By RYAN MCCRACKEN on June 26, 2020.
When Ken Holland picked up his phone Wednesday to find Lanny McDonald was calling, he was initially a bit confused.
However, it didn’t take long for Holland to realize that the only Medicine Hat Tigers alumnus ever inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame was calling for a reason – he’s no longer the only one.
“Briefly I was wondering why Lanny called, then I got the news. Lanny told me I was one of the newest members of the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Holland said in a Wednesday conference call with media. “Really, it hasn’t sunk in yet, and I think it’s going to take a while to sink in. I think back to growing up in Vernon, B.C. and playing minor hockey and Tier 2 junior hockey. I really was just a backup goalie in Tier 2 and made the Medicine Hat Tigers, and then today to get the call that I’m going into the Hockey Hall of Fame. You think about all the great people, the great players and all the great people who have played the game, and what a wonderful game this is.”
Holland – now working as general manager and president of hockey operations with the Edmonton Oilers – was inducted as a builder alongside players Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Kim St. Pierre and Doug Wilson.
McDonald has been playing “Santa Claus” by making calls to induct hockey’s all-time greats ever since being named HHOF’s chairman of the board in 2015, but Wednesday was the first time it had him recalling his years in Medicine Hat alongside another former Tabby.
“Medicine Hat was probably the best time of my life,” said McDonald, who racked up 112 goals and 141 assists as a member of the Tigers from 1971-73, and became the first player in team history to have his number retired. “Medicine Hat had such a great following of fans, and in the second year to be able to go to the Memorial Cup was pretty phenomenal. I met my dear wife, Ardell. We’ve been married now for 45 years, so I owe a lot to Medicine Hat.”
It’s a feeling shared by Holland as well. The 64-year-old Vernon product also met his wife, Cindi, while competing with the Tigers, and says his experiences in the Gas City helped shape his future in the game.
“I’m like, ‘Lanny, those were two of the greatest years of my life,'” said Holland. “It really was the opportunity for me to start my career. If I didn’t make the Medicine Hat Tigers I would never have had an opportunity to go on and play pro hockey for nine years and meet the people I did along the way.”
After earning a place on Medicine Hat’s roster for the 1974-75 season, Holland went on to record a 4.05 goals against average over two years and 78 games with the club before moving into a nine-year professional career.
“It was certainly a springboard for me to be able to go on and play pro hockey, then to stay in the game once my career ended,” said Holland. “Some of the players that I played with (in Medicine Hat) are still some really good friends of mine today – Don Murdoch, Brian Hill, Gary Gilchrist, Ron Areshenkoff, who was in my wedding party and unfortunately just passed here a few months ago.”
It was after hanging up his skates following 343 games in the American Hockey League – as well as stints in the NHL and International Hockey League – that Holland shifted his focus to the management side. But he almost ended up selling vacuums.
“I played nine years of pro and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” said Holland. “My mom had suggested getting an Electrolux vacuum cleaner job. Then a couple days later Jim Devellano called and offered me the job as a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, and here I am today getting the call from Lanny and being with this incredible class of the 2020 induction. Funny how life goes.”
The rest is hall-of-fame-worthy history. Holland took on his new role as scout with the Red Wings in 1985, then after helping the Wings win the 1997 Stanley Cup as an assistant general manager, was promoted to GM in Detroit. He went on to win the Cup three more times – in 1998 for back-to-back titles, then again in 2002 and 2008 – while winning more combined regular season and playoff games than any other NHL team during the stretch.
In May of 2019, Holland opted to part ways with the Red Wings after 22 years, and returned to Alberta to take on his role as general manager and president of hockey operations for the Oilers.
“I was so fortunate that we had so many great players (in Detroit), and to work with Scotty Bowman and Jim Devellano and Mike Babcock, the list goes on and on, of talented people that I got to work with. Jim Nill running the draft,” he said. “I feel incredibly fortunate today, but I also know that I received the call from Lanny today and really there were so many people who did all the work in Detroit. I got to go up to the mic and make some announcements, but there were a lot of people who were doing the work.”