Paul Holmgren is proud of his Minnesota roots, but even he admits Philadelphia is his home now.
The Philadelphia Flyers president on Tuesday was named a recipient of the 2014 Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to hockey in the United States. He will be honored, along with fellow recipient NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, during a ceremony Dec. 4 in Minneapolis, just across the river from his hometown of St. Paul, Minn.
"Everybody knew who Paul Holmgren was, whether you were playing or you were a fan," Daly said. "He generated a lot of respect. Then you get to appreciate his background in the sport, where he came from, his roots in Minnesota, his different roles in the sport, working his way up to now being president of the Flyers. His career and his journey to where he is today is quite a remarkable accomplishment, and that's why he's so deserving of this award."
Holmgren, 58, has spent almost his entire professional life as part of the Flyers organization.
"I came to the Flyers as a 20-year-old, to the East Coast for the first time," Holmgren said. "This is my home now, in the Philadelphia area. This is where I want to retire, whenever that is. I’ve really become attached to this area and this organization."
Holmgren played nine of his 10 seasons in the NHL with the Flyers. He also spent parts of two seasons with the Minnesota North Stars. In 527 regular-season games he had 144 goals, 323 points and 1,684 penalty minutes, and in 82 Stanley Cup Playoff games he had 19 goals and 51 points. He also became the first American-born player to score a hat trick in the Stanley Cup Final when he scored three times in Game 2 of the 1980 Final for the Flyers against the New York Islanders.
He reached double figures in goals six times, including a career-best 30 in 1979-80. He also had 22 goals in 1980-81.
It was a good career for someone who nearly didn't survive his first NHL game.
According to the Flyers history book "Full Spectrum," on March 26, 1976, the day after his first NHL game, Holmgren reported to a team meeting in Boston with a swollen right eye. Teammates took him to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where doctors found a puncture wound in his eye caused by a skate blade when Holmgren had been at the bottom of a pile during an American Hockey League game several days earlier. Doctors performed surgery to repair a fluid leak that was damaging Holmgren's eyesight, but Holmgren had a severe allergic reaction to the anesthetic and nearly died on the operating table. He missed the remainder of the season recovering.
Holmgren retired after the 1984-85 season and returned to Philadelphia as an assistant coach under Mike Keenan. After three seasons he became coach in 1988 and held the position for four seasons. He was fired during the 1991-92 season. He spent four seasons as coach and general manager of the Hartford Whalers, but returned to Philadelphia in 1996.
He was a key member of the team's scouting staff and became assistant general manager in 1999. When Bob Clarke retired as general manager eight games into the 2006-07 season, Holmgren replaced him. The Flyers finished 30th in the League that season, but the following season Philadelphia reached the 2008 Eastern Conference Final.
The Flyers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times in Holmgren's seven full seasons as GM, including a memorable run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
Holmgren also has been active with USA Hockey. He was an assistant coach for the United States at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and was assistant GM of the 2006 U.S. Men's National Team. He was been on the U.S. Men's National Team Advisory Group since 2009.
In June the Flyers promoted Holmgren to team president, but he'll remain a sounding board for the new general manager, Ron Hextall.
"He'll be somebody I talk to, bounce ideas off of," Hextall said in June. "Absolutely I'll bounce ideas off [Holmgren]. … I'd be an idiot not to."
Holmgren is the sixth member of the franchise to win the Lester Patrick, joining Clarke (1980), chairman Ed Snider (1980), former coach Fred Shero (1980), former GM Keith Allen (1988) and Bud Poile (1989), the Flyers' first GM.
"I look at the list of the people who have won, it’s a pretty impressive list," Holmgren said. "Just to be added to that list … it's humbling. A tremendous honor. It’s a prestigious award.
"There’s really a lot of emotion going on right now. I’m really honored."