Braden Holtby is excited that he might get the chance to partner with someone other than fellow Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth at the end of the month. But it has nothing to do with Neuvirth’s comments about Holtby being his “weakest competition” yet in the Capitals’ crease.
“He texted me and apologized, but it was blown up too big,” Holtby told InGoal from the summer home he bought last year in the Alberta-Saskatchewan border town of Lloydminster. “I have known Michal for a long time and I know what he was trying to say, and I believe it’s the right thing when you figure he had a guy drafted in front of him [Semyon Varlamov], to an NHL veteran [Tomas Vokoun] in front of him, to a guy [Holtby] who is younger than him. So I understand what he was trying to say and I don’t blame him one bit.”
So what had Holtby excited about a possible split from Neuvirth?
With all signs pointing to an NHL lockout Sept. 15 and uncertainty about when the season will start, the 22-year-old was just happy to have a place to play. Holtby said his two-way contract and the fact he doesn’t have to clear waivers – the very thing that made it easy for the Capitals to sign Vokoun to a surprise discount contract last summer and abandon plans to start Holtby in the NHL – should allow him to start the season with Hershey in the American Hockey League.
“It’s definitely the first time I am happy to go to the AHL, that’s for sure,” Holtby said with a laugh. “It’s a fortunate situation for me out of an unfortunate one with the lockout looming over us. I’m just looking forward to getting on the ice again, and hopefully they get the CBA figured out soon enough that I’ll be back in Washington.”
Holtby has been working hard all summer to prepare for that return after finishing last season as the Capitals playoff starter – and breakout star. Thrust into the job after injuries to Neuvirth and Vokoun, Holtby posted a .935 save percentage while backstopping a first-round upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins before losing to the New York Rangers in another seven-game series in the second round.
The job in Washington that was supposed to be his last season after Varlamov was traded to Colorado will undoubtedly now belong to Holtby whenever the NHL season starts. And as Canucks prospect Eddie Lack told InGoal last week after signing a two-way contract for this season, if he gets to warm up in the AHL while everyone else gets rusty during an NHL lockout, it can’t hurt.
As for his eventual return to a locker room that includes Neuvirth, who was also blunt in his assessment of other past and present teammates, Holtby doesn’t foresee any issues. Neuvirth has always spoken matter-of-factly, but without ill will.
“That’s basically Michal right there,” he said. “Michal and I have always got along very well and I’m excited to work with him this year. It’s something I don’t think anyone on our team is going to think twice about. It’s not going to affect us at all.”
Holtby spoke to InGoal for an hour about his preparations for the upcoming season, including why they no longer include 3-on-3 and how he uses Yoga to improve both flexibility and mental strength. He also talked about the balance between innate athleticism and improving technique, and how a unique upbringing between the pipes helped him find it without becoming predictably reliable on one or the other.
Look for Holtby and that story on the cover of the new issue of InGoal Magazine next week.