It appears goalies around the NHL can finally rest easy. Nightmares of a #96 jersey forcing his hefty backside into their blue crease, blocking their vision, deflecting pucks out of mid air directly into their nets, and aggravating their defensemen to the point where violence is their only alternative has been a bad dream for plenty of NHL netminders.
But, the funny thing is he was never supposed to make it this far.
When Holmstrom joined the Wings during the 1996-1997 season many a NHL scout had already written him off. Actually, most scouts probably didn’t write anything because they had no clue who he was. Even many of the staff within the Red Wings’ organization felt that Holmstrom didn’t have the tools to stick with the big club.
The list of what Holmstrom couldn’t do on the ice was significantly longer then the list of what he could. Skating was never his strong suit. Handling the puck was out of the question and he didn’t possess a powerful shot.
However, famed Red Wing super scout Hakan Andersson saw something in Holmstrom and convinced Wings management to take a gamble on him, and they did. Detroit took the awkward skating forward with a merciful 257th pick in the 10th round of the 1994 entry draft.
What Andersson saw in him became quite clear as the years went by in Detroit. When thinking of Holmstrom one word comes to mind: competitor. Nobody tried harder than Tomas. Whether it was a battle in front of the net or in the corner, he was going to win it. In his pre and post game speeches Mike Babcock loves to use the term “compete level” and no one exemplified this idiom better than Holmstrom.
He was simply fearless. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him plant his rear-end in front of the goalie and casually deflect a head high rocket of a slap shot into the net without even flinching. I’m pretty sure the visor was invented for Tomas. If anyone needed a visor it was Homer, but he refused to wear one. In a weird way it’s kind of a metaphor for his improbable career.
The more amazing thing is I can’t remember him ever taking a shot to the face. His eye-hand coordination and reflexes were brilliant. He may not have been to able skate, shoot, or stick handle like other players in the league, but none of those players could do what he did either. And, if they could, they certainly weren’t crazy enough to try. To say that he carved out a niche for himself might be putting it lightly.
Talk about a big return on a small investment. 243 goals, 287 assists, and four Stanley Cups later, Holmstrom would be the only remaining player from the 1997 Stanley Cup Championship winning team if he returned to Detroit for another season.
Yet, with the recent turnover on the Wings roster this seems to be an unlikely scenario. Nevertheless, there is still some debate among fans about whether or not Detroit’s most despised player who Wings fans affectionately call “Demolition Man” will actually hang up his skates and limp away.
However, one glimpse at the Red Wings’ official website gives some insight into which way Red Wings brass is leaning. Holmstrom’s name has been removed from the roster on the team’s website leaving little doubt that his days terrorizing opponents in the Motor City are over.
Of course the Wings may choose to give him a tryout whenever hockey does return, but at this point it would not be wise to make a spot for him. He has too many hard miles on those old legs. There might not be a player in NHL history who took the type of beating Homer took night in and night out.
But, a good beating never stopped him. He always came back for more and on most nights he usually got the better of his adversary. That he made it this far is almost a miracle of sorts.
Maybe, that’s why we loved him in Detroit for so many years. Detroiters saw a reflection of themselves when they watched Holmstrom play.
Homer’s on ice resilience seemed to symbolize the resolve of the people he played in front of: a city of blue-collar workers who continue to be sucker punched by an unjust economy, but who refuse to quit… an old school city where there are no visors necessary.