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Holmstrom leaves them laughing

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings centers Cory Emmerton (L) and Darren Helm laugh at the Tomas Holmstrom's story-telling at his news conference where the former Wings' forward announced his retirement. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

DETROIT – The last member of a very special fraternity hung up his skates on Tuesday, closing the book on one of the most iconic periods in Red Wings’ history.

Tomas Holmstrom, the last of five Wings to play on all four of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams in the Ilitch era, made his retirement official during an afternoon news conference at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday.

“I guess you all know why we’re here,” he told the standing room crowd inside the Olympia Club. “After 15 seasons, four Stanley Cups, Olympic championship, Swedish championship, and millions of memories I’m here today to announce my retirement from the Detroit Red Wings.”

Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty were members of the Wings’ championship teams in 1997, ’98, ’02 and ’08.

In a speech that lasted more than 16-minutes, and was filled with several humorous stories, including his disdain for needles, and pointing blame for his poor skating on equipment manager Paul Boyer, who sharpens the players’ skates, Holmstrom had his audience laughing.

“Those stories he was telling were bang on,” said Draper, who played 14 of his 20-season career with Holmstrom. “That’s how Homer is, yelling at Paulie about his skates, talking to the trainers because he hated needles and he just sat up there and had you guys laughing that’s what we got every day. You just love being around a guy like that every day.”

Holmstrom also used his time to thank his teammates, coaches, front office personnel and Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch for believing in a player who wasn’t the best skater, but endured countless injuries in a 1,000-game career.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s the right one,” Holmstrom said. “Some people may think that I’m crazy for all of those years taking thousands of cross-checkings to my neck, to my head, to my back. And then having my teammates shooting hundreds of 100 mile per hour pucks at me. … But I had the greatest job in the world. Now it’s time to move on.”

After 15 punishing season, Holmstrom contemplated retirement last summer. But after 1,026 career games, the man known as Demolition Man for his destructive net-front presence, found it more and more difficult manage the pain.

“I feel like I’m walking better. I sleep better at night. I don’t have the pains and aches anymore when I get up in the morning,” he said. “So it’s a huge difference. It’s pretty nice. I can sleep the whole night and I can rest, and I fall asleep right away and stuff like that. Little things that you don’t think about. It’s nice.”

Holmstrom, who turns 40-years-old on Wednesday, has already open the next chapter of his life, spending time on the tennis court and coaching his sons’ youth hockey teams in Plymouth.

But after a lifetime of playing hockey, Holmstrom said he’ll miss the camaraderie of his teammates in the locker room, on the team plane and on bus trips across North America.

“I love to come to Joe Louis. I spent lots of time here,” he said. “Even when practice was over I’d stay here, talk to the boys and just hang around. I think that’s what it’s all about. I think you play better when you have a good environment like that.”

Holmstrom gained the reputation as the league’s first, and most dominant, net-front player, parking himself in front of the opposing crease where years of abuse from goalies and defensemen eventually took a toll on the Swede’s body.

“I had no problem going to the net, staying around the net, being around the net, taking a beating for the team, and drawing those penalties,” Holmstrom said. “I would do it all over again and that’s the part of my game. I can’t be like Pavel (Datsyuk) and Hank (Zetterberg) and be so skilled. But I think you need a good mix to be a successful team.”

Holmstrom said he didn’t make a final decision on his retirement until the lockout nearly wiped out the season.

“It’s not easy, but for sure I’m going to miss the game and I’m going to miss the boys,” he said. “Sooner or later you all have to go to an end, no matter how good you are. I guess I picked this time.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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