While still with the Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars netminder Braden Holtby got a piece of hockey advice from goalie coach Mitch Korn that he still carries with him to this day: “It’s a game of people, not pucks.”
The 32-year-old goaltender reflected on his career and time with the Capitals as he prepares to face them for the first time. He caught up with some of his former teammates already but admits that it’s been a strange experience to see them as his opponents.
“It feels weird,” Holtby said with a smile in his pre-game presser. “It feels really weird, especially seeing them over there. Spent a lot of time on that side, so it’s definitely different. But a lot of people go through it. Just find a way to block that out and play a quality hockey game. Definitely not your normal game in the regular season.”
Holtby spent 10 years with the Capitals, going from 2008 fourth-rounder and Hershey Bears call-up in 2012 to a Vezina-winning goalie. He played a total of 468 games for the District and posted a 282-122-8 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.53 GAA over that span. He set multiple franchise records with the club and was responsible for leading Washington to its first-ever Stanley Cup Championship in 2018.
“I’m pretty fortunate to have been given that opportunity to have that success, you know, when you start, you need certain breaks here and there and things to go right and people to believe in you, and I had that,” Holtby said. “It could have easily went the other way like a lot of people in this game. So pretty fortunate. There’s a really good team, basically every year we played there and people that believed in me to do the job as well.”
But, beyond the hardware and the numbers, it’s the friendships and legacy that No. 70 has built that have meant the most to him.
“It’s the people. Hockey’s obviously what we do, but there’s a lot outside of it. The relationships you make and the people that helped you in different ways, you’re kind of forever grateful for,” Holtby said, adding, “That’s where my family grew up, it’s home for me. It’s pretty special to see these people again and catch up.”
Holtby left the Capitals to sign with Vancouver back in 2020, but the pandemic delayed his reunion with the team. The Canucks then bought out Holtby’s deal, and he signed a one-year contract with Dallas for 2021-22. So far, the Stars have been a good home for him, as he has gone 9-8-1 with a .917 SV% and 2.60 GAA.
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This game has been marked on Holtby’s calendar for quite a bit, and he’ll also get to have his homecoming on March 20 when Dallas visits D.C. Ultimately, it’ll be strange to face his old teammates, but he’s excited for the new experience and will try to approach it like any other game.
“It’s kind of strange to have such a long break from playing my last game to playing against them,” Holtby noted. “So it’s been obviously a lot of time to reflect, and I think new situations, you learn some things and you also appreciate things more that you may have taken for granted before. Just the connections you make with the city, the people. Anyone can say that, when you move you reflect and kind of take things in a new light and appreciate the small things a little more.
“It’s always interesting playing against ex-teammates, you kind of recognize them quicker on the ice and that sort of thing… tendencies come in a little bit, but really, you just need to read and react out there. They’ve shot on me many times, too, so they know me as well as I know them. so it’s just about going out and just playing hockey.”