NOW THIS IS HOCKEY! An interview with Warren Holmes

Following the first championship season for the Saginaw Gears- many of the 77 Turner Cup veterans remained on the team, but there were also many new faces. One of those rookies was a young center iceman by the name of Warren Holmes. Fresh out of the OHL Holmes was about to start his first season of professional hockey and, no doubt, in hope of making a good impression. To say that he accomplished that task would be an understatement. In 78 regular season games that year he had 48 goals and 33 assists then went into the playoffs and scored an additional 3 goals and 3 assists. That was only the beginning of a hockey career that would take him to the AHL, CHL and NHL. We are VERY lucky here at Saginaw Gears Dot Com to have connected with Warren and have him agree to take the time to chat with us.

SGDC: Warren, first off let me thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at Saginaw Gears Dot Com.

Warren: My pleasure.

SGDC: Let’s start way back in the beginning. Since we have some amateur hockey players who read this site and perhaps some kids who dream of making hockey a career, let’s look at how you got started. You’re from Beeton, Ontario- just north of Toronto and in the heart of Ontario hockey country. Were you one of those kids who could not wait for the ponds to freeze so you’d have someplace to skate?

Warren: My hometown is about 40 miles north of Toronto. When I left Beeton at age 15 to play Jr. B in Toronto, Beeton had a population of 720. I eventually became the 5th pro hockey player from Beeton- following Wayne Carleton (He is #11 for the Boston Bruins in the iconic Bobby Orr Stanley Cup winning goal verses St Louis in 1970 picture/video) who lived 7 houses up the street from me. John and Larry Gould lived 2 houses on the other side of me. John had a long NHL career in Buffalo, Atlanta and Vancouver. Larry played a game or 2 in Vancouver but was an IHL All-Star for years in Port Huron. The 4th player, Jim Rutherford, was a goalie for the Red Wings, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and LA and is now the current GM of the Carolina Hurricanes where they won a Stanley cup in 2006.

Needless to say I grew up looking up to these guys and wanting to be like them, so in a sense aspiring to be a pro player seemed like a pretty normal thing to do.

SGDC: What was the amateur hockey program like in your neck of the woods there in the Beeton area?

Warren: In those days players were able to play in more than one age group. Numbers, to a certain extent, dictated that- being a rural area there were not a lot of players. We only played twice a week, starting mid October and the season was usually over by mid-March. I would play on 2 sometimes 3 teams. My last year in Beeton my regular teams were the Bantams and Midgets, but I also played 5 games during the season with the Pee-Wees (my own age group) in order to be eligible for the playoffs.

SGDC: Eventually you managed to make it to the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. Tell us how that came about.

Warren: My father was a Veterinarian and he had a Pharmaceutical salesman who was neighbors with the coach of the Toronto Young Nationals Tier II Jr. A team. Long story short, they watched me play and wanted me to move to Toronto and play for their Jr. B team. So at 15 I packed up and moved to the city to play. Myself and a defenseman named Dave Shand became the first “imports” to play for the Young Nats. Three years later, after I was in Ottawa playing, they had another young center come and play for them named Wayne Gretzky, who turned out not so bad. That Jr. B team had 13 players drafted to the OHL that year and I was not one of them, but 4 of us would eventually play in the NHL.

The next year I played for the Tier II Jr. A Nats and was drafted in the 1st round to Ottawa.

SGDC: That era in the OHL was pretty tough, in fact one may even say it was wild. It must have been a real trip to be playing there.

Warren: Remember it was 1974 and that was the Philadelphia Flyers Broad Street Bullies era. Hockey was played that way. It just was. I will say, however, the hardest league I ever played in was the OHL. The intensity of that league is unmatched in any league I ever played in- including the NHL.

SGDC: Your coach at the 67’s was Brian Kilera- a true legend. Amazingly, he coached the team from the beginning of the 1974-75 season until the spring of 2009! Tell us a bit about playing for coach Kilera.

Warren: I played in Brian Kilrea’s first OHL game in 1974. I can’t say in good conscience that we got along, but I will say that he did teach me a lot on how to play pro hockey, which is a different game. We may not have got along, but we did respect each other.

SGDC: In the 1977 draft you were selected by both the L.A. Kings and the Winnipeg Jets. Tell us about that process and how it advanced your career.

Warren: I was hurt for nearly all three years I played in Ottawa- as you can see by my stats. However, I got healthy about Christmas of my last year and Killer told the press that once Doug Wilson (now the GM of the San Jose Sharks, by the way) and I came back we would win the league, which we did. I was centering Bobby Smith and Tim Higgins, who both were later first round draft picks and we played in the Memorial Cup in Vancouver that year- which helped my draft positioning. I was drafted in the 5th round by LA about 85th overall and in the 9th or 10th round by Winnipeg. The next season was the last one for the WHA and there was very little communication between us after the draft so LA was really the only option.

SGDC: My bet is that you knew very little about Saginaw and the Gears before you came to town.

