August 26, 2016 - 11:33 AM
VERNON - Two days before getting hired by the Detroit Red Wings, general manager Ken Holland almost became a vacuum salesman in Vernon.
It was 1985 and his mother saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for Electrolux vacuum cleaners.
“She said to me ‘I’ll be your first sale,’” Holland recalled at a talk this week before the Kalamalka Rotary Club.
Not 48 hours later, he was hired as a scout for the Red Wings and began what would become a 33-year career with one of the most successful teams in North American professional hockey.
Holland was born and raised on 23 Street in Vernon, just a few blocks from the Civic Arena.
“I spent lots of nights at the old arena,” he says.
The son of a B.C. Hydro worker who spent most of his free time organizing minor hockey and baseball games, Holland was involved in both sports from a very young age.
“At 12 years old, I got my first pair of goal skates second hand for $20,” Holland says.
His early years on the ice were spent playing minor hockey, and then as a back-up goalie for the Vernon Essos when he was 18. He went on to play with the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Hartford Whalers, working at a Vernon liquor store in the off-season.
During his time with the Whalers, Holland met hockey legend Gordie Howe, whose son Marty was also on the team.
“He was incredibly humble, just a regular guy. He had no ego. He treated everyone he met with respect and dignity,” Holland says of the late Gordie Howe.
After getting hired as a Red Wings scout in 1985 when his playing days were done, Holland went on to become the assistant general manager, and eventually the general manager for the team in 1997.
The Red Wings have enjoyed an incredibly successful streak under Holland's watch, including making it into the Stanley Cup playoffs 25 years straight and claiming the Cup three times, in 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Holland hasn’t let any of it go to his head. You could say the same about him as he says about Gordie Howe — there’s no ego.
He comes home to Vernon every summer with his wife and despite the fast-paced career, makes time to give back to the community where he got his start.
“I’m proud to be a Vernonite,” he says. “Lots of people in Vernon gave me an opportunity to pursue my passion.”
For nearly 20 years, Holland has been donating a Red Wings package to the Kalamalka Rotary Dream Auction, which raised more than $3 million for community projects over the past 31 years.
On Thursday, Aug. 25 during a rotary meeting at the Vernon Atrium and Conference Centre, Holland was presented with the club’s Paul Harris Fellow award, an honour bestowed on a person who shares the objectives of the rotary foundation.
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