DETROIT – Tomas Holmstrom is very motivated to get off to a strong start with the Detroit Red Wings.
The 36-year-old forward wants to show he’s not a washed-up player, whose lacklustre production last season was a result of injuries, not years of hits taking a toll.
Holmstrom hopes ranking among Detroit’s leading scorers, as he is currently, will secure him a spot on Sweden’s hockey team for the Vancouver Olympics.
The player known as “Homer” has the will and skill to stand in front of the net to distract goaltenders and tip pucks past them. He also has the experience of helping the Swedes win gold at the 2006 Olympics.
Holmstrom, though, says only Swedish star Nicklas Lidstrom is a lock to help their country repeat.
“We had 35 guys at a meeting this summer in Sweden, and I hear there are 60 guys on the list,” he said. “Nobody is sure they’re on the team – other than Nick.
“It’s going to be my last Olympics, for sure, so I would love to be there. I know they’re watching and it’s going to come down to how I perform.”
Belarus is expected to be the first country to announce its men’s hockey roster on Dec. 23. The United States plans to be last, unveiling its 23-man squad after the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
Until then, several spots on each of the 12 teams are up for grabs.
Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said how healthy players are – or aren’t – will be a key factor.
“Sadly, some people who you want on the roster or might want are going to get hurt,” Ogrean said. “Four years ago, we planned to have Ryan Miller on the team, and we didn’t because he broke his thumb.”
Ogrean acknowledged the U.S. team plans to count on an influx of youth to replace the retired or aging players it has relied on recently.
“We’ve had some real warriors, but we don’t expect to be in Vancouver with a bunch of players in their late 30s,” Ogrean said. “It’s not that we’re pushing anybody out, it’s just inertia that we’re going through a changing of the guard with a new generation of players.”
Mike Modano wants to be an exception.
The 39-year-old Dallas Stars forward has played in the past three Olympics, helping the Americans win silver in 2002.
Modano, though, was out for a month with a rib injury before returning to the ice for just his second game this season on Wednesday night.
“It probably doesn’t help things, obviously,” he said. “You wanted to have a strong start to the season and have a good two, three months.”
Competition will be fierce to make Canada’s team, which will get a once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing at the Olympics in the hockey-crazed country.
Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman will be calling the shots for the coveted spots.
“We’re watching games every night – in person and on TV – to know exactly what the guys we’re looking at can do, and we’re making phone calls,” Yzerman said. “We have an idea who our core guys will be, then we’ll see who’s healthy at the end of December and who’s the best fit to fill out the roster.”
Dallas Stars forward Brenden Morrow would be thrilled if he ends up being one of those complementary pieces for the Canadians.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind,” Morrow said. “But I take care of the Dallas Stars, and the rest will work itself out.”
Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp insisted it doesn’t cross his mind that a strong start could put him on Team Canada.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to look across the league and say, ‘Oh, a Canadian playing for the Detroit Red Wings scored a goal or somebody on the Flyers got a hat trick,”‘ Sharp said. “I’m just going to go out and play my game. I think people around the league know what I have to offer.”
Los Angeles Kings forward Alexander Frolov is another player who seems to be on the bubble, but publicly likes his chances of cracking Russia’s star-studded lineup.
“I’m pretty confident, but it’s up to headquarters,” he said. “There are a lot of great players, but I know myself pretty good and I know what I can contribute.”