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Braden Holtby Wasn’t Full-Time Goalie Until Age 12

Braden Holtby Wasn’t Full-Time Goalie Until Age 12
Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Washington Capitals at age 25, but he didn’t start being a full-time goaltender until he was 12 years old. (InGoal Photo by Scott Slingsby)

Braden Holtby is 25 years old. He just signed a five-year contract worth $30.5 million. But before any more hockey parents go running out to sign their eight or nine year old child up for an extra week of goalie camp this summer, consider this: Holtby didn’t even start playing the position full time until he was 12 years old.

In fact, Holtby credits that decision, made by his father, Greg, for developing many of the skills that led him to the NHL and this summer’s big pay day.

Not that Holtby was completely on board with his dad’s way of thinking at the time. He wanted to be a goaltender all the time, every time. But his father played for the Saskatoon Blades of the Major Junior Western Hockey League in the mid-1980s, and as a product of the pre-butterfly era that meant a strong emphasis on skating at a young age for his son.

So rather than send Braden to position-specific schools at an early age, Greg insisted his son also play out as long as he could. As a result, the younger Holtby was still splitting time between forward and goal until he was 12.

“Being a goaltending himself he knew what being a goaltender was later on in life as opposed to being a kid where you like the equipment, you like making the big glove saves and whatnot,” said Holtby, who was still playing as a forward during summer ball hockey and shinny sessions when he talked to InGoal Magazine for a cover story in 2012. “He really encouraged me to play as a forward and a goaltender until I was forced by the team to make a decision, so I played both up until peewee, which really helped develop my skating, helped develop my puck handling, all those other things you wouldn’t really get by choosing to be just a goaltender at a really young age.

“I was always confused back then why he wanted me to keep playing both when all I really wanted to be was a goaltender. But now it’s one of my biggest benefits.”

Holtby isn’t alone in that belief. Long before he became the goaltending coach in Washington and helped Holtby to his franchise record-setting season last year, long-time NHL goalie coach Mitch Korn shared a similar ideal while answering a parent’s question about his nine-year-old playing rep hockey during an InGoal Ask A Pro Session:

“There’s lots that goes into this decision, and we’re talking about a nine-year-old,” Korn responded. “And if you want to know something else, personally I don’t believe a nine-year-old should be a full-time goalie. I don’t believe anybody should be a full-time goalie in the States until they reach the pee wee level, which is 11 years old. I think a squirt, which here is 9 and 10 year olds, there should be two goalies on the team and when you are not playing goalie you are skating out because that’s how you develop skill, that’s how you learn the game, that’s how you learn to skate.

“I believe that at what we call the mite or atom level here – if they are six, seven, eight years old – everybody should have a shot at goalie,” Korn continued, “Like `this is your week, you get the gear, you get to practice Wednesday and play the game on Saturday.’ And then it’s somebody else’s turn. And then you find out whether you like it or don’t like it, they all get to experience it. That’s what this is about and then two kids kind of settle into it at the next level and then a full time goalie at age 11. People used to ask about goalie skates and you know what, the old goalie skate, the way we used to play, it mattered more. I don’t think it matters that much now. You don’t need to get an eight year old into a goalie skate.”

You can read how Braden Holtby likes to set up his CCM EFlex 2 equipment by clicking on this photo.

Read how Holtby likes to set up his CCM EFlex 2 equipment by clicking on this photo.

It’s often easier to say than do, especially with pressure from parents, peers and especially coaches to play at the highest level or risk falling behind at an early age, if not in actual skill development, then in perception. But if the long list of studies about the importance of playing other sports in the summer and developing physical literacy by not becoming position specific at too young an age aren’t enough to convince you, maybe the words of Korn and Holtby will help. After all, Holtby didn’t have a goalie coach until he was 16 years old.

Up until that point, his dad filled the role,  starting in the basement and backyard rinks of the family farm in Marshall, Saskatchewan, stressing the raw skills that continue to serve him well in the NHL.

“When I was growing up I always wanted my dad to be my goalie coach and I never envisioned it being any different,” Holtby told InGoal. “But it got to a point – and he’s the first to admit it – that I reached a level he didn’t know enough about any more with the technical stuff, and he was learning at the same stage I was.”

