One of the things we like to do on The Pipeline Show is catch up with players who we talked to during their junior years who are now stepping up to the pro level. One such player is netminder Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.
We first started talking to and about Holtby back in 2006 when he was in his rookie year with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. In an on-air interview with WHL broadcater Cam Moon, we asked who the next big goalie coming up in the WHL might be and a 16-year-old Holtby was the name that came up. Since then we've seen him backstop the Blades to the top of the WHL's Eastern Conference, get drafted in the 4th round by the Washinton Capitals in 2008 and finish his junir career was one of the most promising goalie prospects coming out of the CHL.
It was time for us to catch up with Holtby and see how he's making out as a rookie in the American Hockey League with the defending champs, the Hershey Bears, and we did so on TPS this past week.
I'd set the interview up with Braden the day before and so we had no idea that when we actually started the interview that the 20-year-old would have some breaking news for us but that's exactly how things got going after Dean simply said to him: "Tell us how things are going for you."
"Things have been going really great here in Hershey and even better as of about half an hour ago that I got the call from Washington that [José] Theodore got hurt and so I'm on my way up there right now!"Obviously the timing couldn't have been anymore perfect for us but also for Hotlby and his dad who just so happened to be in town to watch his kid play. Mr. Hotlby is a former WHL netminder who also played for the Saskatoon Blades so there has always been a tight bond further strengthened by their shared junior experiences. Dad never played in the NHL though but now he's able to share that new experience first hand with Braden.
Even though all his focus at the moment was clearly looking ahead to Washington, we were calling to talk about his year thus far with the Hershey Bears and Holtby began by commenting on the making the jump from the WHL to the AHL.
"It's been a whirlwind. I've spent most of the season going up and down between the [ECHL] South Carolina Sting Rays and the Hershey Bears. It seems like I haven't been settled in one place for more than two weeks."
Holtby ended last season by being around the Bears as a spectator as they won the AHL's Calder Cup, a first hand experience that has helped him on the ice this year.
"It was huge! Especially getting to see and learn how players have to prepare and perform to be successful at this level. Getting to know what the coaches expect, even what the fans expect here in Hershey."It's a tough scenario for a young goalie in the Capitals organization these days. José Theodore is a long time NHL veteran, Semyon Varlamov stepped into a playoff series last year and had success and Michal Neuvirth was between the pipes for Hershey when they won the title. Holtby was asked if it's an intimidating situation for him when he looks at the depth chart.
"It is and it isn't. What I really look at is that there is no extreme stability in net in Washington; there's no [Martin] Brodeur, there's no [Roberto] Luongo in net so there is a lot of opportunity. The one thing that I believe that whole time is that if you are a good enough goaltender to play in the NHL then it will come no matter what. It might not be with the team that you were drafted by and it might happen three teams down the road or it might be with Washington. I believe if I keep working hard and having success at the AHL level that I'll get my shot."As a junior, Holtby was always a goalie that received a major workload and as a rookie this year he's having to adjust to playing half the time as opposed to almost every night.
"It's tough to compare. In Saskatoon I was there all season and there was the bus rides and travel. Here, all my days off have been spent in the airport. This almost feels like I've played more games. The first couple of months have felt like training camp in the fact that I've been living out of hotels and trying to battle for my spot. I was lucky in Saskatoon to have stability there knowing that Lorne Molleken had the confidence in me to play me in every game. Here it's a different story; I'm a rookie again and I have to prove myself."Dean then asked Holtby to talk about working with goalie coach Arturs Irbe and I jokingly added that I hoped he wasn't taking lessons from the Latvian on how to play the puck.
"[Irbe] is such a character, you can never be unhappy around him. Even if you're down in a situation he's the guy that will crack a joke and you'll be right back to where you started. He's probably had more unusual experiences than anyone else; born in Latvia, battled to get to and play in the NHL, I think he was in the ECHL as a 38-year-old. He's seen a thing or two and he's a guy that really wants to share his experiences with you. If I have any questions he's always more than willing to help out.
"He... (laughing) he hasn't taught me too many technical aspects. He told me to battle as hard as I can and stop the puck no matter what comes in handy in the end."With a 1.82 GAA and a .935 save percentage, is this the best that Holtby has ever played?
"I think I'm playing fairly well right now. I've had my fair share of success here, stats wise. One thing that I've really had to adjust to in Hershey here is that we have such a strong team that we'll go ten minutes in the other team's end and then there will be a scoring chance [against] so it's been more of a test mentally that way."There is a lot of positive energy around the organization right now; the Capitals are a top team in the NHL, the Bears are defending champs and contenders again this year. I asked Holtby if that winning atmosphere breeds proper development. "Yes. They spend a lot of time with their minor league club and the depth that they have at every position is second to none. They're not scared to take their time with their prospects which is one thing that all of us young guys have really noticed. They want to make sure that [Karl Alzenr and John Carlson] are ready to step in and make an impact. They've been very honest with me in terms of what they expect."
Finally, we asked Holtby to comment on his old partner in Saskatoon, Adam Morrison who was drafted by Philadelphia.
"Me and Adam are very close and I stay in touch with him about once a week. He's obviously got a ton of talent, he's a big kid and he probably works harder than anyone in the WHL. I think he's experiencing some trouble this year with putting too much pressure on himself. I believe I'm going to see a lot of Adam in a couple of years playing against him so I don't want to say too many good things about him because he's going to be my rival pretty soon!"To hear the complete interview with Braden Holtby, click the link at the top of the page.