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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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He's hot enough to be put on ice
Johan Holmqvist's solid play in net is no surprise to him.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published November 14, 2006
TAMPA - The leg pads, as Johan Holmqvist recalled, came up to about his waist. They were the big, old-fashioned leather kind that got heavier and heavier as they got wet.
Holmqvist said he was about 8 when the older boys on his street in his hometown of Tierp, Sweden, decided he would play in net.
"They were 15 years old and they would fire tennis balls and rubber pucks at me," he said. "They said I was pretty good and I should try it on the ice."
If they only knew.
The Lightning goaltender is one of the NHL's hottest with four straight victories, a .917 save percentage in that stretch and a 2.22 goals-against average.
He has earned playing time at the expense of struggling No. 1 Marc Denis and, for the short term, removed the backup label with which he started the season.
As coach John Tortorella said, "I'm not interested in calling goalies, 'You're the No. 1 and you're the backup.' I think that changes as you go on through the marathon of the season.
"What we have here are two really good goalies. They are allowing us to re-create our identity as a team because our players feel so confident with them. That's the most important thing we need to take out of this no matter who's in net."
For Holmqvist, 28, it has been a long journey.
A seventh-round pick of the Rangers in 1997, he played four NHL games through 2003.
Traded to the Wild that year, he helped lead AHL Houston to the Calder Cup title. He was Sweden's top goalie last season and won a world championship, after which Tampa Bay signed him to a one-year, $600,000 deal.
"I've played a lot of hockey," he said Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "I've played in a lot of big games and I learned a lot in the world championship. I know I can be a winner."
Goaltenders coach Jeff Reese said he loved Holmqvist's positioning at the top of the crease Saturday to better deal with the Thrashers' tip tries.
He said Holmqvist purposely kicked out a puck on a save to start a fast break, and his stick work has been solid.
Will he make his fourth straight start Wednesday against the Canadiens?
"He's on a little bit of a run here and he deserves the time he's getting," Tortorella said. "Having said that, I'm not crazy about keeping Marc out much longer.
"It's not a situation where we're waiting until Holmer loses and we throw Marc back in. That's not what this is about. We need both of them."
But there is no disputing the statement Holmqvist has made.
"It was important for Holmer to allow us to see this and gain some confidence in him," Tortorella said.
That process actually began in training camp, and Tortorella compared Holmqvist's practice habits with those of Dominik Hasek, whom Tortorella had as an assistant with the Sabres.
"I don't know if I can be compared to Hasek, but I like to work hard," Holmqvist said.
"I hate to give up goals. I work as hard as I can to never give up a goal. That can help me be a better player."
He said he gets a charge out of just getting on the ice: "I love it. I can enjoy myself, work hard and stay ready."
Like he did as an 8-year-old or with his community team for which he was a defenseman.
"We had two goalies," Holmqvist said. "One got sick and the other guy didn't want to play because we were supposed to play the best team in the league. I said, 'I can play.' "
The result: "We lost big-time."
At least the pads fit.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.
Lightning vs. Canadiens, 7:30 Wednesday, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa. TV: Sun Sports