Warren: Not true, I did know a little about Saginaw. I am not sure what his job was for the Gears in year one, but Pat Shetler lived in the next town over from me and he was actually my swimming teacher when I was younger, so I was aware of Saginaw. And, as I mentioned earlier, Larry Gould was my neighbor and played in the league.

SGDC: What was your first encounter with coach Don Perry, or as you guys called him “Fred,” like?

Warren: I don’t remember much about my first meeting with Fred. I do however remember Gunner Garrett!

Fred is an icon. Although Fred’s type of hockey is associated with the “hard nosed” type of play, his coaching success was because of the “simple style” of his system that also included having a lot of skilled players. A lot of people don’t realize Fred’s teams also always had a lot of talented hockey players on them. Some who were both talented and tough, like Rosie. The talents of Marcel Comeau, Dave Westner, Paul Evans, Greg Hotham, Bob Gladney, Larry Goodenough. All except Marcel and Westy spent time in the NHL.

SGDC: You had a terrific rookie season with the Gears and I’ll bet a lot of that was due to getting on a line with players who clicked well with you. Which players seemed to click the best with you?

Warren: Again it was through Larry Gould. He and Dave Westner were roommates for 3 years when they played together in Seattle. So there was a connection there when I got to town.

Dave Westner is the reason not only for the rookie year I had, but for the 9 years I played pro hockey. Westy taught me how to be a pro hockey player, both on and maybe more importantly off the ice too. The first year I centered him and Rick Chinnick and scored a bunch of goals which got me a contract with the Kings.

SGDC: It seems as if everyone on a hockey team gets tagged with the nickname, I hear that yours was "Shooter." Did you carry that one with you from the juniors, or was it given to you by the Gears?

Warren: That’s a Gears nickname. I could shoot the puck as well as anyone who was playing the game at that time. If I had the puck on a 2 on 1, passed the puck and we didn’t score, I would have to answer to Fred when I got back to the bench and trust me that was never a pleasant thing. Therefore I was shooting a lot and the nickname morphed from that.

SGDC: Who were your roommates that first season and Saginaw?

Warren: My first year it was Greg Hotham and in the later years Rosie and I roomed. At times we also had Westy.

SGDC: That 1977-78 season saw the Gears finish in first place in their division. That must've been a motivating for a young guy in his first year of professional hockey.

Warren: My first year was after the team’s first Turner Cup and Saginaw had the highest average attendance of any minor professional team anywhere, about 5,000 per game. With that many fans in the stands every night- being motivated was easy.

SGDC: In your second season in the IHL you were in Springfield of the AHL for a few games and then spent half the season in Milwaukee and half in Saginaw. Tell us about what happened with all that.

Warren: My second season was a nightmare, one that I only had myself to blame for. I thought with the success of the first season all I needed to do was show up. And that didn’t sit too well with Fred. He sent me to Milwaukee in December for what turned out later to be Scott Gruhl. He did bring me back at the trade deadline. Honestly that turned out to be one of the best “lessons” I learned in life.

SGDC: After a brief stint again in the AHL with Binghamton you returned to the Gears for two more highly productive seasons. In fact you had 55 assists in the 1979-80 season. That's just amazing! I think there's nothing more valuable overall to a good hockey team than a good assist player.

Warren: After my second year, motivation in the third year was easy. Westy had played with Scott Gruhl who went on to score more goals than any other minor professional player (700+?)

SGDC: It all seemed to really pay off in the 1980-81 season when you helped the Gears win their second Turner Cup. Tell us a bit about that experience.

Warren: I started that season in Houston, oddly enough. In January the CHL Houston Apollo’s folded and LA sent 4 of us down to play for the Gears including myself, Claude LaRochelle, Don Waddle and John Gibson. From that point on we lost about 5-6 games out of the remaining 40 and went 12-1 in the playoffs to win the cup, with the one loss coming in double overtime in Fort Wayne. The talent on that team was unbelievable for that level. The core of that team was in first place in the AHL the next year. We had a NHL goalie in Bob Froese and backup Ted Tucker, NHL defensemen in Bob Gladney, Larry Goodenough and John Gibson along with Don Waddell and Peter Luksa and talented forwards including Marcel Comeau, Scott Gruhl, Claude Larochelle, Chris Langevin, Gordie Brooks, Mike Hartman, Doug Crawford, Mike Brisbois.

SGDC: That pretty much catapulted you up to the AHL.

Warren: Yes, Fred left Saginaw and took the Kings top farm team job in New Haven and brought the core of that team with him. As I said earlier that team was in first place in the AHL in January when Fred was promoted to coach the Kings.

SGDC: Then you succeeded in gaining every Canadian kid’s dream, in fact, probably the dream of every kid who ever picked up a hockey stick. You moved to the NHL to play with the Los Angeles Kings.

