DETROIT — Former Detroit Red Wings Kris Draper and Chris Osgood were relaxing in the sauna one day several years ago when Tomas Holmstrom came up to talk.
It was vintage Homer, the lovable Swede with the broken English.
“I can’t seem to get out of (coach) Scotty Bowman’s dog yard,” Holmstrom told his two teammates. “Sometimes he sits me, sometimes he doesn’t play me. I’m always in the dog yard.”
Draper laughed as he retold the story Tuesday following Holmstrom’s press conference to officially announce his retirement after a 15-year career with the Red Wings.
“We’re like, ‘Do you mean dog house?’” Draper recalled.
Holmstrom just smiled back at them.
“Those were the things that Homer did,” Draper said. “Homer-isms, whatever you want to call them. That’s what made him great.
“When you walked in the dressing room, you knew something like that was coming out. We called his language Swenglish. No one understood the Swedish or English or whatever. He didn’t even realize what he was doing but he was always breaking up a tense moment.
“You just love being around a guy like that. He’s a piece of work. He broke the ice. It’s something you can’t put a price on.”
Holmstrom wasn’t a great skater or playmaker or shooter or fighter.
He was known for his butt. They should put that behind in the Hall of Fame.
When the Red Wings went on the power play, Holmstrom went to the front of the net, planting himself just outside the crease – OK, quite often in the crease — and doing everything he could to screen and annoy and frustrate the other team’s goalie.
“I think about his office, the blue paint, doing his thing, aggravating the goaltender, aggravating the other team’s defensemen, drawing a crowd so the rest of our guys can do their thing,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said, describing Holmstrom’s determined style. “Fierce competitor, fearless, went to all the hard areas, paid the price night after night after night. Huge heart. He’s all heart.”
You can argue that nobody fulfilled that type of role in the NHL any better than Holmstrom did over the last decade or so.
Opposing goaltenders will not miss his rear end, and he won’t miss the constant abuse he took physically with slashes all over his body.
It was what he had to do to play as long as he did in the NHL.
“Some people might think me crazy all those years taking all those cross checks to my neck, to my head, to my back, and having teammates shooting 100 mph pucks at me and sometimes at the net,” Holmstrom said.
“But I had the greatest job in the world.”
Three hours before the Wings’ home opener, Holmstrom capped his career with an amusing news conference at Joe Louis Arena. The official announcement came one day before his 40th birthday.
Holmstrom was typical Holmstrom. He kept his former teammates who came to celebrate with him chuckling with a few inside jokes.
He told the media that he realized the end was coming a year ago.
“The body say no,” Holmstrom said. “You wake up in the morning, stumbling to the bathroom. It takes you forever to get the body going. After a while, that wears on you for sure.”
Holmstrom said he’s spending more time at home now with his wife and three children. He’s coaching his sons on the ice. He wants to play a lot of tennis and even go skiing for the first time in decades.
“I feel 100 percent better right now,” he said.
In his 15 years, Holmstrom scored 122 of his 243 goals on the power play and added 287 assists while playing in 1,026 regular-season games.
He also had 46 goals and 51 assists in 180 playoff games.
Only five players in Red Wings history played in more regular-season games, only three played in more playoff games and only 12 scored more points.
Holmstrom was one of the many great European finds by Red Wings scout Hakan Andersson.
The Wings selected him with the 257th pick overall in 1994. He made his NHL debut two years later.
The highlight of it all, Holmstrom said, was playing on four Stanley Cup championship teams in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
“1997 was the first in more than 40 years (for the Red Wings) and the town went crazy,” Holmstrom said. “All of the fans on Woodward Avenue, I’ll never forget that.”
They won’t forget him either. With his net-front presence and goofy personality, Holmstrom left his mark in Detroit hockey history.