, see guys going to the net and staying around the net and in front of the goalie and kids coming up and say ‘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’ve got to have some guys doing the grind job around the net.”
Of Holmstrom’s two sons, his youngest may take up residence where their father has made a living for 15 seasons.
“One has 13 (Pavel Datsyuk’s number) on his back,” Holmstrom said. “One is a little softer, one is like me. He goes to the net and is tougher. He’s been taking a beating from his older brother growing up. The other one seems to be more a skilled guy, tries to find the soft spots.”
Just two Wings – Brad Park (1983-84) and Steve Yzerman (2002-03) – have ever won the Trophy.
The winner is selected in a poll of all chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season.
The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late William Masterton, who played for the Minnesota North Stars. He died in 1968 after an injury sustained during a hockey game.
Holmstrom is in the final year of his contract and has seen limited ice time this season. However, his contributions on the power play, which has struggled of late, have been felt. Seven of his eights goals this year have come on the power play.
He has yet to make a decision on if he’ll retire at the end of the year or try and return for one more season.
“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 I can. It’s tough when you don’t get the ice time, you can’t get the momentum going. We’ve got a good team, the end goal is not to get me ice time, the end goal is to win the Stanley Cup.
“I want to make the decision after the season, see how the body feels,” Holmstrom ended.