Warren: My first NHL game was in Pittsburgh on a Saturday in February. After a Friday game in New Haven, Al Sims, Scott Gruhl and I were called into the office and told we were going to Pittsburgh to play 1 game. They were looking to shake the Kings up. Kings GM George Maguire told us to “take 3 sticks and our tooth brushes” and that we would be back to play in New Haven Sunday afternoon.

We tied the game in Pittsburgh 3-3. I got 2 assists, was +3, Sims was +3. Gruhl was +2, I was the first star of the game, Al Sims was the second star and WE WERE BACK IN NEW HAVEN SUNDAY to play in the AHL.

In all fairness that game did get me called up at the freeze date in March and I did finish the season in LA.

SGDC: In the 1982-83 season you played 39 games with the L.A. Kings under coach Don Perry. What was it like working for your old boss.

Warren: I played parts of 7 different seasons for Fred. I don’t know of anyone who played more for him so we knew what each other was about. He could trust me in any situation and he did. I killed penalties, played the point on the power play, took important face-offs plus played a regular shift.

SGDC: Eventually after returning to the AHL for a few seasons, you found yourself back in the IHL with the Flint Generals, and then moved with the team to Saginaw and the Wendler Arena once again. Tell us a bit about that portion of your playing career.

Warren: I was living in New Haven and LA didn’t offer me a contract, so I was contemplating quitting the game when Rosie gave me a call and wanted me to come and play for him in Flint. I was getting divorced and really didn’t have a better offer so I took him up on it. I played that year and most of the next before getting hurt. I was not put on the playoff roster the first year the Generals were in Saginaw and retired the following summer.

SGDC: What made you decide that it was time then to do something else in hockey?

Warren: It was time, 9 years and truthfully the money was not very good. Today money is a great motivator for longevity.

SGDC: Tell us how you came about becoming a coach. Was this something you intended on doing all along or more of something you just sort of fell into?

Warren: An opportunity came along to buy The Hockey Shop in the Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena in 1987. In 1991 Dave Westner, Norm Bamberger and I started a Jr. A. team in the NAHL and called them the Gears. Westy and I coached it for 4 years and we were fortunate to send 30+ players on the NCAA schools, some even played pro including Mark Mowers who played a few years later for the Red Wings and Jeff and Tim Turner who are also GSAHA alumni who played in the minors. Still one of the Hockey “things” I have done in my life that I am most proud of.

SGDC: The Saginaw Lumber Kings were a UHL franchise that came to town after the Generals folded. Eventually you found yourself as the head coach of that team. That had to be a position where you took far more punishment than being a player.

Warren: John Blum who was coaching the Lumber Kings asked me to be his assistant. The first year I was available for home games only, but then in the second year they compensated me a little better for being fulltime. When Blummer was fired as head coach in November, I got the job on an interim basis. I am not sure if I was a good coach or not but one thing I know is that I can’t be judged by that team. It was one of little talent and fewer resources. I was even forced by the ownership to cut the best two players because they were making too much money.

SGDC: Following the end of the Lumber Kings, what was next for Warren Holmes?

Warren: In the late 90’s I went back to school and got my BBA and MBA from Northwood University. I sold The Hockey Shop in 2001 and for the past 9 years have been in the Financial Services Industry as a Financial Associate.

SGDC: You got involved with amateur hockey in the Saginaw area. Amateur and youth hockey is probably one of the key elements in the expansion of the sport. Tell us a bit about your feelings toward that.

Warren: Out of all of us who played at a higher level in Saginaw since hockey came to town, Dave Westner has done more for the game in Saginaw than all of us put together, in my opinion. He took over the GSAHA in 1986 and that program is truly one of the best run programs anywhere. A small program like that is producing players that go on to a higher level. Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas played a couple of years in the late 80’s on the travel team for Greg Turner and Norm Bamberger. The Turner boys, Matt Hoffman, Andy Slaggert who is an Assistant coach at Notre Dame for the past 20 years or so, all got their start there. You have Brad Walch playing for the Spirit the last few years and Erie in the OHL just signed a GSAHA graduate to play goal. And I am sure I missed many others.

SGDC: So, what is going on with Warren Holmes these days? I hear you moved to Texas, do you have a hat and boots?

Warren: I live in The Woodlands Texas (Houston) and I do have a hat and boots- although both came with me from Saginaw. I work for Thrivent Financial as a Financial Associate. I am currently studying to write my national CFP exam in November. I have 2 daughters and a grandson who live in Saginaw. Caitlin who graduated this past spring from Northwood with an accounting major and works for St Mary’s Hospital. Evan Anne, who is still in school aspiring to get into the Medical field and her son Jack.

I lived 31 years in Saginaw and I do stay in touch with many of my friends.

SGDC: In conclusion Warren, I just want to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us here at Saginaw Gears Dot Com. I'm sure that you still have a lot of fans in the Saginaw area as well as in the other cities where you have played. I really hope that this website will provide a means by which your friends and fans can find out where you are and what you’ve been doing lately. Thanks for sharing your time and your thoughts with us.

Warren: It’s been my pleasure.

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