Vegas star Marc-Andre Fleury entered the 2018 Stanley Cup final with his name practically engraved on the Conn Smythe Trophy. Five games later, he was the second-best goalie in the series, and Washington’s Braden Holtby had his first NHL championship.
Holtby, a small-town farm boy, has been Washington’s starter for six seasons. He’s a Vezina and Jennings Trophy winner, a two-time all-star, and shares the NHL’s single-season wins record at 48.
A fourth-round pick in 2008, he joined the Capitals’ organization with little fanfare. His WHL team only made the playoffs once during his tenure. After he worked his way from the ECHL and AHL to D.C., he evolved his athletic style under goalie guru Mitch Korn, who saw a flashy netminder making too many saves with his glove or leg pads and not enough with his body. “You’re making the big saves, but some goals are going in that shouldn’t,” Holtby said. “I knew the problem was there, but I didn’t have a good game plan for fixing it until Mitch came along with different drills, video looking at different areas and teaching muscle memory in a way I had never really done before.”
In junior, Holtby had started working on the mental side of his game with goalie coach/sports psychologist John Stevenson. Even once Holtby got to the NHL, he could be fiery after a loss, but now he’s a cool customer. That took practice. “I was so competitive that I’d go out there and lose my focus without knowing it,” Holtby said. “I always thought being intense was part of being mentally strong, but it’s a little different.”
Nowadays, Holtby is one of the NHL’s elite. Despite a so-so 2017-18 that saw him cede the crease to Philipp Grubauer for the first two games of the playoffs, Holtby rebounded with a .922 save percentage once he got back in net. He didn’t win the Conn Smythe but was in the running. The technique is there, the mental game is there...and the Cup ring rounds it all out.
Born: Sept. 16, 1989, Lloydminster, Sask.
NHL Career: 2010-present
Stats: 225-89-35, 2.41 GAA, .919 SP, 32 SO
All-Star: 2 (First-1, Second-1)
Trophies: 1 (Vezina-1)
Stanley Cups: 1
DID YOU KNOW?
Tami Hunter Holtby, Braden’s mom, was Saskatchewan’s 1996 female vocalist of the year. Tami was a country singer back then, switching from rock ’n’ roll because country had more gig opportunities in western Canada.