When most people hear the name Derek Holland, they automatically think of his impressions of either Harry Caray or Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of which the Texas Rangers starting pitcher even did for some Stars radio spots last season. But what some might not know about the 25-year-old lefthander is that not only is the Ohio native a huge hockey fan, but the man better known as “The Dutch Oven” also knows a great deal about the game.
Holland was introduced to the game when he and his father went to see the Columbus Chill of the ECHL play several times when he was growing up. He then became a fan of the Blue Jackets in their inaugural season of 2000 and has been a big hockey fan ever since. “I’ve just got that passion. It’s one of those sports you love to go out there. You have to actually be there to watch,” he said. “That’s just like how people are with baseball. They don’t want to watch on TV.”
He added: “Those guys are in great shape. They’re only on the ice for 45 seconds at the most and then they do a line change. It’s an intense game from period one to period three. It’s nonstop on the go and I think that’s something that people need to watch. Here in Dallas we can get a lot more people there to show their support. It’s a good team. Every time they go out they grind, they’re fighting, they’re doing what they’ve got to do.”
Like his fellow Stars fans, he likes the moves that GM Joe Nieweundyk has made so far this offseason, adding the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney. However, he also is adopting a wait and see attitude of first wanting to see how these new pieces fit with the returning players before he can make an assessment of how this year’s club might fare on the ice.
“Jagr’s going to be a good pickup for them. He’s a veteran guy, he’s been around the league,” Holland said. “Whitney, he was in Phoenix, I saw him out there in the offseason. I go to a bunch of Coyotes games so I feel like they’re making really good moves forward. That’s the big thing but just got to see how everything molds together and that’s the big thing.”
But the Ranger starter hasn’t just been a fan of the Stars from afar. He’s also become friends with several players like Jamie Benn, captain Brenden Morrow and the recently-traded Steve Ott. “Just getting a relationship with a few of the guys has really made things a lot better too,” Holland said. “One of my good guys I talk to is Rick Nash. We tried to get him here in a Stars uniform but that didn’t work out, little upset about that but it’s pretty OK.”
He and Ott were pretty tight, which made seeing him traded to the Sabres in early July pretty tough to take. But he’s not disappointed to see his friend leave town only because he’s going to miss seeing him on the ice at American Airlines Center but it’s also because he knows how much “Otter” has meant to the Dallas hockey fans over the past decade.
“Yeah [I am pretty upset to see him go], especially the way that he’s always been one of those guys here. He’s been one of those guys that’s always stuck around, kind of like a [Mike] Modano, he’s one of those face kind of guys,” Holland said. “And the way that he plays, he competes every time, he fights. Ott, he’s a goofball there’s no doubt about that.”
But he knows that when Ott returns with the Sabres in March 2012, this time in an opposing sweater, Stars fans will give him the true hero’s welcome as he deserves.
“The crowd loves him. Dallas loved him a lot and it’s going to be different to see him in a Buffalo uniform. That’s going to be odd but when he comes back to town, I’m sure they’ll give him a nice welcoming back,” Holland said. “But yeah, it’s crazy to see him gone. I had a good relationship with him but it’s going to be different though for the Stars.”
However, Ott isn’t the only Star he’s become friends with. He also considers Benn a friend and like most who have seen the British Columbia native skate, he is impressed with what the first-time NHL All-Star has already accomplished and also realizes that the sky truly is the limit for such a young talent.
“He’s really turned things up big time. He wasn’t like a big name guy and now I consider him a superstar,” Holland said. “He’s good. You can tell he’s a threat when he gets on the ice because you can tell they’re going to try to keep him from getting the puck. He’s been taking a beating a little bit last year in some of the games I watched. He’s making a name for himself that’s for sure. That’s one thing that’s great to watch.”
Derek’s friendship with Benn is an interesting one, especially considering the Rangers pitcher is known for being highly outgoing and someone who never shies away from any member of the media. Benn however is a bit more subdued, at least around the press, something someone who knows him pretty well says is completely different when there aren’t any microphones or recorders in front of his face.
“I feel like he’s more vocal than most people think. I’ve seen him outside [the rink] and he’s not afraid to talk,” Holland said. “That’s the good thing. He’s vocal and he cares about everything. They’re letting people see their real personalities and how they are. It’s pretty neat to see what they do.”
While this Ohio native might rank as one of the more prominent Stars’ fans, by no means is he the only member of the Rangers who enjoys hockey during the winter. Teammates like Craig Gentry, Ian Kinsler, Mark Lowe and Mike Napoli are among those who also take in a game or two whenever they can.
Gentry had never even been to a hockey game until he went to his first Stars game about three years ago and like Holland he was hooked immediately. “That was my first hockey game ever and I loved it. I try to go as much as possible now, big Stars fan,” Gentry said. I try to go as much as I can. I probably went to three or four [games] this year. They’re fun games to go to and fun to keep up with.”
Kinsler’s interest in the sport dates back quite a few years and the perennial All-Star second baseman is unabashed in where he thinks hockey ranks among the other pro sports in America. “It is in my opinion the best team sport there is. I can’t think of a better team sport than hockey,” he said. “It seems like you need every single guy on the bench. But it seems like every guy on every line needs to be on the same page to produce a goal and produce a win. I appreciate their interviews. They’re all very humble. They always talk about hard work and keeping their head down. I just enjoy the sport and people that play it. It’s a cool game.”
Since Lowe and Holland share neighboring lockers, there is a great deal of hockey-related banter going back and forth as well as countless games of NHL 2012, at least until one member of that talented duo called it quits. “Yeah, we usually play each other, well we did. He started beating the crap out of me so I had to stop playing. He’s pretty good,” Holland said. I’ll give him that”
Napoli is also a big hockey fan and has been to a number of Stars games since joining the Rangers in 2011. “I think it’s a great sport. I enjoy going to the games and watching it. I like how physical it is and the grind they go through in a long season,” he said. “I’m a fan of the Dallas Stars for sure and I like going and watching them play.”
In past years, Holland had been a season ticketholder of the Phoenix Coyotes since he spent the bulk of his offseason in Surprise, Arizona, where the Rangers conduct spring training. However, he admits that’s all about to change as he expects to be a Stars season ticketholder for next season. “I’m going to be in Dallas more often. That’s a guarantee [that I get season tickets],” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. Like I said, I love watching hockey so I try to go as many games as possible.”
And if he’s asked to do some advertisements for the Stars again this year, he definitely won’t say no, especially since he thoroughly enjoyed the experience last season.
“It was fun. I’m hoping I actually get to do it again. I had a lot of fun with it. Those guys made that really easy for me to just go out there and be myself. That’s what they wanted, they wanted me to go out there and just have fun with it,” Holland said. “The main thing was to just be able to promote them. We’re trying to draw a crowd for them as well. They deserve it. They’re always good. They’re always in the hunt for the playoffs and everything. I think if we can get more fans out there, they’re guaranteed to get in there.”