Growing up in Vernon, Ken Holland remembers seeing his Dad working away tirelessly at his little desk at home almost every night.
Writing up local peewee hockey schedules, organizing exhibition games, or scheduling umpires—whatever sport Ken was playing, his Dad was as involved as he could be. Looking back, watching his Dad organize minor sports in Vernon was also Ken’s introduction to management and as one of the most successful general managers in North American professional sports over the last 25 years, it’s clear he couldn’t have picked a better model to follow.
A young, promising goaltender, Ken was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1975 and enjoyed a solid eight-year journeyman career mostly in the American Hockey League. He played a handful of NHL games with Hartford and Detroit when his contract expired in 1985. With his young family living in his parents’ basement in Vernon, he needed a job.
His mom pulled out the newspaper, showed him an ad looking for Electrolux vacuum cleaner salesmen in the area, and told him they were the best on the market. “Ken, I’m you first sale,” she said, “And Grandma will be your second.”
“For a brief moment, I thought I should give this vacuum cleaner job a try, this could be pretty good,” recalled Ken with a laugh.
Fate intervened that same week as Bill Dineen, his minor league coach with Adirondack, recommended Ken to Red Wings general manager Jimmy Devellano, who hired him as the team’s western Canada amateur scout.
Nearly 35 years later, Ken remains with Detroit, having worked his way up the ranks under the tutelage of legends Devellano and Scotty Bowman. After helping Detroit to its’ first Stanley Cup in 42 years as assistant general manager in 1997, since then he has served as Red Wings general manager, executive vice president, and alternate governor.
In that time, Ken guided Detroit to three more Stanley Cup championships in 1998, 2002, and 2008, as well as 10 Central Division titles, five Western Conference titles, four Presidents’ Trophy finishes as the NHL’s top regular season team, and 19 straight playoff appearances. The Red Wings have won more regular season and playoff games with Ken at the helm—nearly 1,100—than any other NHL team and he currently ranks as the winningest Red Wings general manager in club history. It was an easy decision when Sports Illustrated named him the NHL’s Manager of the Decade in 2009 and number two in any North American professional sport.
Internationally, Ken played key roles as part of Team Canada’s management team at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics where Canada’s men’s hockey team won gold both times.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.