Ben Holmstrom, shown playing for the Adirondack Phantoms of the American Hockey League, is only the second Colorado Springs native to play in the NHL. COURTESY ADIRONDACK PHANTOMS
Here is my feature that appeared in Friday’s issue of the Woodmen Edition newspaper …
It may be across the country from their family, but Woodmen Edition area natives Ben and Josh Holmstrom are happy they chose to play NCAA Division I men’s hockey for UMass Lowell.
Ben took advantage of his four years to develop a promising professional career which young brother Josh hopes to emulate.
After fielding some offers from other schools, a season-ending knee injury left only the River Hawks interested in offering Ben a full-ride athletic scholarship.
“That made it an easy choice,” he said.
It proved to be the right one for Ben, 25, who served as a three-year captain for the River Hawks, before graduating and moving on to the professional ranks. That journey paid off with seven games with the Philadelphia Flyers spread out over the last two seasons, making him only the second Colorado Springs native to reach the NHL.
Former North Dakota standout defenseman David Hale was the first from the Springs to reach the bigs but has since retired. Ben and Hale played in what is now the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association and its club team, the Pikes Peak Miners, while Josh, 23, played with the Colorado Rampage and Denver-area Colorado Thunderbirds. The brothers went on to play for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Stampede of the Junior A United States Hockey League before moving up to Lowell.
“He’s a guy I was always looking up to,” Ben said. “I got to play against him in his final year in (American Hockey League) Binghamton. To be only the second player from Colorado Springs to make (the NHL) is something I take a lot of pride in.”
“We’re all very proud of what he accomplished,” said Josh, a 2008 Doherty High School graduate, who followed his brother out to Lowell, after finding the school to be the right fit. “It’s a great hockey program and a phenomenal school.”
Both players continue to work hard and improve as much as they can, taking advantage of playing in what they consider the toughest hockey leagues in Division I; Hockey East, which includes Boston College, winners of three of the last five national championships, and Boston University, which won in 2009.
“Certainly one of the selling points for Lowell is being in Hockey East,” Ben said. “It is a high level and I had a lot of opportunity to play as a freshman and sophomore. It definitely prepared me while I got bigger and stronger (in four years).”
But little prepared him for the day he got the call from the Flyers the morning of March 3, 2011 and had to travel from upstate New York to Philadelphia for a game that night after two players were too sick to play.
“That was a whirlwind, driving five hours to play in front of 17,000 fans that night,” he said. “I had a lot of excitement and nerves. The captain took aside me and told me to make sure to enjoy it because playing your first NHL game can never be duplicated. I did enjoy it.”
He got in two NHL games during the 2010-11 campaign and another five last season.
“I played with a little more confidence and with more comfort being around the guys,” he said. “It’s still a learning process.”
UMass Lowell junior forward Josh Holmstrom celebrated his goal against Miami (Ohio) during last spring’s NCAA tournament. COURTESY UMASS LOWELL ATHLETICS
Josh is on his way to a professional career as well, serving as an assistant captain as a junior, garnering all-league academic honors (3.6 grade point average) and recording the primary assist on the game-winning goal at No. 19 Colorado College last weekend.
“Josh Holmstrom brings an intensity to each and every game whether we’re playing at home or on the road,” said River Hawks head coach Norm Bazin, who spent several years as an assistant at CC. “He is someone who continues to improve and develop his skills and he will be counted upon to contribute offensively.”
Josh is enjoying being part of the proud program’s resurgence. The River Hawks surprised most of the experts by making the NCAA Tournament last spring in Bazin’s first season. They are a preseason pick to place second this season behind BC.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “The key for us will be to keep working harder and getting better each day.”
It’s that kind of attitude that helped Ben go from a junior player with a knee injury to the NHL and his second year as captain for the American Hockey League’s Adirondack Phantoms, only a step below the Flyers. If the NHL lockout ends, the 2009-10 Hockey East Best Defensive Forward Award-winner will likely be a quick call-up to Philadelphia.
“I will never be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL,” Ben said. “I need to play my game, which is being good on faceoffs, on defense and finishing my checks. If I can do that and be consistent, I could have a good career.”
It’s an example Josh plans to follow to the pros just as he did when he took up ice hockey as a youngster watching his older brother play in Colorado Springs.
“It’s great motivation for me,” Josh said. “He’s always pushing me and I am always pushing him. He has had a great hockey career. I just need to keep working and improving and hope mine goes as well.”