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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

ECHL hockey Storm preview: Brothers pass the puck

BY DAN SAEVIG
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

Big brother is watching.

Has been, too, ever since Dennis Holland was one of Mrs. Tebo's toddlers.

Ken Holland was 18 and a back-up goaltender for the Western (junior) Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers. Little brother, Dennis, was five and ready to spoon out some medicine of his own.

Separated by an age gap that saw one appreciating the female persuasion and the other sure that girls spread cooties, Rienie and Lee Holland's sons had but one thing in common beside their last name; they both loved hockey.

Every Monday, just before noon, big brother would play chauffeur, packing up his baby sibling and hauling him over to the small, seatless rink in Vernon, B.C. There, under the direction of Mrs. Tebo, a dead-ringer for Mrs. Santa Claus on white figure skates, Dennis learned how to scoot around on blades.

On this day, the pre-schooler was like a waterbug on a frozen pond, circling the ice surface, making more left hand turns than Jeff Gordon at Rockingham.

“As he was coming around, I wanted to give him some tips,” recalled Ken Holland, now the general manager of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings. “I was standing on the bench and after about the third time around, he finally came over.”

Ken was ready to serve up suggestions. Before he had a chance, though, Dennis cut him off. The remark was nearly as short as the youngster. It was Dennis' first shot at the goalie.

“Dennis said, ‘What do you know?'” remembered Ken with a smile. ‘All you do is sit on the bench.'”

That happened in 1974. Twenty-seven years later, Ken is still watching, offering advice and Dennis is as observant as ever.

“From an early age, he had it figured out,” Ken said. “He knew who knew what and who to listen to.”

The difference now is that the younger brother is listening to the voice of experience.

Tomorrow night at the Sports Arena, Dennis Holland begins his second season as head coach of the East Coast Hockey League's Toledo Storm when the Johnstown Chiefs provide the opposition for a 7:30 faceoff.

Ken won't be there; his Red Wings are hosting Buffalo. But sometime in the next few days, it might be Saturday or Monday, the two will talk. They'll discuss their respective hockey teams and the contracted players Ken has assigned to his brother as part of Detroit's affiliation agreement with the Storm.

They'll talk, too, about family, their passion for golf and Dennis' goal to someday join Ken in the NHL.

“It's been great working together,” said Dennis, who was Detroit's recommendation for the Toledo coaching job in 2000. “Anytime you can have open lines and know what is going on with your parent club. ... my brother knows exactly what we have done and who has done it for us on a game-by-game basis. He's very interested in our hockey team and how my career is going.”

Because of the 13-year age gap, Ken's playing career was over before Dennis, now 32, left his teens. After a couple of short stops with Hartford and Detroit, Ken ended a nine-year career spent primarily in the American Hockey League to become a scout in western Canada for the Red Wings.

One of the first players he saw was Dennis, a center who rolled up 113 points in his first full season of junior hockey.

Detroit eventually claimed the younger Holland in the third round of the 1987 NHL entry draft.

“My brother left that decision up to everyone else,” Dennis said. “But I think they knew the character. There's something to be said about bloodlines.”

Something about being thicker than water, even when they're frozen.

Dennis retired as a player in 1998. Unlike Ken, he never made it to the NHL. Now he hopes to do so as a coach.

In his first season as the man in charge, Dennis led the Storm to a record of 37-27-8 and into the Northern Conference semifinals of the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoffs.

With more experience and success, the next step up hockey's food chain will probably come next year. Ken is looking to re-establish a full AHL affiliation and hire a head coach for the 2002-03 season. Currently, Detroit's top prospects are with Cincinnati of the AHL, sharing roster space with Anaheim's best minor league talent.

NHL sources say its all but guaranteed that the Wings will be in Grand Rapids, Mich., one year from now, moving in when Ottawa's affiliation agreement expires in that city. When that happens, Two Men and a Truck will likely be visiting Dennis, wife Tammy, and their two kids at their Westgate-area home.

“If Dennis continues to do a good job, certainly, he'll be a candidate to coach our own minor league team,” said Ken, who in 1998, in his first season as Wings' GM, led the club to its second consecutive Stanley Cup. “I think Dennis is in a great situation right now, with a great organization, in Toledo.

“He's a young guy with a lot of time on his hands, but it's important to be in a winning environment and coaching a winning team. In our business, those are the people who are looked at, those who are very, very successful.

“I'm very proud of him. If I can do anything to help him succeed, I'm going to do it.”

Big brother is watching. Brother, is he ever.



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