The day was a year and a half in the making, but it’s finally come. Washington Capitals former netminder and much-beloved citizen, Braden Holtby will face his old team for the very first time Friday night in Dallas.
“Yeah, it’s strange. Obviously it’s been a while leading up, obviously. It’s great to get to see some old faces and good friends, obviously haven’t seen a lot in the past last year and a half, or whatever it’s been. It’s gonna be strange. It’s gonna be very odd, tonight, but exciting at the same time to experience something new, I guess.”
After being drafted by the Capitals in the fourth-round (93rd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and developing in the organization before spending parts of 10 seasons in a Capitals sweater, facing his former teammates (a few of whom came up with him in the team’s minor league affiliates) will be a different experience for Holtby.
”No it feels weird. It feels really weird, especially seeing them over there. Spent a lot of time on that side. So it’s definitely different. A lot of people go through it. Tonight you gotta find a way to block that out and play a quality hockey game. But yeah, definitely not your normal game in the regular season.”
From an unprecedented breakout during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, tying the NHL single season wins record, a Vezina Trophy win, and his iconic save that helped propel the Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory in 2018, the list of memories is a long one for Holtby, however, the answer to what is most memorable from his time in the District is an easy one.
“The people. You know, hockey is obviously what we do, but there is a lot outside of it. The relationships you make and people that helped you in different ways. You’re kinda forever grateful for. I remember [former Capitals Goaltending Coach] Mitch Korn always used to tell me ‘it’s a game of people, not pucks’. That kinda stuck with me. That’s where my family grew up, that’s home for me. So it’s pretty special to see these people again and catch up a bit.”
On the people who played the biggest role in his success in Washington, it once again came down to the individuals who he worked alongside.
”It would be a pretty long list. There’s a big group that’s still there from when I first got drafted. Whether it’s players or teammates or even coaches. There’s a big group of people. It would be hard to list off everyone, because as everyone knows it takes a big group to make these ships run, so it would be hard.”
While he has seen the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov numerous times during practices with the Caps, facing them in game action will be another avenue entirely for Holtby.
“I don’t know. It’s always interesting to play against ex-teammates even, you kinda recognize them quicker on the ice, and that sort of thing, so it will definitely be different to have so many. But you just need to read and react out there. They’ve shot on me that many times so they know me as well as I know them too, so it’s just about going out there and playing hockey.”
When Holtby established himself as the Capitals’ number one goaltender, it was due to a rash of injuries to the team’s NHL goaltenders at the time. He helped propel the Caps over the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round and became a household name. As he reached the 500-game milestone earlier this season, and approaches 300 career victories, he touched on the journey he took.
“I was pretty nervous, obviously getting put in it’s different. There’s too much going on to process, so I remember my first game, my first start a little bit better. I had my dad and my dad’s best friends to see it, it’s a long time ago but you remember those moments. It seems like a long time ago now, but it’s a long time, especially the wins. The wins are one thing, but the wins come from the team, everyone involved. So that’s more special and pretty fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have that success and when you start, you need certain breaks and people to believe in you and I had that. It could have easily gone the other way like a lot of people in this game, so pretty fortunate there was a really good team there, and people that believed in me to do the job as well.”
On facing the shot of Alex Ovechkin and his longtime former teammate, Holtby answered with a wry smile.
“More when I was young, we had to switch ends for that. He’s obviously a special talent as everyone knows. I don’t think you can face that as many times as you want, it’s going to change every time, so tonight it’s read and react, make yourself big.”
By Jon Sorensen and Michael Fleetwood