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Holmstrom gets surprising Masterton nomination

by Brian Hedger
Tomas Holmstrom isn't your typical Masterton Trophy candidate.

The award is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey -- and is often won by somebody coming back from a serious or life-threatening injury or illness.

Holmstrom doesn't have a major injury that he's coming back from, but you could make the argument that his entire body of NHL work through 15 years in the League (1,019 games and counting) has been relatively career threatening. He's taken countless hacks and whacks to his body while standing in front of the net and his knees -- which weren't great even when he was young -- have deteriorated more over time.

Tomas Holmstrom
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 19
SOG: 91 | +/-: -5
It takes a special kind of dedication to take that kind of punishment, which is one of the reasons the Red Wings have given Holmstom their 2011-12 nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

"He's been part of the team for a long time, his perseverance is second to none," Red Wings captain 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."

It hasn't been the most productive season for Holmstrom, who continues to be a presence in front of the net on Detroit's power play and at left wing of the fourth line. He's scored just eight goals in 67 games played and hasn't potted a goal since Jan. 17 -- a span of 28 games.

Still, his willingness to live in the dirtiest areas of the ice and take the punishment that comes along with it is second to none. Look no further than Saturday's 5-4 win at Joe Louis Arena for a prime example -- when Holmstrom was cross-checked hard into Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward by defenseman Bryan Allen and then face-washed, bear-hugged and shoved to the ice not once but twice before an official broke them up.

His reward?

Following Allen to the penalty box for a goalie interference minor.

"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, so he's got so much determination and will to get back in there again," Lidstrom said. "You can tell with his bad knees that he's not giving up at all."

For Holmstrom, it's just part of the routine he's adhered to for the past 15 years.

"That's a big honor, so sure. Makes me really happy," he said of learning about the Masterton nomination. "I'm doing something right out there. I remember my first year walking into the rink, you just try to break [into] the lineup. 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."

He hasn't lost his self-depricating sense of humor, either. Asked what's allowed him to keep playing this long, Holmstrom replied: "Skating. You got to keep up. If you can't skate, you can't play."

It was a reference to the chief complaint that legendary former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman had of Holmstrom, that he struggled to skate. That hasn't stopped him from trying to improve, though.

"I know I don't have the best skills, but for sure I've been working on it a lot," he told reporters in Detroit last week. "Try to get better skating, 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."

So is playing with various aches and pains, which the 39-year old Holmstrom's done quite a bit over his career -- especially the last few seasons.

"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."

As he's done it, however, Holmstrom has also carved out his own sort of niche in the game. His name is usually the first that comes up when people talk about going hard to the net and screening goalies, which he takes as a big compliment.

"It's fun to see guys popping up ... going to the net and staying around the net and in front of the goalie and start doing that," said Holmstrom, who hasn't decided whether this season will be his last in the NHL. "[Kids come] 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 [Henrik Zetterberg]. We got to have some guys doing the grind job around the net."
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