GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's close to a toss-up what his Detroit Red Wings teammates like best about Tomas Holmstrom: That he is as hard-nosed and relentless as they come, or that he can't really pronounce the letter "j."
The latter is just one of the many quirks that make Holmstrom who he is. He has been with the Wings 14 seasons, since he came over as a rookie in 1996, and yet he still sounds like he stepped off the boat from Sweden yesterday.
"Tommy's got his own language," Todd Bertuzzi said, "but he's a terrific guy, unbelievable teammate, the kind you want on your team."
At 38, Holmstrom has become a Wings fixture because of his dedication to being a fixture in front of opposing goaltenders, including Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov.
Before the Red Wings' 4-2 victory Monday in Game 3 at Jobing.com Arena, Coyotes captain Shane Doan was adamant he and his teammates do a better job clearing the likes of Holmstrom away from the crease.
"Bryz is our best player, hands down," Doan said. "He has the ability to win games by himself. We need to give him the opportunity to do that by getting people out of his face as much as we can."
That's nothing Holmstrom hasn't heard over and over every spring. But the voice he hears loudest, to this day, is that of his first Wings coach, Scotty Bowman.
"I was not allowed to leave the net with Scotty," Holmstrom said. "Not even if the puck went in the corner -- he would go, 'No, no, no. You stay in front of the net.'
"That's how it started. Then Dino Ciccarelli left, and he was the guy around the net, and Keith Primeau left the same year; he was the guy around the net. So there was a spot for me there."
Rarely has a player so taken to a spot. Holmstrom wears extra padding to ward off all the sticks he gets hit with up and down his back, and he has grown used to getting punched in the back of the head. Those who have tried to emulate him can't quite believe it.
"He's been taking that since I was a little kid," Red Wings winger Drew Miller said. "I remember watching him and how he'd get himself into position for an unbelievable tip. Now being here myself and trying to get in front of the net and battle like he does, you really figure out how hard it is and you gain a lot of respect for what he does."
Through 168 playoff games, Holmstrom had contributed 43 goals and 48 assists for 91 points. Then there are the categories that aren't kept: screens set, retaliatory penalties not taken.
Holmstrom's willingness to do whatever needed for a guy who was drafted 257th overall to stay in the game's best league is a borderline Cinderella story. He went from being a fourth-line-and-power-play guy to being a winger alongside superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. It's not Holmstrom's skating that got him there, or his stick handling.
"His greatest asset," Detroit winger Danny Cleary said, "is his ability to be tenacious in front of the net. No one does a better job than him at standing in front of the net. He's certainly very inspiring."
For Holmstrom, it comes down to knowing what he has to do to be effective: Go to the net or go into the corners to retrieve pucks for his linemates.
"They know where I'm going to be, and I don't pout if they don't pass me the puck," he said. "They know I'm going to the net."
Off the ice, teammates know Holmstrom is going to be fun, especially when he talks in his choppy English, called Swenglish by some teammates and hilarious by all.
"He has a little trouble with his J's," Miller said.
Holmstrom may have trouble pronouncing the word joke, but he has no trouble delivering one.
"He's great humor relief," Cleary said. "He keeps it loose, even in the tightest situation. He's got good one-liners. But it is funny how he's been here a number of years -- you'd think he'd pick up a little bit of English slang."
The one phrase Holmstrom picked up on right away was this: Go to the net. He's turned into a lifetime achievement.