TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — When the cheering stops for a professional athlete, a feeling of uncertainty and some time to decompress are often needed to figure out which path to pursue next.
Former Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom felt that way when he called it quits. Although he didn’t officially announce his retirement until January 2013, he knew after the 2011-12 season that his playing career was at its end.
Holmstrom wanted to spend time with kids and started working with his sons’ hockey teams. It was something he enjoyed, but Holmstrom had never considered coaching as a possible profession.
Last week, during the Red Wings’ Skill Development Camp, Holmstrom took the gigantic leap from kids instructor to professional coach. He worked with the Wings’ prospects on what it takes to stand your ground in the area in front of the net.
“I’ve been watching a lot of hockey lately because I’m not playing anymore, and net front presence is just not there,” coach Holmstrom said. “I really want to help out the Red Wings, and that’s why I’m here. It’s a good experience for me.”
Considered to be one of the best ever at standing in front of the net — a dirty job that few players are willing to master — Holmstrom’s unique skill is something the Wings wanted him to teach their prospects.
“In a conversation, Homer expressed wanting to get back into hockey,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. “He’s one of the best net-front-presence players of his time.
“He obviously has some knowledge we thought he could impart, and we believed he would be a good addition to our camp.”
Holland has a history of keeping former Red Wings within the organization. Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Kirk Maltby and Jiri Fischer have all launched their post-playing careers in Detroit.
But Holland doesn’t offer up these Jobs simply as rewards for being exceptional players.
“First off, if they want to work, that’s what it’s about. And Homer’s a worker,” Holland said. “Homer wants to work. He took a year off, spent time with his family and coached his kids.”
“He’s still a young man, and he feels he can contribute to the game. And so when he reached out, I told him come to camp and then we can discuss. I don’t know where we’re going from here.”
So far, Holmstrom has impressed everybody with his attention to detail. He gave a video presentation on net presence that even wowed Chelios and Draper, who were expecting a good laugh while Holmstrom spoke in “Swenglish” (what teammates have labeled his brand of English).
“I was kind of hoping that he was going to go in there and speak that Swenglish language, which we all know and have grown to love,” Draper said. “But he did really well when he was talking to the kids. He did a great job.
“Who better to speak to these kids on standing in front of the net, on how to compete and how to play hard? He’s one of the best all time, and he brings instant credibility.”
As well as it went, Holmstrom was somewhat shocked by the young players’ lack of knowledge and skill on standing in front of the net. A tip drill in front of the net at practice is one thing, but it’s entirely different during the games.
“They don’t stand in front of the net, not even in practice,” Holmstrom said. “When a shot comes, they move. It’s more than just standing still and doing a screen. There’s all this stuff around the net like puck retrievals and moving the ‘D’ around.
“Hopefully, the things I’m telling the kids make sense. I never thought twice about it (standing in front of the net). These kids are probably faster than me, shooting harder than me and passing better than me. But I did something good out there. I could stand around the net.”
That’s something coach Holmstrom will always be able to convey — in Swedish, English and Swenglish.