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Holtby another hot goalie prospect for Capitals

by Lindsay Kramer
A few days of down time was looking pretty good to South Carolina Stingrays rookie goalie Braden Holtby last week.

When you are as mobile as he's been lately, that's probably a bit of a pipe dream. Holtby, 20, started his season by swinging through three leagues in three cities in a matter of a few days. His mind and spirit were willing; his body, not so much.

"I think I'm coming down with a bit of a cold. The last week or so, it's been a lot of short nights," he said last week. "I think it's starting to wear down on my body. But a couple of days' rest and I should be OK."

The Washington Capitals organization hopes so. Even in a system teeming with young netminders, Holtby looks like yet another one who will refuse to be ignored.

Holtby, a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2008, made a flashy debut with the defending Calder Cup champ Hershey Bears in early October, going 2-1 with a .967 save percentage and 1.01 goals-against average. He was then sent down to practice one day with the Stingrays before an immediate recall to back up for Washington's game against the Nashville Predators. A day later, he was sent back to South Carolina, presumably to play a lot more and start creating a foothold for himself.

As soon as his head stopped spinning, that is.

"There's a lot of things on my mind," Holtby said. "Getting down here, you've been feeding off adrenaline the last couple of weeks. When it's not there, you don't know what to do. Being down here and playing in a league where you are going to see a lot of scoring opportunities, I think I'm going to use that to my advantage. Just being able to be ready for them when it comes in a game, those are the moments when great goalies are born."

Holtby the person was born to a father, Greg, who was a former junior goalie himself, and a mother, Tami, who is a country singer. Guess which talent Braden inherited. Can he carry a tune?

"Not really. I try," he said. "It only comes out around the campfire."

But stopping pucks, now that was a different matter. Greg saw to that. The two used to go to the basement in the family home in Marshall, Saskatchewan, (pop: 633) and not come up until hunger beckoned. Greg was Braden's goalie coach until his second season with the Saskatoon Blades.

"He always shot on me," Braden recalled. "I convinced him, in the basement, to throw on the street hockey gear. We had some battles. He's been a big help in getting me this far. The goaltending part, he's the sole reason I'm here right now. We'd usually come up from the basement soaked in sweat."

Braden played three full seasons with Saskatoon before getting in line to take the net somewhere in the Caps' system. It's a competition as fierce as any he'll face from an opponent. Semyon Varlamov, all of 21, is already in Washington. Michal Neuvirth, also 21, is one of the best AHL goalies in Hershey.

"I think one thing about Braden is that he realizes that given the Washington organization right now, he has to be patient. The bottom line is if he maintains his composure, he will be better off in the long run," said Stingrays coach Cail MacLean.

"You know, there's obviously positives and negatives," Holtby said of the logjam. "If you are good enough to play in the NHL, it's not going to matter who's in front of you. You can't be focusing on if you, when you, are going to get a shot. You just have to focus on getting better. You can't think about it. It will just stress you out."

"You know, there's obviously positives and negatives. If you are good enough to play in the NHL, it's not going to matter who's in front of you. You can't be focusing on if you, when you, are going to get a shot. You just have to focus on getting better. You can't think about it. It will just stress you out."
-- Braden Holtby

Holtby has an extended support system to help him out in that regard. A former goalie coach, John Stevenson, is also a sports psychologist. Holtby checks in with him when the tension level starts to gurgle upward. For instance, Holtby spoke with him before playing in Hershey's home opener Oct. 3. Stevenson's advice was to live and play in the moment, that all the preparation Holtby had put in over the years had led to this time. Holtby then made 23 saves in a 3-1 win against Norfolk.

"He's a lot smarter than I am, that's for sure," Holtby said. "Whenever I am down, I try to give him a call so I get in the right state of mind. The biggest thing is I realize I have all the expertise I have around me. It's just a matter of me putting it to good use. It's just on me now. I feel pretty lucky to be in this situation right now."

That's where Holtby's chance to catch his breath with the Stingrays comes into play. Even if he's there for awhile, Holtby doesn't see himself settling in as much as gearing up for another chance to make a move.

"The biggest thing you can gain down here is mental strength to battle back from you not being where you want to be right now. If I end up being here for a week, the whole season, I'm sure it will be for a good reason," Holtby said. "This is the year I'm going to try and figure this thing out, get a handle on this thing. I have a pretty good work ethic. It's going to take me where I want to be someday."

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