BY PAT PICKENS
NHL defencemen and goaltenders will sleep a little easier Tuesday night, as one of the league’s quintessential crease-crashers, Tomas Holmstrom, will officially announce his retirement Tuesday afternoon, prior to the Detroit Red Wings’ home opener.
The 15-year Red Wings forward registered 530 points, many of which came at the front of the net.
But was Holmstrom the best to ever park at the front of the net? Here are the top five NHL crease-crashers.
5. Zach Parise
The 5’11”, 195-pound winger’s determination is unquestionable. Parise is one of the NHL’s most tenacious workers, and his hard work has paid off, as the Minneapolis native has scored 195 goals in 504 NHL games. Parise scored eight goals in the New Jersey Devils’ Stanley Cup final run last spring — many of which came off rebounds below the goal line.
American – and Canadian – hockey fans won’t soon forget his game-tying goal with just 24 seconds left in Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic gold medal game. Parise fielded a rebound and beat Canada’s Roberto Luongo from the top of the crease, a vintage Parise goal.
4. Adam Graves
Gritty, tough, with quick hands, Graves scored 52 goals in 1993-94, and made the most of his talent through 17-year NHL career. Graves scored 329 goals — despite spending significant time on the Rangers’ third and fourth lines — and was once referred to by former Rangers coach Colin Campbell as “a milk-drinker, who goes through hell for you.”
Graves was often the Rangers’ crease-crasher on power-plays, scooping up rebounds and re-directing point shots. Graves won the Stanley Cup twice.
3. Keith Tkachuk
A gritty, skilled Medford, Mass. native with a nose for the net, Tkachuk scored 538 goals throughout an 18-year career that spanned just three organizations. Though Tkachuk never won the Stanley Cup, he was a five-time NHL all-star, and he scored 40 or more goals in four seasons, including a career-high 52 in the Coyotes’ first year in Phoenix, 1996-97.
A tenacious competitor, Tkachuk once lost seven teeth and needed facial surgery after re-directing a goal with his face as a St. Louis Blue.
2. Tomas Holmstrom
NHL netminders will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the burly Swedish forward has retired, just one day before his 40th birthday.
In a 15-year career that spanned three decades but all took place in Detroit, Holmstrom scored 243 goals. A bully on his body, Holmstrom played half his career in the most defensive period of the NHL’s history, and injuries plagued him, as he played all 82 games just once (1998-99).
But Holmstrom, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, never missed the postseason and was largely responsible for one of the league’s most-consistent power plays.
1. Phil Esposito
There’s a reason why Boston Bruins fans, to this day, sport T-shirts and bumper stickers that say “Jesus saves, but Esposito scores on the rebound.”
“Espo” is the father of crease-crashing, especially in Boston, as he scored 55 or more goals five straight seasons with the Bruins, including 76 goals in 1970-71.
The Hall of Famer potted 717 goals in 1,282 games in his 18-year NHL career and is still known as one of the scrappiest forwards of all-time. Espo was also tenacious off the ice, serving as the founder of the Tampa Bay Lightning.