On Sept. 9, USA Hockey announced its United States Hockey Hall of Fame induction class of 2021 yesterday: longtime Flyers player and executive Paul Holmgren, Denver area icon and longtime Boston Bruins star Peter McNab (a Canadian-born American citizen who has lived in the U.S. since age 14 and represented Team USA internationally), and prolific hockey writer and television media personality Stan “the Maven” Fischler.
Holmgren, 65, was bestowed the prestigious Lester Patrick Trophy back in 2014 for his service to hockey in the United States both in out-front and behind-the-scenes capacities. He will now earn the highest honor that USA Hockey can award someone: enshrinement in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I am deeply humbled and enormously grateful to be bestowed this honor by USA Hockey,” said Holmgren. “Growing up in Minnesota, and reflecting as far back as I can remember, United States hockey is a program that I have looked up to and always strived to be a part of. I am incredibly proud to have had the fortune to wear and represent the Red, White, and Blue during each and every occasion I have been asked. I would also like to extend a congratulations to each of the other inductees, all of which I am honored to be included in a class with.”
Playing in an era where there were only a few Americans to be found anywhere in the National Hockey League, Holmgren was one a small group who were trailblazers of sorts: showing they could reach the game’s top professional levels after their amateur careers.
Holmgren, a multi-sport athletic standout in his youth, was something of a high school hockey legend in his home state. High school hockey in Minnesota holds a status roughly akin to high school football in Texas. In 1974, Holmgren traveled to Leningrad in the USSR to represent Team USA in the first World Junior Hockey Championships. The event was not yet IIHF-sanctioned, nor were the 1975 (Canada and U.S.) or 1976 (Finland) editions of the tournament but these were the direct predecessors to the WJC.
After playing in the World Junior tournament and playing a year of collegiate hockey for the University of Minnesota, Holmgren turned pro. He spent a stint in the NAHL with the Johnstown Jets and the World Hockey Association with the Minnesota Fighting Saints before joining the Flyers organization in 1976.
That year, Holmgren became the second American-born (and first American-trained) player to suit up for the Philadelphia Flyers. He started out primarily as an enforcer and forechecking presence at the NHL level but also displayed some skill. The term “power forward” was not in vogue yet in hockey but Holmgren became one of the better ones of his era.
In 1979-80, Holmgren was placed by Flyers head coach Pat Quinn on a line with center Ken “the Rat” Linseman and sniping left winger Brian Propp; two high-skill players. Holmgren responded with a 30-goal season to go along with the 267 penalty minutes he accumulated. Many of the PIMs came about in defending Linseman and the rookie Propp, who were known to play loose with their sticks. During the 1980 Stanley Cup Final series against the New York Islanders, Holmgren became the first American player in NHL history to compile a hat trick in a game during the Finals. The following season, Holmgren earned a spot in the NHL All-Star Game.
“Homer” was plagued with injuries throughout his NHL career, including a very serious eye injury and an adverse reaction to anesthesia during surgery which very nearly claimed his life. Nonetheless, the rugged forward carved out a very respectable 527-game NHL playing career plus an additional 82 Stanley Cup playoff games to his credit.
After seven full season and two partial seasons playing for the Flyers, Holmgren finished his playing career with the Minnesota North Stars. He then returned to the Flyers’ organization as an assistant coach under Mike Keenan and, later, as the team’s head coach. After spending a stint as coach and general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Holmgren came back to the Flyers again on the scouting side, then assistant general manager under Bob Clarke and as head general manager from early in the 2006-07 season through 2013-14. Holmgren served as Flyers team president from 2014 to 2019. Since then he has served as a senior advisor to Chuck Fletcher and David Scott.
Apart from his accomplishments during his playing career, Holmgren’s induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and his previous addition to the ranks of Lester Patrick Award winners is steeped upon his involvement with USA Hockey and its programs coincidentally with his post-playing work in the National Hockey League.
On the coaching side, Holmgren was an assistant coach to Ron Wilson during Team USA’s historic championship at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey; arguably the biggest accomplishment in American hockey history since the “Miracle on Ice” gold medal in 1980.
Holmgren later served as general manager of Team USA at the 2006 IIHF World Championships. Perhaps most notably, Holmgren selected to the roster two forwards who had yet to play an NHL professional game at that point: 19-year-old University of Minnesota freshman Phil Kessel (headed for the Boston Bruins the next season) and University of North Dakota junior Drew Stafford (headed for the Buffalo Sabres).
In 2016, Holmgren worked as the assistant general manager for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey. Dean Lombardi was the head GM for the squad. Unfortunately, that tournament did not go well for Team USA, which missed the medal round along with Team Finland.
Behind the scenes, Holmgren served in various advisory capacities to USA Hockey for more than a decade. His work along with that of many other leaders, coaches and players coincided with an unprecedented period of growth in the United States.
This sums it up: When Paul Holmgren first started playing high-level hockey, American players were still largely regarded as a novelty of sorts despite a 1960 Olympic gold medal and well-established college hockey and high school traditions in the traditional hotbeds of Minnesota and New England. Today, no one bats an eye when an American breaks into the pro game or if Team USA wins a medal especially at international junior levels. Moreover, players nowadays come from all over the country, and not just Minnesota or New England.
It’s for all these reasons that Holmgren has now joined the ranks of people associated with the Flyers who’ve been selected for the United States Hall of Fame. Other honorees include Ed Snider, Mark Howe and John LeClair. Inductees who spent shorter periods of time with the Flyers include Derian Hatcher, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte. The American 1996 World Cup of Hockey team was collectively inducted in 2016.
Earlier this week, Holmgren was named officially as one of the six finalists for induction into the Flyers Hall of Fame during the 2021-22 season. His candidacy is based upon his collective contributions as a player, coach and executive. The other candidates this year are Mark Recchi (player), Rick Tocchet (player), Simon Gagne (player), Bob “the Hound” Kelly (player, Ambassador of Hockey) and Lou Nolan (PR rep, public address announcer).