by Charles Dart | AHL On The Beat Archive
In 2011, St. John’s IceCaps forward Bud Holloway had a career decision to make.
His NHL entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings had expired and he was now a restricted free agent. The then-23-year-old could re-sign with the Kings for what he considered was a less than satisfactory deal, or play outside North America due to his restricted contract.
Holloway decided to embark on a Euro trip.
“I just wanted to try something else, a different route,” Holloway says. “To me, Europe was the answer.”
After having a successful junior career in the Western Hockey League, a short stint in the ECHL, and three seasons in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs, the 2006 third-round draft pick of Los Angeles had yet to receive a call-up to the NHL, and the dream of reaching the big leagues seemed to be fading.
With that, the six-foot, 200-pound Holloway was off to the Swedish Hockey League to play for Skelleftea AIK.
Coming from the small town of Wapella, Sask. (population: 408), the journey to a foreign land far from home was very much a coming-of-age time for the rural Canadian kid.
“You really learn to mature. You’re going over to Europe and you are completely out of your element. You have a different team, a different language, a different city, a different TV,” he laughs. “Whatever you can think of, it’s different. You really learn to be your own person and turn into your own man.”
Not only did Holloway have to settle in to a new country, the change and alteration to the European style of hockey and a large ice surface was a big test.
“There’s no real dump-and-chase because it’s such a possession game, there’s so much room that you can’t run out of your position or else there’s going to be huge gap,” Holloway says.
“You have to play smarter, and when you have the puck you really have to move. Position is huge so it was a really good mental experience for me.”
After fully adjusting to the European game, Holloway found his stride in his second year. He paced the SHL in points (71), assists (51), and power-play goals (9), and was named league MVP for his efforts. To cap off an already outstanding season, he set an SHL record for playoff points as his Skelleftea team defeated Lulea HF and was crowned league champions.
After a second season championship with Skelleftea, Holloway joined SC Bern of the Swiss National League A. There, he won the Swiss Cup. With a year remaining in his contract with Bern, Holloway could opt-out by attaining an NHL contract. After four years, three championships, a Spengler Cup experience, and maturity beyond his years, Holloway was ready to get back to North America and give his dream of playing in the NHL another chance.
“This is my first year off my restriction with L.A. so I wanted to come back and give it another shot, try and make the big team. That’s how I approached it, now I’m working hard and doing what I can for St. John’s.”
Holloway signed a two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens this offseason and currently leads their affiliate IceCaps in scoring with 19 points in 16 games, tied for second in the entire AHL as well. He is providing a key leadership role on one of the youngest teams in the league.
A role, he says, that is directly influenced from his time in Europe.
“I learned so much over there. It’s almost a different game with the big ice and it’s played with a lot of skill and a lot of speed, so you have to fine-tune your skills when you’re playing like that. It’s one thing to stick handle standing still, it’s another to do it when you’re winding up on that huge ice.”
At 27 years old Holloway is finally one of the “old guys” of his team. With his European experience, he is able to pass down a wealth of knowledge to his young IceCaps teammates.
“I’m just trying to help them out, whatever it be,” Holloway says. “A lot of these kids are living on their own for the first time; you come from junior where you have a billet family. I’m just trying to be available, and if they need something, being an open enough guy that they don’t feel hesitant to ask me for advice or help.
“Just lending an ear most of the time is the biggest thing you can do.”