bmitch6> It’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, and here’s what Tomas Holmstrom will be doing tonight: Slam, shove, bang, poke, prod, smash, fall, get up, fall, get up, poke, jab, punch, shoot, elbow, glove, down, get up, down, get up, stick, fall, jab, fall, kick, push, stick, bash, whack, jam, down, get up.
And if you think that’s bad, you should see him try to get out of bed Friday morning.
Here’s to the Human Voodoo Doll, the man they call Homer. Can we pause to appreciate the uneven beard, the uneven hair cut, the uneven teeth, but the rock-solid sacrifice? It is not every Swede who travels halfway around the world to have his body used as a tackling dummy. Heck, you can get that done in Finland.
“Do you ever examine your body after a game for the bruises?” Holmstrom is asked.
“Sometimes,” he says. “You never know what it’s gonna look like, you know?”
“Any area that hurts the most?”
He narrows his eyes to a mischievous look.
“I can’t tell you that. I don’t want to reveal my weak spots.”
Why? Are the opponents missing something? Holmstrom after a game is like a discarded corn on the cob. There might be a few kernels untouched, but don’t count on it.
Yet he continues, night after night, the most thankless work, the most constant battering, the most unwelcome player on the ice. You think door-to-door salesmen are undesired? Holmstrom at the opponent’s net is like an IRS agent at a Mafia poker table.
Even so, in Game 1 of these Stanley Cup finals, Holmstrom, 29, was arguably the Wings’ best player. While his teammates were busy getting passes intercepted or trying to be too fancy with their maneuvers, Holmstrom was his normal gritty self, banging, slamming, flopping on top of Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe and sitting on his legs as Sergei Fedorov scored into an open net.
Pretty? Who has time for pretty? Holmstrom poked, prodded, shoved and shook off, disrupting things the way he is supposed to disrupt them.
He was, in a word, annoying.
Let’s hope he does it again.
He’s no skating dandy
Now, no one asks to be this kind of player, especially in Sweden, where Holmstrom grew up. Swedes are supposed to be skilled, fast, in many cases, lithe. Look at Nicklas Lidstrom, a wisp compared to most defensemen, but so dexterous with his skates and stick you’d never notice. Look at Colorado’s Peter Forsberg, a churning engine who can accelerate to an elite gear, poetry on ice.
And then there’s Homer. Poetry in work boots. Art with a spray can. The joke is that Holmstrom is the only hockey player to ever come out of Sweden who can’t skate. But he has two Stanley Cup rings and he’s gunning for a third. So obviously, he’s doing something right.
“When you were growing up, did you dream of being fast and scoring a lot like most kids?” I ask him.
“No,” he says. “When I was growing up, I was one of the slowest guys — and one of the smallest.”
He smiles. “Back then, I was really getting beat up.”
Holmstrom eventually lifted weights and worked on his game. He grew stronger and thicker, enough to hold his own at the net and, at age 21, get drafted into the NHL — as the 257th pick.
“Did you ever go back and take out any of those guys who used to beat you up?” I ask.
“No,” he says, shrugging. “By the time I got stronger, they quit.”
Did you know that Holmstrom’s numbers dependably improve every postseason? When the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1998, for example, he had nearly as many points in the playoffs as he did all regular season.
This year, he’s at it again. During the regular season, Holmstrom had just eight goals. So far, this postseason, he has seven, which puts him behind only Brett Hull for the team lead.
You get that? More goals than Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille or Sergei Fedorov?
Maybe we should make that two moments of appreciation.
He’s no shrinking violet
This morning, Red Wings fans across the state are wringing their hands about Game 2. Another unexpected loss to Carolina, and the unimaginable could become real: The Wings could be looking at blowing the crown to a team that couldn’t even win half of its regular-season games.
You want to feel better? Know that Homer is on the case. For one thing, he hails from a small Swedish town hard by the Baltic Sea. There are days there in which the sun shines for 20 straight hours. So if you think the wait between games seems tedious — you ain’t seen nothing. Holmstrom is used to tedious.
Besides, you can talk all you want about skill players making their shots. Give me the bangers in front of the net, and I promise you good things will happen.
In less tense games, it’s the puck and the stick. But in nail-biters like the Stanley Cup finals, it’s the ricochet, the bounce, the skate tip, the shin pad. It’s the push, the poke, the prod, the slam, the elbow, the glove, the outta-my-way stuff.
In other words, Holmstrom’s specialty.
“My hope is to go back to Sweden with a third Stanley Cup,” he says. “And then have some meatballs.”
Well, you know what they say. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.