Photo credit: Chris Gordon
When George McPhee swooped in and signed free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun for a couple bucks and Alex Ovechkin’s now useless stockpile of CCM sticks, there was no doubt it was a great move for the Washington Capitals. But that doesn’t mean everyone was happy with it. 21-year-old netminder Braden Holtby, who looked assured of a roster spot just a day before when the team traded away Semyon Varlamov, was once again relegated to a job with the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
We know what Michal Neuvirth, the remaining ‘keeper in the Caps’ trio, thinks about the deal and losing his starting spot. Holtby, however, has been somewhat of a mystery, with head coach Bruce Boudreau admitting during Development Camp even he hasn’t spoken to the Saskatchewan native about the move.
Unbeknownst to us (but not Hockey Ramblings), someone has been able get Holtby’s side of the story. Several weeks ago, The Pipeline Show on Team 1260 Edmonton caught up the young goalie, with Holtby spilling the beans on the crease situation, Nicklas Backstrom’s injuries, why he didn’t think the team’s defensive system was much of a change, and more.
Below, we offer a transcription.
The Pipeline Show: You had a pretty impressive 14 games in the NHL this year. How gratifying was it? How comfortable were you to play that well?
Braden Holtby: Yeah, it was obviously a great experience all year. It was a lot more than I was expecting coming into the year. The 14 games were spread out through the whole season so it there was actually a lot of experience in there. A couple ups and downs right at the start. I think I got a little overwhelmed with the presence of being in the NHL. I got a bit more comfortable in the end and got a few more wins.
The Pipeline Show: The Caps traded Varly to Colorado. I’m sure you were doing fist-pumps after that. Then a few days later, they sign Tomas Vokoun. What does that mean for you? What kind of emotional roller coaster did you go through?
Braden Holtby: Yeah, it was a tough week, obviously, just because it kind of came out of nowhere in the middle of the summer. It was a pretty big high and a pretty big low. At the same time, it’s basically the same setup as last year. I still have a lot to win in Hershey. I wasn’t really proud of the way I finished out the season down in the AHL. That’s one thing that I really want to work on. Obviously, the sophomore season is going to be the toughest one. Whenever I get called up again, it’s going to be even more valuable experience to play in the NHL.
The Pipeline Show: What has the Vokoun signing taught you about patience?
Braden Holtby: Obviously, I want to play a lot, so I guess that’s one positive coming out of it is that I probably won’t be a back-up to start — I’ll be able to play a lot of games. At the same time, in Saskatoon, I played a lot and I learned to be able to play a lot of games and be more in shape. At the same time, when you’re a back-up or not playing as many games, you have to work twice as hard in the gym to keep that up and it’s not quite as easy. Being patient is tough, but it definitely makes you mentally stronger in the end.
The Pipeline Show: Is it a massive jump from the AHL to the NHL?
Braden Holtby: Really there’s some parts that are easier and some parts that are harder. I think [in the NHL] it’s a lot easier because your defensemen are in position. They always do the exact thing that you expect them to do. It makes it easier to read the play and whatnot. At the same time, the skill-level of the NHL is just so amazing, you kind of get caught up watching guys sometimes. That and obviously it’s the NHL. The aura of the NHL that goes around it, the pressure to perform, the big crowds, everyone seeing you or whatever, telling you what great job you did or not so good job you did on the streets. Just little differences like that. When it comes to playing on the ice, it’s really not a whole lot different. The speed is fairly similar, just the precision and skill level makes it harder.
The Pipeline Show: Bruce Boudreau installed a new defensive system this past year. How different was it from the run ‘n’ gun one that you guys played under before?
Braden Holtby: You know, I didn’t get to experience the other team so much. When I was up the year before, it really didn’t seem like that much of a change. When you bring in guys like Carlson and Alzner and they play 22 or 23 minutes a game, no matter what system you play in, you’re not going to have very many tough scoring chances to stop when you have guys like that on the ice. Bringing in a couple of key guys like Wideman and Hannan, they played a big role. I don’t think it was too much of a change in the system, I think it was just the defense just got that much better. People started to figure out the offense a bit. I know Nicklas Backstrom had a few injuries that guys didn’t really know about. I think everyone has that throughout the year. But that definitely made him not perform as well as he usually does. But, you got to give those guys a break. To perform at that level, it’s really hard to do that ever year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out and tore it up this upcoming season.
The Pipeline Show: Karl Alzner — is this guy still scratching the surface of his potential?
Braden Holtby: Yeah, you know he’s so amazingly good at the little things of hockey. You can watch a whole game and not even notice him. Then watch the game on film, watch him the whole time, and realize he never made one mistake the whole game. Those are the guys goalies absolutely love to have on their team. They probably don’t get the praise that they should. His hockey sense, his hand-eye coordination with his stick is absolutely amazing to watch. It’s definitely a big positive to be able to play behind him.
The Pipeline Show: You spent a lot of time in Hershey. What can you tell us about what Sheldon Souray was like down there?
Braden Holtby: Sheldon, from the moment he got to Hershey, he had about probably 10 times better of an attitude than anyone was expecting. You can’t really blame a guy if he comes down there and doesn’t really work as hard or whatnot because he’s been in the NHL for so long. He battled every game. He was fighting for us — big hits, sticking up for guys. He was just good guy to have on the team. He really taught a lot of us how to be professional and to perform in the professional ranks over a series of an 80 or 82 game season whether it’s in the NHL or the AHL. He was a positive influence in the dressing room. Always joking around having fun with guys. We’re all glad to see he got another chance in the NHL.
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.