Last Tuesday, RMNB profiled Braden Holtby and introduced everyone to his oh-so-eccentric “Holtbyisms.” A few thousand hits later, our post now floats in the top ten Google hits for “Braden Holtby.” Alright!
Two Sundays ago, I went to the Hershey Bears/Adirondack Phantoms game where the Bears’ AHL Record Home winning streak ended at 24. There’ll be more on RMNB’s collective bad luck later. But one thing I learned that night is that Braden Holtby is a wildly popular man. Beyond Bruce Boudreau, there is no more popular guy in Hershey. Need examples? Well, while the Bears PA guy announced the starting line-up before the game, there was a smattering of applause for the starting 5. When the PA guy announced Holtby in goal, everyone in the arena rose to their feet and gave him a roaring standing ovation. I turned to my friends in complete shock and asked “Did that really just happen??”
Oh, it most certainly did. And really, there’s a lot to love about the guy (beyond his superb fashion sense and his excellent communication skills with the bewildering Alexander Semin). Holtby has put up incredible numbers in his first professional season in the Capitals’ minor league system. Braden started the year with the South Carolina Stingrays going 7-2-3 with a .911 Save Percentage. He then rode the pine as an injury replacement player in Washington for two games before getting his first shot to stick in Hershey. And stick he did. Since receiving that promotion, Holtby has gone 23-6-2 with 2 Shutouts for the AHL’s most winningest team. His sparkling 2.36 GAA and above average .917 Save Percentage are among AHL Leaders. And really, what has the Chocolate and White fans talking is the fact that Holtby has single-handedly won games this year by himself – even with the incredible roster around him. That has many in Hershey thinking he could eventually push his way into the discussion of who deserves to be the goalie of the future in Washington between Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
But if you’re looking for a statistical dissertation of who’s better among those three (SEMYON VARLAMOV), you’ve come to the wrong place my friends. Instead, RMNB has found another reason to fall in love with the twenty year old from Saskatoon: His eccentric “Holtbyisms.”
Don’t know what we’re talking about? We’ll let Bears regular Kathryn Hedrick explain:
Photos: Amanda Bowen
The Washington Capitals have won 47 of their first 63 games. Their 98 standings points are most in the NHL. The second place team, the Chicago Blackhawks, trail the Caps by 13 points. All year, the Caps have exhibited a razor-sharp focus.
But they’ve also managed to keep things fun and light when necessary. Earlier this week, long-time Capital Brooks Laich and prospect defenseman Connor Carrick were traded away to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Andre Burakovsky helped keep the boys’ spirits up.
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is many things: handsome, aggressive, slightly insane, and good at hockey. Tonight, we got another taste of the Holtbyisms. Early in the second period, Penguins forward Bryan Rust drove towards the net on a breakaway. Instead of staying put and squaring up, Bray Bray went for the most aggressive solution possible, meeting him past the slot to break up the play.
Photo credit: @davidb22307
It’s playoff time, which means we’re in for an inordinate amount of NBC coverage showing Braden Holtby getting all zen-like on the Capitals’ bench. But what, exactly, is going through the young goaltender’s mind in those moments?
“It’s just visualization techniques, breathing techniques,” Holtby, in a crisp suit with a purple pocket square, told me Sunday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before the team’s flight to New York. “It’s just one of the things I do I try to do to get my mind in the same frame every night. It gets a lot of attention but a lot of guys do it, you just don’t see it.”
Holtby’s right about it being more widespread than some think.
“I came to the rink three hours early, I had a coffee, a stretch, and I did about 30 minutes of visualization,” Olie Kolzig told CSN Washington a few days ago. “That was the extent of my preparation.”
So we know Holtby’s visualizing; we’ve heard that a thousand times. But what does that actually mean? Well, Holtby says he almost playing a game in his head, imagining what the other team is doing and how he wants to react.
