Above: Braden Holtby performs one of my favorite Holtbyisms – “The Water Squirt” – during a stoppage in play.
On December 4th, I went up to Hershey again to see my first ever Teddy Bear Toss Night. Not only were over 7,000 stuffed animals donated to charity, but Braden Holtby shut out the Binghamton Senators to lead the Bears to a 4-0 victory. In fact, it was his second shutout in three games since being returned to Hershey.
Holtby, who is currently posting a scintillating .934 save percentage and a 1.86 goals against average, caught up with me after the game to talk extensively about his time in Washington, how he can improve, and what it was like to finally achieve his childhood dream.
Q. Your first game back with Hershey you had a shutout against the Phantoms. After the last two games you had in DC which were both losses (see here & here), what did that mean to you? How much did that game help your confidence?
A. It was huge. It was nice to get back and play with a group that I was comfortable with, and a level I feel like I can succeed at. I wish I could have played better at the next level, but it’s a very tough league to play in. It’s nice to have a little success there right off the bat, but I got knocked down to earth the next day or so..
Q. How would your rate your stint in DC this year? What was the one thing that you took away from it?
A. Um, you know, it was a lot of fun, but it’s not all the glitz and glamour that everyone thinks it is. It’s a job and there’s a reason why the guys get paid so much. You know, it’s tough, and it’s difficult to succeed at that level. Basically, the thing I took out of it was: there’s a couple of games I felt comfortable in, and I did fairly well in, and I was seeing the puck fairly well. But I felt like all of [my game] wasn’t really there. I think that was a big thing that were some aspects that I didn’t feel very comfortable with up there and that I need to work on to get better, and I’ll be able to succeed a little bit.
Q. How do you feel your aggressiveness played up [in the NHL] in general? I know you missed that poke-check on that Thomas Vanek Game-Winning Goal…
A. Yeah. It was probably the biggest thing I struggled with over the time was the game’s different. The Capitals play a different style than most teams in the league – or in this league. Just knowing when to be aggressive and when not to. Those were most of the times I got burnt, and the Vanek goal was a tough one. I didn’t play it very well, and I got caught a little flat-footed. You know, it was one thing that I wasn’t very happy with. It wasn’t more of missing the pokecheck, it was getting caught in no man’s land. But no, it was a fun experience.
Q. Can you explain to us how much it meant for you to actually get to play in the NHL? Was this a childhood dream of yours? Did you ever have your doubts along the way?
A. Surprisingly, I never had any doubts. It was a dream of mine since I was three or four. For as long as I could remember, thats all I wanted to be. You know, it is a bit different though. When you’re young you think it’s gonna be so amazing to be there, and things will come so easy… But you know, that’s life. The longer you’re here and you realize that it’s not always going to be happy times. Like that first [Caps game] this year. The emotion probably won’t kick in until [I look back] the end of the year. It was great because my dad came down, and I couldn’t of imagined spending it without him. And it meant a lot.
Q. One thing we noticed was that you paused at the bench before leading the team out on the ice for your first NHL start. What was going on through your head?
A. You know, actually I do that before every period. Just one of those calming things that – actually, to tell you the truth – my dad [Ed note: his father was a former goalie for the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades] used to do when I used to watch him play. And I’ve done it ever since. A lot of it has to do with my goalie coach back home that I worked with in Junior and in the summers. He’s a sports psychologist and he teaches a lot of breathing [techniques] to calm yourself down. And if there’s any situation that you need to be calmed down in, it’s definitely those first couple of [NHL] games.
Q. The Devils game on November 22nd might have been the worst game the Caps have played in years. How do you recover from a loss like that as a goalie? Did you have any lingering thoughts about the game, or were you eager to move on?
A. You know, we’ve heard a lot about that… that the guys didn’t play well. And you know what, I kinda disagree. I think a big part of that is that your goalie has to feel confident, and I didn’t have a very good game at Atlanta. Kind of a surprise start against the Devils. A couple bounces right off the start that I didn’t control my emotions very well with. I felt that I could have been the difference and gave a momentum changer to our team. I didn’t do that. But I know I’m capable of doing that, and if the situation ever arises again, I’m more than up for the challenge.
Q. I’m not sure if you know this, but you’ve begun a reputation for being frank and self-critical in post-game interviews. Are you tougher on yourself than others are?
A. I think so. I’ve always been my biggest critic. I think there’s – especially with goaltending – the goal’s only so big. I feel like there’s always a way to stop everything. If you’re going to get better – especially with myself since I’ve never been at the top of the chains in the sense of prospects lists – I feel like I’ve had to improve a lot more so that I make sure that I make it to the next level and prove everyone wrong. I think in order to do that, I’ve always been hard on myself. ::smiles:: I’ve improved on it lately. Been a little lighter more or less. I don’t think I’ll ever get arid of it.
Q. What has Michal Neuvirth specifically meant to your development as a goalie?
A. He’s a quiet guy. You know, we have a good relationship, but it’s not full of conversation. You know, it’s just amazing to watch a guy that’s so naturally talented. He’s the type of goalie you’ll ask him how he did something and he’ll have no clue because it comes so natural to him.
Q. He makes it look easy…
A. He makes it look very easy. Very efficient. No wasted energy. And I think it just comes natural to him. His angles are so good. He never loses the net. It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn from a guy like that coming up. Obviously, it’s a little competition with him, but in my opinion, he has the ability to be one of the top goalies in the NHL. And I’m sure he’ll do it someday.
Q. Last year you were also recalled to play for the Capitals, but did not play. While you were sitting on the Capitals bench one game (the video’s shown above), CSN panned to both you and Alex Semin who were sharing in a long, hearty laugh. With that said, how much English does Alex Semin actually know?
A. I don’t even know if he knows any. ::laughs:: We were actually laughing about… the puck went up on – I think it was Giguere at the time. The puck went waaay in the air and he was looking in the corner in his stance and it was on the other side. So he was joking about it. I kinda just went with it. He found it pretty funny, so I just started laughing as well. I was new to that, so I didn’t want to rub anyone the wrong way. ::laughs:: So I just laughed and smiled.
Q. I’m not sure you’re familiar with this, but at the beginning of the year Nicklas Backstrom bought every player who made the Capitals roster out of Training Camp an iPad. Now that you’ve had an NHL paycheck for about a month, will you being doing that for all your Bears teammates?
A. ::laughs:: Nicky makes a little bit more than I do. But no, I wish I could.
Q. Not even some new clothes or some drinks at the bar or something?
A. You know, basically, whenever anyone gets sent down from the NHL there’s money on the board that goes to our team and our rookie parties and whatnot. So usually you put a good chunk on there to keep the boys out of your back-pocket for being cheap.
Special thanks to Kyle M. for recording this interview.