By Larry Wigge
Stop for a minute. You knew it had to happen sooner or later. Some kid growing up in Sweden, Canada or the United States would grow up and want to be just like Detroit's demolition man Tomas Holmstrom. Not a young player wanting to pattern his game to a slick goal-scorers who make all the highlight shows.
Patric Hornqvist is his name and his game is not unlike the Red Wings forward who parks in front of opponent's goalies and makes a pest of himself.
In his first full year in the NHL, Hornqvist scored 30 goals. Tip-ins. Deflection with any part of his body. Those were the keys. Just like Holmstrom, who joined Detroit in 1996-97 and played their ever since -- winning four Stanley Cup titles.
"Patric's compete level is awfully high," said Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz. "He's going to the hard places and he's battling. He has lots of courage to stick his nose in there.
"That's not the most desirable place to be when guys are shooting the puck the way they can now."
Now the only difference is that Holmstrom is on the other side in the first round of the playoffs between Detroit and the Nashville Predators, who hold a 2-1 lead in the series.
"I watched Tomas on television. He's my hero," explained Hornqvist. "I try to watch everything he does -- I watched him create havoc in front of opposing goalies ... cause all sorts of different problems for the opposing teams. He's real good at it."
Holmstrom said. "He's a way better skater than me ... and has a better shot than me. He likes to go to the net and he's good at digging out pucks."
Despite his relatively small stature of 6-foot tall, and 188 pounds, the 25-year-old veteran from Sollentuna, Sweden, has proved true to form -- following a 30-goal campaign with 21 goals last year and then added 27 goals this season.
And, oh yes, did we mention that Hornqvist was the seventh-round pick, 230th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Dead last. He's hockey Mr. Irrelevant. He was the antithesis of Sidney Crosby, who went first in the draft that year. Since the NHL draft began in 1969, only nine of the 41 players selected last have played even one NHL game.
"One of those better to be lucky than good, last round picks," said GM David Poile. "Any time you get to the late rounds, you are asking your people, 'Do any of you see something in a player that no one else does?' It's whoever speaks up the loudest at the draft table. For anyone to say he'd have a season like this ... hey, we dream about stuff like this.
"Goal scoring is certainly a need for the Predators and Patric Hornqvist fits the bill. He's a feisty player. His passion and love for the game is second to none. This kid wants to play every night. Some young players attempt to pattern their games after slick goal-scorers who make all the highlight shows. He's goes where the goals are scored -- in the paint."
Said Trotz, "He does think about the game. You seem to find that a lot of the Swedish players have that analytical approach. They are well schooled and they learn."
It's not a park-in-front-of-the-net and his job is done. Not by a long-shot. Hornqvist had to improve his skating at Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.
"Yeah, they told me I had to improve to make it to the NHL," Hornqvist recalled. "So, I worked with a Finish coach on my skating."
Patric knows there are many things to learn -- just getting picked the NHL draft doesn't qualify you to play.
"When you get drafted there is a small chance to make it to the NHL," Hornqvist smiled, as if the door was finally opened for him. "Look at Johan Franzen, who wasn't picked until he was 25."
Franzen worked in the window factory. Hornqvist was prepared to work in his father's trucking company.
"I helped him load the trucks and I helped him to deliver all the packages," Hornqvist said. "If I was not a hockey player, I always wanted to work for his company."
We've heard about drafting Hornqvist from the Predators perspective, but his agent never gave his the option of joining the NHL for the 2005 draft.
"My agent told me I needed to develop more. He said I was probably going to have to wait for next year," Hornqvist recalled. "Round after round came and went. My name was never called so I went to sleep.
"Next morning, my dad walked into my bedroom and said, 'Guess what, you were drafted in the seventh round by the Predators.' "
Never one to be discouraged, Hornqvist worked at his trade.
"No, I wasn't discouraged at all, I just said to myself keep working at it," said Hornqvist. "And never lose your dream to play in the NHL."
"No, I wasn't discouraged at all, I just said to myself keep working at it, and never lose your dream to play in the NHL," said Hornqvist.
Patric Hornqvist idolized countryman Peter Forsberg, but he knew he could never equal the talented center's skills.
Take the next best guy and try to pattern yourself like him -- Tomas Holmstrom.
Hornqvist still watches Holmstrom on the ice the Red Wings ... and his learns.
Said Hornqvist, "Seeing Tomas in person, rather than on television -- gives you a better idea of what it takes."
And of what he still have to work on.