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Alumni Reunion: Ken Holland

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Before he joined the front office, Ken Holland was a goalie in the Red Wings' organization, and spent most of his career in the minor leagues. He posted a 32-37-12 record in two seasons with the Adirondack Red Wings.

Considered to be one of the best general managers in NHL history, Ken Holland originally aspired to succeed in the league on the ice, not in the front office.

Holland, who grew-up about a nine-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, isn’t sure how or why he first donned goalie equipment when he was 9 or 10-years-old. But it wasn’t long before he was modeling his game after his goaltending idol, Bernie Parent, the hall-of-famer from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Holland eventually strung together a nine-season pro career, mainly in the American Hockey League, where he produced a balanced record of 143-143-36 with stops in Binghamton, Springfield and Adirondack.

A 12th round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1975 NHL draft, Holland never played for the Canadian franchise. But he did manage to get called up twice to the NHL, first with the Hartford Whalers in the 1980-81 season, and again with the Red Wings three seasons later.

Holland recently sat down with to discuss his memories of playing three games in a Red Wings’ uniform and his time with the club’s minor-league affiliate in Adirondack, N.Y.

QUESTION: Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?

HOLLAND: “I don’t talk to a lot of them, but when you do, you pick up where you left off. They have their lives going and I have my life going. But I do bump into guyss like Dennis Polonich, who I see occasionally out in western Canada.”

Q. What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?

HOLLAND: “I remember I stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel when I got called up. For me, I had been a career minor-leaguer, so it was awesome just to be in the NHL. There was a goalie carousel between Eddie Mio, Corrado Micalef, Mark LaForest and myself. Nobody could stop the puck and I got my three-week shot at it. I played one night against St. Louis and we tied, 6-6, and went to overtime.”

Q. Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?

HOLLAND: “Joe Kocur. I would say that Kocur and Bob Probert were the two toughest Red Wings’ players ever. The very first game that Kocur played in the AHL – he was playing in Saskatoon – he got called up in the playoffs and went into Maine in Game 4 or Game 6 and when the puck was dropped he was banging around and fighting like 40-seconds in. Then I played with him again in ’84-85 (in Adirondack) and he played with us until Super Bowl Sunday when he got called up and never came back.”

Q. Who was the funniest?

HOLLAND: “Motor City Smitty (Brad Smith). He just had a gift. There was one night before a home game all of a sudden the lights went down and he came in with a flashlight. It was pitch-black in the room, and he yells, ‘Who’s going to win tonight? We are!’ He walked up to each guy and yelled this. Then (coach) Bill Dineen walked into the room and turned on the lights. There was Smitty, standing there with a flashlight shining in some guy’s face. He would just do stupid stuff. … We would go to parties and he would pretend that he was Rowdy Roddy Piper with the kilt. Smitty was a real piece of work.”

Q. Who had the biggest heart?

HOLLAND: “Dennis Polonich had a huge heart.”

Q. What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit?

HOLLAND: “Probably the restaurant in the Pontch; there’s where I ate everyday.”

Q. How has the NHL changed since you played?

HOLLAND: “Since ’85 everyone is bigger and faster, but the biggest difference is in goalies. I’m 5-8, Mike Vernon is 5-8. How many goalies are around that size anymore? You have to be 6-foot, minimum now. They’re 6-foot-3 and athletic.”

Q. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?

HOLLAND: “Every team back then, especially early in my career, had two or three knuckleheads. My first year in the East Coast League they made the movie ‘Slapshot’ that summer, and then I went to Binghamton and that movie is based on that league. A lot of those guys, like Ogie Oglethorpe was (Wild Bill) Goldthorpe who actually played in Binghamton. … I played at a time when junior hockey – Kim Clackson was in Victoria and Archie Henderson was in Lethbridge and Dave Semenko was in Brandon – every team, every night from junior hockey to the East Coast League, everybody had knuckleheads.”

Q. What is your favorite Red Wings-Maple Leafs memory?

HOLLAND: “I just think Saturday night and the tradition of ‘Hockey Night in Canada’, Detroit and Toronto. Growing up in western Canada I was a huge Leafs’ fan. I remember in ’67 when the Leafs won and they had (Johnny) Bower and (Terry) Sawchuk, and Bobby Baun and Tim Horton, Allan Stanley and Dave Keon, so growing up being a Leafs’ fan and turning into pro hockey and working for the Red Wings, the Original Six is pretty special. Nothing like it.”

Q. Who did you sit next to in the dressing room?

HOLLAND: “I’m a goalie, so I was always in the goalie corner, so I sat next to Greg Stefan, Corrado Micalef, Eddie Mio, Mark LaForest.”

Q. What do you love most about the game?

HOLLAND: “The speed. I think growing up in small town Canada, hockey is such a big part of the community. When you go put the equipment on and you play and you go up and play pee wee and bantam, it’s fun and fast and it’s competitive. It’s a team sport and I love the camaraderie. … There’s a style and elegancy to the game and I loved Bernie Parent, I loved Sawchuk and Bower and watching them. I loved the trading cards and getting your pack with the stick of gum and looking at all of the players.”

Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?

HOLLAND: “Well, my pee wee coach John Zahara, who lives out in Vancouver now. I remember one night we lost 11-3 in Kamloops and he told my dad that he thought I gave up eight questionable goals and we should have had a 3-3 tie. But I loved him. He had great passion, he pushed and practices were hard, but practices were organized, and he pushed us all to be the best that we could be. And then the other guy would be Bernie Parent when the Flyers were winning Cups in the early 70s. I went from being kind of a butterfly goalie when I was 14 or 15, to being a stand-them-up and cut-them-down goalie by the time I was 17 or 19. … I still have my Bernie Parent album at home. I’ve got all of the cut-outs and clippings and the pictures. If I went down into my basement I could spend hours upon hours pulling out Philadelphia Flyers and Bernie Parent stuff. He had a major impact on my playing career by far because I love the way that Bernie played and how he would take his mask off sideways. I loved his style and I tried to copy the way he played goal and it helped me become a guy who could play junior hockey and carve out a nine-year pro career.”

Q. Do you recall attending your first pro hockey game?

HOLLAND: “It was a Vancouver Canucks game but I don’t remember how old I was, but probably 12 or 13. It would have been a nine-hour drive back then because you had to go around the mountains (from Vernon, B.C.). Now it’s like a four-hour drive ever since they built a road through the mountains. We went to Vancouver for a lot of tournaments and baseball provincials back then. But my dad’s parents lived in Vancouver and we would spend the night.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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