At this time one year ago, Peter Holland was home in Toronto adjusting to life after hockey.
Last Saturday, he was also back in Toronto, celebrating the second day of his son Chase’s life. It was a quick trip home that he and his family will never forget. It could also be one more chapter in his winding journey as Holland attempts to get back to the NHL for the first time since 2018.
Holland signed a professional tryout contract with the Avalanche last month after spending a year in retirement and four seasons at hockey outposts such as Hartford, Conn., Rockford, Ill., Yekaterinburg, Russia, and Stockholm.
“It’s weird because I’ve been here before and played a lot of games in this league, but I still feel like the new guy walking around because it’s been so long,” Holland said. “It feels really good to be back in this setting and playing with guys who are at the top of the sport. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Holland is one of several players on PTOs in Colorado’s camp. Nothing is guaranteed beyond the chance to prove he can still hack it at this level. He has the most NHL experience of the bunch — 36 goals and 85 points in 266 games, mostly as a depth center for Anaheim, Toronto, Arizona and the N.Y. Rangers.
His skillset, namely the ability to play center, kill penalties and provide all the work ethic and energy he can muster, is what the Avalanche is looking for. Coach Jared Bednar said there is an obvious hole in the lineup — fourth-line center — which is the job Holland is applying for.
He got his first chance to show he’s still got it Monday night in the club’s second preseason game, against the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights at Ball Arena.
“Just play my game,” he said of his goals. “There’s a lot of information this early on in terms of systems and trying to generate whatever chemistry you can with the new guys, but it’s really just going to come down to competing and having a good time and then hopefully muscle memory and your skills take over.
“It’s been a blessing and a privilege to be back in an NHL setting. There were no guarantees of anything going into this offseason. To get this opportunity and play a game in an NHL building is just incredible.”
Holland spent the entire 2018-19 season in the AHL. Then two years in Russia in the KHL. Then a year in Sweden, with COVID-19 restrictions making it tough for family visits and on a team that finished the season getting relegated to the second division.
He decided to step away, officially retiring with a heartfelt Twitter thread. As last season progressed, the itch to return grew. The desire to give it one more shot at an NHL return increased.
“I was a guy in a unique situation,” Holland said. “I didn’t have a lot of leverage in terms of where I went. When Colorado showed interest, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a little different when you go to a place where you had to chase down the opportunity and it’s a little different when they show interest your way. When they showed a little interest my way, I said, ‘Where do I sign the PTO?’”
One more chance to pursue his dream was going to come at a cost: His wife was set to give birth to their second child on Sept. 22. A Cesarean-section was scheduled months in advance.
It wasn’t an easy choice, but Holland and his wife decided he needed to be at training camp to give this last chance everything he had.
Then the Avs stepped in.
“When word got back to (Chris MacFarland) and Joe (Sakic) that we were fortunate to have a baby boy on Friday morning, they came to me and said, ‘Look, we have a 5:35 (flight) for you,’” Holland said. “‘Take Saturday off and go be with your family.’ I jumped at the opportunity. I feel very fortunate to be around an organization that puts people first.”
So it was a quick trip to make sure everyone was healthy, spend a little time with his two-year-old daughter, Liv, and meet Chase. Then it was back to Denver, and back for one more chance to finish his playing career on his terms.
“I’m so hungry,” Holland said. “I just want to bring a great attitude to the rink and play as well as I can to make sure that I stick around as long as I can. If that looks like three exhibition games or two and then that’s it, or if that looks like starting the season here, we’ll just have to figure out what that all means. I’m fortunate to have a healthy family at home. I’ve been fortunate to play this game for 10 years. Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen.”
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