So, as 16-year-old playing midget, Holtby was sent to work with John Stevenson, who was the Blades goaltending coach at the time. His dad came too, and together they got a more modern perspective on the position they loved.

“He got as much out of it as I did,” Holtby said. “It was fun to go through that with him and talk about different things in goaltending and learn side by side. Before then my dad and the TV were basically my two teachers.”

You can read the entire article on Holtby from the 2012 offseason in the InGoal Magazine archives:

Braden Holtby was featured in the October edition of InGoal Magazine.

Braden Holtby was featured in the October edition of InGoal Magazine.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

7 Comments

  1. Geoff

    Braden Holtby had what you call a career year. He looked really good last year but has been a no show all other years. If he continues to perform from now on then he deserves the contract but everything thing I’ve seen from him so far tells me he will dive again next year.
    The problem is that there are not many really good goalies in the league and when they have 1 good year they throw cash at him and hope that works. Well, if nothing else he will be rich for the rest of his life.
    Does anyone remember Jim Carey.

    Reply
    • Michelle

      Are you serious? His only subpar year was 2013-14 when Adam Oates tried to make him change his playing style mid-year, and even then his SV% was .915. Every other year since he came into the league he’s been over .920, hardly a “no show”, and his playoff performance has been even better. Virtually every stat tracked puts him in or near the top 10 goalies all time and he looks even better when compared to others to the same point in their careers. Maybe do some research before you post.

      Reply
  2. Brent

    Geoff,
    Really I challenge you to look at the nhl goalie stats the last few years. Top goaltender hands down in every category.
    Good lord man

    Reply
  3. Evan

    Jim Carey had no lateral movement. Quite the opposite with Holtby.

    Reply
  4. DaveG

    Love this article. I have an 8 year old who desperately wants to be a goalie. Luckily this year (novice) we have to rotate through the team. Next year the pressure starts (age 9) for full time goalies, which is ridiculous. I’ve told him the same as Holtby’s dad – not until you are 12. I would love to see more articles like this about when nhl goalies started full time. At a hockey canada coaching clinic last year I was told that Finnish goalies specialize at age 14. Given the disproportionate number of Finnish goalies v Canadian goalies in the NHL, maybe we can learn something and actually create a consistent and competent goalie and goalie coaching program in Canada?

    Reply
  5. Robert A

    Hi just read the article about Holtby my son is 13 plays in goal. He has been in goal since he was 7 as he was asked to play in goal and he did he picked it up pretty quickly the coaches kept him in goal. He started as an out player but his coaches were happy to keep him between the pipes,he enjoys playing in goal but he has recently in a bit of a slump his glove hand has been week and that was one of his strong part of his game he also trains MMA I’m wondering weather this activity is slowing down his reflexes. He plays at a good level he is a bit down about not making England U14. Does anyone think doing MMA may be affecting his game any advice would be appreciated thanks Rob

    Reply
    • tyler

      MMA is a broad category as it incorporates a bunch of different fighting styles but for example boxing (which is part of MMA) could be thought to encourage arm/hand speed and strength which is should help gaining control and improve coordination with his limbs i.e. this should be good for peripheral/limb responses in net. I believe their is an article somewhere on this site talking about how Mike Condon does MMA training in the off season. How much this helps him, only really he knows to what degree that makes a difference. However, in my mind training your subconscious to dodge incoming objects might not be the best idea (aka incoming punches and jabs). Also I know for me personally participating in boxing a few times banged up my knuckles. Maybe this could slightly slow the ability to close you glove hand efficiently? But that should only be temporary. The last unlikely cause I could think of is if he is taking too many hits to the head. Maybe this could be slightly slowing down some of his neurological response time, but I doubt it unless he participates in a lot of fights. Although since its only one side struggling in particular, it tells me its probably not anything neurological and is most likely a technical issue. Be sure the glove isn’t too big and he can close it without issue. Technically this website provides more than enough articles to discuss hand positioning to address any technical details. But some quick two second advice, make sure he keeps both of his hands out and in front of his body, when the hands aren’t out in front they may sometimes become kind of attached to the body and drop as he goes down which then forces him to react up from that down position for glove and blocker shots. So for really any shot in the house (high scoring zone) where he’s going to be slightly pre-dropping this issue will come into affect. Many goalies have this issue who over use a drop and block mentality.

      Reply

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