DETROIT – Swedish hockey star Tomas Holmström does more for his team, the Detroit Red Wings, than just score goals and irritate opposing goalies.
A native of Piteå, Sweden, “Homer” becomes a messenger of sorts around Christmas as his teammates figure because he's from northern Sweden, he's close enough to the North Pole to have connections with Santa Claus.
"Usually this time of year all the guys come to me and they say, 'Homer, can you take this Christmas list and give it to Santa?"' Holmström said. "And I do that."
Holmström’s hometown is just 250 miles from the Arctic Circle, which his teammates say accounts for his at-times odd behavior and warped sense of humor. Several weeks after the Red Wings won the 2007-08 Stanley Cup, Holmström let his cousin use it as a baptismal font for his 7-week-old daughter during a private ceremony outside Pitea.
After years of watching Holmström endure crosschecks, slashes and shoves, teammate Kris Draper thinks he has an explanation for his toughness: “Seal skin. Homer’s got seal skin.”
The veteran forward is known around the NHL for battling in front of the net, drawing penalties and scoring timely goals. Holmström has 10 on the season and is on track to score at least 20 for a fourth straight season.
“He just has kept improving on his role and being a really good net-presence guy,” said fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg.
“He’s got really good skills and he sees the ice very, very well. It’s fun to play with him because, if you’re open, he’ll get you the puck.”
That’s just one of Holmström’s gifts, Draper said.
“Absolutely, this is a very exciting time of year for him,” Draper said. “We all get excited, but I’m sure Homer gets a little bit more excited about it, living so close to the North Pole and knowing Santa Claus. What can you say about him? He’s a good guy to have in the dressing room and he plays hard for us, night in and night out.”