It was the eve of the 41st anniversary of Ken Holland’s first NHL game Monday, Nov. 15.
Holland, from Vernon, told the capacity crowd at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Toronto how he played goalie for the now-defunct Hartford Whalers Nov. 16, 1980 and how, at age 25, he felt like he had finally made it.
“I was in goal for Hartford against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens, I was 25, the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Holland, who turned 66 on Nov. 10. “After the first period, I felt, ‘I’m here to stay.’ The second period, I gave up five goals, down 6-1 going into the third period and I’m sitting in the intermission thinking to myself, ‘Ken, you’re never going to be in the National Hockey League ever again.’”
Holland did play three more games in the NHL with Hartford and the Detroit Red Wings. He went on to become one of hockey’s keenest executives, starting as a scout with Detroit then helping the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups as assistant general manager and team GM, and was part of the executive for Team Canada’s gold-medal victory at the 2010 Olympics in Holland’s home province of B.C.
On Monday, Holland – the current president of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers – became an official member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted as part of the class of 2020-21 with former players Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson, Marian Hossa and Jarome Iginla, and former Team Canada women’s star goalie Kim St-Pierre. He was presented his Hall of Fame plaque by former Detroit captain Steve Yzerman.
“What an honour to be presented my plaque by Stevie,” said Holland. “He and I were together with the Red Wings for 26 years.”
He also credited former Red Wings boss Jim Devallano for kick-starting his post-playing career. Had he listened to his late mom, Lee, Holland would have sold vacuum cleaners for a living.
“Jimmy D promoted me to chief amateur scout, then eventually to assistant general manager for three years,” said Holland. “I was working with Jimmy D and Scotty Bowman. That was like going to the Harvard of hockey for me. I learned so much in those three years about team building, dealing with players, making trades, negotiating contracts.
‘Jimmy D was my mentor. He believed in me, he guided me and taught me the business of pro hockey.”
Holland grew up on 23rd Street of Vernon’s East Hill. He began skating at age six and put on his first pair of goalie pads two years later. Fresh on his mind as he was inducted were his late parents, Rienie and Lee.
“Our parents taught us the importance of work ethic, sacrifice, treating people with respect as that’s how they lived their lives. They’re both gone but with me tonight,” said Holland, grateful for the love and support he’s received all his life from younger siblings Diane and Dennis who were in attendance in Toronto.
Joining Holland at the ceremony was his wife Cindi and four kids, Brad, Julie, Rachel and Greg.
“My wife is the rock and foundation of our family,” said Holland. “I’m incredibly blessed to have you at my side. Words cannot express how important you are to me.”