“You go over everything: certain plays, certain things you’ve been working on that you want to see yourself do correctly,” he said. “It’s just visualizing what you want to do. … Try to view yourself the way you want to be viewed.”
So there you have it: Braden Holtby spends his time before big games daydreaming.
GIF by welshhockeyfan
Goaltenders are like all people. They have habits and idiosyncrasies. Some are reserved, some are wild. Braden Holtby has always been more of the latter. He’s made bruising checks in juniors, slashed teammates, and his zany routines are well known. Something he’s never done, though, is score a goal. Late in Washington’s 5-3 victory on Sunday, he almost got one.
“Something that I’ve always thought of is trying to score a goal, but that’s not my first priority,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “It’s definitely not something I practice.”
With the Caps on the power play in the waning seconds, Holtby retrieved the puck from behind his net. Weaving around a Sabres player, Braden launched a shot at the opposite net almost 200 feet away. The puck looked as if it was headed towards Buffalo’s net. However, Alex Ovechkin knocked it down at center ice with his glove. Instead of Holtby’s first ever marker as a goalie, the puck ended up lazily drifting into the corner as the horn sounded. Ovi knew what he might have prevented, shrugging as he went to congratulate Holtby on the win.
You ain’t hockey-famous until you get a feature on Hockey Night in Canada. As of right now, Caps goalie Braden Holtby is officially famous. On CBC’s Inside Hockey segment (brought to you by the little blue pill), 30-dimensional thinker Elliotte Friedman gave Holtby and his family the Barbara Walters treatment.
In the video beyond the jump, Friedman talks to Holtby about growing up in Saskatchewan, following in his father’s footsteps with the Saskatoon Blades, Holtbyisms (natch), and how he keeps cool under pressure. Braden gives an affable interview, but he also talks about controlling his emotions as if he were a Vulcan. Holtby’s parents get some good screen time while rocking Caps merch (check out Braden’s dad Greg rolling his eyes during the Holtbyisms chat), but the star of the clip is Holtby’s hair.
Goodness gracious. Just look at it.
So. Here we are. The Caps’ long, strange trip to the playoffs wasn’t easy, not by any stretch, and their first round opponent doesn’t look so easy either. We know what’s behind us – a roller coaster season of consistent inconsistency, and we know what’s ahead of us – the defending Stanley Cup Champions are big, physical, and chock full of talent. So this probably explains why hockey’s literati almost to the person predicts a Boston win for the series. We don’t put much stock in that, of course. We don’t because we’re homers. Homo homers to be precise.
We look at the Boston match up as a series of If – Then statements: If Ovi, Sasha, and Nicky fire, then we’ll be OK. If we can match them physically, then we don’t get pushed around. If our special teams perform, then we’ll have a real shot. If we put rubber on that creep, Timmy Thomas, get in his head and face, then we’ll score moar goals. If we crash the net, you know the rest. And it’s Timmy and his counterpart at the opposite end of the rink that we think this series revolves around.
Photo credit: Mitchell Layton
In March of 2011, a 22-year-old Saskatchewan native got called up to the Capitals after one of their netminders suffered an injury. Unproven and raw, he seemed at ease as he created a three-way goalie controversy on one of the league’s top teams. In March of 2012, a 23-year-old Saskatchewan native may be doing the same thing.
In his three games up with Washington after Tomas Vokoun went out with a groin injury, Braden Holtby has been stellar and ever improving as he turned a .889 save percentage in the first two months of the year in the AHL into a sparkling shutout performance in front of 18,506 fans (but who’s counting?) in one of his team’s biggest games of the year. With the Capitals fighting for every point as they try to squeak into the playoffs, head coach Dale Hunter may have no choice but to play the hot hand — even if the question was supposed to be settled when the Capitals traded away Michal Neuvirth’s competition before making the surprise signing of Vokoun in the summer.
“From my short stint in pro hockey you realize things change really quickly,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “I was ready, that’s what I’ve been working towards in Hershey all year. I’m trying to make good call-ups count.”