Although Bud Holloway is an ocean away from any National Hockey League team, the dream hasn’t gone anywhere.
Holloway, a 23-year-old former Seattle Thunderbirds hockey player from Wapella, Sask., is playing professional hockey in Sweden with Skelleftea AIK in the Elitserien league, known here as the Swedish Elite League (SEL).
“The SEL is a lot different than North American hockey,” said Holloway in an email interview from Sweden of the highest professional league in that country. “It’s a high-paced league with more puck possession and speed. And playing against that speed and skill every night helps a player develop.”
Growing up playing minor hockey in Wapella, Holloway dreamed of playing in the NHL. He spent four seasons with the Thunderbirds from 2004 to 2008 in the Western Hockey League. For the next three seasons, he played in the American Hockey League with the Manchester Monarchs, the farm team of the Los Angeles Kings. The 6-foot, 190-pound left wing led Manchester in scoring the past two seasons, but never was called up to the NHL.
“You'd think that deserves a shot but you never know what the parent club is thinking or what their plans are,” Holloway said. “And, truthfully, as a player trying to get a call up, you’re better off not to worry or think about it. Some decisions you'll agree with and some will leave you speechless. This is why I always try to stay positive and not get bothered by the things I can't control.”
Knowing that Los Angeles, which drafted him in the third round in 2006, has a good crop of other talented rookies waiting to crack the roster, Holloway had a big decision to make in the offseason. Should he stay another year in the AHL, knowing he likely won’t get a shot at the NHL, or should he find an opportunity elsewhere? He talked it over with his agent and his family.
“We were doubtful of a full-time spot in L.A., especially with their off season pick-ups,” said Holloway, who turns 24 on March 1.
He decided a change of scenery was necessary.
“My agent put my name out to his representative in Sweden and got back a handful of offers,” said Holloway. “After that, it was about what place would help my career the most and give me opportunity to play.”
Holloway found out his teammate from Manchester, Oscar Moller, was playing with Skelleftea, making his decision a lot easier.
Holloway is doing well in his first year overseas, playing alongside Moller for first-place Skelleftea. He leads the team in scoring with 35 points in 42 games.
“Personally, I'm having a good year,” Holloway said. “But a bigger thing than the points is trying to find that consistency and compete every night. If your stick isn't working that night, you still need to bring something to the table to help better the team.”
Holloway enjoys Sweden, but definitely wants to return to North America soon.
“Playing in the NHL is almost every Canadian boy’s dream, and I’m no different,” he said.
It might take another change of scenery before Holloway gets a shot in the NHL. Ian Clark, who covered the Manchester Monarchs for the New Hampshire Union Leader during Holloway’s previous two seasons with the team, said it’s tough to crack the Kings roster.
“I just think it’s a numbers crunch for them in Los Angeles,” Clark said. “(Holloway’s) a guy who needs to be on a top-two line and have guys that can score and set him up, and L.A. just doesn’t have room for a player like that.”
Clark said a new opportunity for Holloway and others like him could come as early as Feb. 27, the NHL trade deadline.
“The Kings are definitely a dealing team when it comes to the deadline,” said Clark. “They have a lot of potential pieces, and if they think they are in a position ... turn things around and make a push for the Cup, then I could see them easily getting rid of some of the guys that have talent and could play elsewhere like Bud.
Holloway signed a one-year deal in Sweden, so if he doesn't get traded, he'll have another decision to make at the end of the season.
“Being a hockey player trying to crack the NHL isn't the most stable job, so you don't really plan too far ahead,” he said. “Once the spring comes, I imagine I'll get on the phone with my agent and see what's out there. If it's back in North America with an NHL team – great.
“If it isn't – just keep trying to improve wherever hockey takes me.”
Taylor Shire, 22, will graduate in May from the University of Regina's School of Journalism in Regina, Sask. He has worked for the Leader-Post in Regina, as well as CBC News Saskatchewan.
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