NEW JERSEY – Nearly a decade after hearing his name called at the NHL Entry Draft, Bud Holloway is about to see his dream come true.
To say George “Bud” Holloway has played the long game in his career would be an understatement. Since being nabbed in the third round, 86th overall, by the Los Angeles Kings in 2006, the Wapella, SK native has played 509 professional hockey games in the regular season and 84 more in the playoffs. He split his first three seasons in the pro ranks between the ECHL and AHL before spending the next four years in Europe, first in Sweden and then most recently with Bern of the Swiss National League A in 2014-15. He returned to North America this season after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Canadiens in July and has spent the first two months of the campaign in Newfoundland.
On Friday night, Holloway will finally get a chance to add another league to his pro hockey resume.
“I was on the ice skating around when he confirmed it. I was smiling pretty good,” admitted Holloway with a grin after Habs head coach Michel Therrien told him during Thursday’s practice that he would be making his NHL debut against the Devils. “I just got told on the ice this morning and it didn’t really have a chance to sink in because I had to do the next drill right away. I’m loving it. I have a lot of family and friends back home that are as happy at this moment as I am.”
Flown in from the farm on Sunday morning after Brendan Gallagher suffered an injury against the Islanders the night before, Holloway was leading the IceCaps in scoring with 20 points in 18 games when he received the call from Montreal. Counting 352 points in his professional career to date, the 6-foot winger has shown his offensive chops throughout his seven years in the pros, but lighting the lamp won’t be his primary focus when he plays his inaugural NHL game in New Jersey.
“I think for me it’s going to be skate, work hard, and try to get in on the forecheck. I’m going to start with that and as soon as I start getting comfortable, I’ll add things from there,” explained the 27-year-old forward, who is expected to line up alongside Brian Flynn and Paul Byron at the Prudential Center. “I just found out this morning, but I’m sure we’ll talk as a line a little bit before the game. I’ve been practicing with them and I’ve been watching them the last couple of games, so I think I have a pretty good idea how they like to play. I’m just going to try to fit in as best I can.”
Having had a bit more time than most call ups do to acclimate before seeing his first taste of NHL action, Holloway has spent his first week with the Canadiens watching and learning to make sure that he’s prepared to make the most of his pending opportunity.
“You get to build relationships and come into a different culture. It’s a different locker room than the one in St. John’s,” he explained. “Every day gets a little easier and you feel a little more settled. I’m sure tomorrow it’s going to be right back up to being nervous again before the game, but it’ll probably calm down halfway through the first.”
At 27 years, eight months, and 26 days of age, Holloway is not only the oldest rookie on the roster, he’s also the fifth-oldest forward on the team and the elder statesman on his line. While it’s rare to see a player get his start in the league so late in life, Therrien knows that for Holloway, Friday’s game will be worth the wait.
“The goal for every player is to play in the NHL. I wanted to do everything I could to make sure he got this chance,” shared the Habs bench boss. “We didn’t know if it would come as the result of an injury, but we like using everyone on our roster. Semin’s injury is giving him this opportunity. It was always part of our plan to get him into a game, not just as a reward, but because he’s earned this chance. He has been playing well in St. John’s and he deserves to make his NHL debut. He’ll be ready.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.