“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.”
Lidstrom, who has been a teammate and close friend through four Stanley Cup titles, sees why the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association has selected Holmstrom as its candidate for this season’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
“The way he's battling through injuries and able to come back and play, 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,” Lidstrom said. “He's got so much determination and will to get back in there again. You can tell with his bad knees that he's not giving up at all.”
The Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication. The winner is selected by the PHWA and will be announced at the NHL Award Show in Las Vegas on June 20.
The trophy is often awarded to a player who has come back from career- or even life-threatening illness or injury. Last year’s award went to Philadelphia’s Ian Laperriere, who was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome after he was struck in the face by a puck during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. And while Laperriere hasn’t return to the game, he continues to serve the Flyers as a mentor to the younger players in the organization.
“That's a big honor, for sure,” Holmstrom said after learning of his nomination last Friday. “Makes me really happy; I'm doing something right out there.”
Two Red Wings – defenseman Brad Park (1983-84) and center Steve Yzerman (2002-03) – are past recipients of the award named for former Minnesota North Stars center Bill Masterton, whose 1968 death was the result of a head injury suffered in an NHL game.
Holmstrom, who earned the name Demolition Man for his destructive playing style back home in Sweden, became only the sixth player in Wings’ history to reach the 1,000 games played plateau this season, an incredible milestone for a player, who consistently takes his share of physical abuse in front of the opposition’s goal crease.
“That's the toughest part, when you have to play hurt and go through all that,” he 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.”
And though he’s only scored 240 goals in 1,019 games, Holmstrom should be heralded for the multitude of other goals scored by teammates through his hard work and battles in front of the net.
“I don't have the best skills but I've been working on it a lot, try to get better skating,” he said. “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.
“You know there's always someone who wants to take your spot, someone who wants to beat you, just try to get better all the time.”
Despite the numerous injuries that he has endured over the years, not to mention the surgeries and countless injections, Holmstrom plays the net-front position with a flare, which has yet to be masterfully duplicated.
Just this season alone, he has had Synvisc injections, which lasts between 5-6 months, on two separate occasions – before training camp and during the January All-Star break.
“It's fun to see guys popping up, see guys going to the net and staying around the net and in front of the goalie and start doing that and kids coming 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,’ ” Holmstrom said. “We all can't be like Pavel (Datsyuk) and Hank (Zetterberg); we got to have some guys doing the grind job around the net.”
Ryan Smyth is a player who often draws comparisons to Holmstrom’s aggravating style, but he likes Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist.
“His first couple of years (he) tried to play my style of game and he's doing a good job,” Holmstrom said. “He's a better skater, and got a good shot, too, and doesn't hesitate to go to the net. It's always fun when somebody comes up and gives you credit.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill