20 April, 2014


Why Braden Holtby Is Successful

There was one lesson I learned very early on covering the Capitals: look forward to the development and preseason camps, because you have a chance to interview Braden Holtby.

I had a lot of hockey learning to do at the first development camp I covered in ’09—so much, in fact, that I didn’t even realize I’d asked the director of media relations at the time, Nate Ewell, where I could find the PR contact I’d been corresponding with about covering the camp (Kelly Murray, who put up with my rather clueless initial email about interview requests).  And Braden—as young as he was then—was very patient with my questions. I could ask him about things like Jim Craig’s mind technique in the 1980 Olympics, and Braden would always give answers that helped clarify a goalie’s mindset—or at least as much as a “civilian” like me could understand.

I learned a lot, so I got into the habit of bugging him at every camp he attended in D.C. I think eventually he got used to it—I always wonder what players think about reporters who consistently pepper them with odd questions; but Braden never laughed at them or showed annoyance, answering questions with the gravity of a professor–a trait he’s kept through this postseason.  He was polite, would remember me from summer to summer or September to September (depending on the camp), and always had good answers ready. One time, he came out of the locker room at Kettler still with a whole bunch of goalie equipment on, but he still sat down on the bench next to the rink and answered as many questions as I had.

I learned a lot about hockey, but I also learned a lot about the athlete and his mindset through these interviews. And this is something I think reporters rarely give enough weight to nowadays.

As a reporter, judging a player’s attitude as it relates to hockey is tricky. You only actually interact with them for a few moments each day; you may see them play on the ice for an hour or two each day. You may never really know much about what kind of person they are away from the rink. It seems much more reliable to go with what the accepted hockey wisdom is (don’t start young, inexperienced goalies in the playoffs) and statistics.  But you miss a key ingredient in your analysis if you do so.

When it comes to hockey, Braden Holtby is a perfectionist. He’s got the kind of edge that means he’ll never be taken for granted. He always plays like his last meal was four days ago. And he’s got sick skills. But he’s also a student of the game, and willing to adjust accordingly. And it’s that odd, cold, calm analytical aspect—one that you can hear in every postgame press conference, and one that you could decipher when he answered, as a 19 year old, random questions about the heart of a goaltender’s game—which tames the fury and polishes the talent, and makes him the kind of goalie that can keep his team right where they need to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It was kind of an odd moment to be sitting in the Verizon Center press box Thursday and hearing Holtby’s name announced as the starting goalie. Because we journalists have a tendency toward being egocentric and relating everything back to ourselves, it was fun to think back to all the times where there had been little media around Braden at all and you could sit and ask him questions for as long as you wanted.  In reality, I’m sure, many of the media have stories very similar to mine about chatting with him. But I got a sneaking suspicion Thursday that it’s going to be difficult to casually ask for a one-on-one interview with Holtby at a Caps training camp again without it being a big deal. I had already been surprised it hadn’t caught on this past September after his successful NHL debut the previous year.

It was obvious, too, as the evening progressed. In the locker room after Thursday’s game, you couldn’t escape Holtby’s influence. I didn’t even go into his media scrum (one of the largest groups of the night, I’m happy to report), but he was often the subject of the other scrums I was in with other players. I think Brooks Laich got asked about Holtby’s awesomeness at least three separate times.

But what really encourages me is that I’ve seen little to no change in any of those characteristics that told me I should put so much confidence in Holtby’s goaltending to begin with. He’s still searching for perfection. He’s still learning and adjusting. And his analytical side of the game appears as sharp as ever–or at least his ability to communicate that.

I think that’s why he’s so successful, and it explains why he can bounce back when all the numbers and all the pundits in the world are stumped. This isn’t to say Holtby won’t struggle in the future or cost the Caps a few games here and there. But I am not the least bit surprised by Holtby’s successful play in this postseason.

The star was there early on for anyone who cared to see it.



8 Comments

  1. Phil S wrote:

    I love Holtby and the success the Caps are having. But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than what it is – outrageously good luck. The Caps possession stats were horrible last night – shot after shot directed at their net. If they keep playing like that, the %’s will likely catch up to them. I hope they don’t of course. As a Caps fan, I certainly think we’re due for the good puck luck we are presently experiencing in the playoffs. But let’s not pretend it’s anything other than that. Just as the teams from 08-11 did not deserve all the grief for “lack of heart, lack of will, lack of character” that they received when they lost, so this team, and Holtby do not deserve to be elevated beyond anything but what is really happening on the ice – pure good fortune. And about damn time it is too for some to accrue to the Caps and Caps fans. Let us hope it continues.

    20 April, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  2. Patrick wrote:

    The Caps defensive game has been stellar, not taking anything away from Holtby, but you are correct, Phil, they need to spend far more time in the opposition’s end of the ice. I am thoroughly impressed by their commitment to keeping the shots from the outside and blocking out the blueline slappers, but at some point the bumps and bruises are going to become injuries. The more time they spend in opposing teams’ end the less physical sacrifices they will need.
    Luckily, OV seems to be sparing himself any grief/energy in that end of the ice! Wake up, Alex, or you will not be on the ice for much of this series. This coach doesn’t go for that kind of player. If it wasn’t for his offensive spirts he would probably be watching from a box seat in Boston.

    20 April, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Patrick wrote:

    I also thought Erskine stepped into a series rought with emotion and intensity, after a VERY lengthy break in action, and played an extremely disciplined and focussed game. He makes bystanders in the crease accountable. Sorry Sarge, but I like his physicality and notable cannon. Because we can expect the Bruins to ramp up the net-presence, I think we need to keep Erskine in for the remainder of the series.
    Knuble also brought a spark of grit to the forecheck, but the Caps won’t trade Backstrom for another grinder. I think we should keep him on the shelf in case we need to replace one of the others, due to fatigue or injury. A fresh Knuble would handily replace a battle-weary Ward/Hendricks/etc.
    Cheers!

    20 April, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  4. @ PHIL: Fair point about luck. But by the same token, the Bruins have had their share of luck too (c.f. Chara’s Game 4 GWG off Hamrlik’s stick). Teams make their own luck — chance is a huge part of any game’s outcome, and all a team can do is play to improve their odds.

    Regardless, we all hope the Caps finish this off on Sunday and ride the wave much deeper into the playoffs!

    22 April, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink
  5. CapsEyes wrote:

    I’m a bit too old for name calling, but this is playoff time.

    When Chara started with the Sens, and he wasn’t very good, the fans didn’t know what to make of him, and would chant “Circus Freak” whenever he was on the ice. 

    Can’t see anyone liking being called “Circus Freak,” so perhaps 21,000+ fans in Verizon chanting that whenever he steps on ice might help rattle him. 

    Holtby is a God!!!

    22 April, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  6. HBH WC wrote:

    Liz,
    R U datin’ Braden?

    22 April, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  7. Re: HBH WC

    Most definitely not!!!! Purely objective analysis, but I’m stubborn when I think I’m right! ;-) And, ahem, not to rub it in, but I have been so far… ;-) If you get me into an argument about fancy stats vs. all inclusive approach, I’ll get just as passionate. Or why Tim Tebow should be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Promise.

    22 April, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  8. HBH WC wrote:

    Nice emphatic response!;~) Inquiring minds needed to know. I’m sure you understand, we here in central Pa like to see all of the past and current Bears achive success. So here’s hopin’ Braden ends up with his name on the Silver Chalice and he’s able to beat that Tea Party goalie. Oh…..one othe thing……….Tim Tebow????!!??

    22 April, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink