Braden Holtby signed a two-year deal worth $4.3 million per year on the first day of free agency. The Lloydminster, SK native spent parts of 10 seasons in Washington, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup two years later. But off the ice, Holtby made just as big of an impact. From skipping the team’s White House visit in protest to standing up for equality, Holtby stood with the LGBTQ+ community and always tried to help those most vulnerable.
During his opening interview with Canucks media, Holtby was at times on the verge of tears describing his time in Washington.
“This year has been tough kind of knowing that it was probably the end,” Holtby said. “Not easy. You make a lot of good relationships. I used to work with Mitch Korn, the goaltending coach in Washington, and he always said this game is not a game of pucks, it’s a game of people. You really know that’s true in a situation like that.
“It’s going to be tough. A lot of really good friends and people you care a lot about you. But that’s how life is.”
When Holtby’s signing was announced, the Capitals thanked Braden in a statement, calling him “one of the best goalies of his era.”
“Braden has built a legacy both on and off the ice that will have a lasting impact on our organization and on our community,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan wrote.
The team (and Tom Wilson) later published an emotional tribute video.
“It was almost ten years so that was home,” Holtby said. “Just the people there, the team, the organization, the amount of ups and downs we went through. It’s the experiences I’ll never forget. It’s always going to hold that special place in my family’s heart. Tough to leave any situation. But that’s life and you move on. You just look at the positives and you really appreciate that experience and use that experience to move forward too.”
During his time in DC, Holtby donated his time and money to help build a gym for kids at Hendley Elementary School in DC’s Ward 8. He helped raise money to help provide tens of thousands of meals during the coronavirus pandemic.
In February 2017, Holtby was named the Caps’ LGBTQ-inclusion ambassador by the NHL, serving as a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Holtby also raised thousands of dollars for You Can Play after wearing a custom-designed mask during Hockey Is For Everyone month. For his dedication to the cause, Holtby received the DC Pride Ally Award. Holtby also spoke at the 2018 Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner and was one of a handful of Capitals players who skipped the team’s White House celebration with President Trump.
After George Floyd’s murder due to police brutality, Holtby released a powerful statement saying that “America will never be great until all BLACK lives matter.”
“That’s just the way our family views the world,” Holtby said. “We believe in equality and people being treated the right way. That’s just the way we live our lives. I don’t know the city of Vancouver well enough yet to do that, but that’s the way we live. If that voice needs to be heard, we believe we need to do our part that way. We just want to create the best world for our children and the future generations that we can.”
Holtby will wear number 49 and joins former Capitals teammates Jay Beagle and Nate Schmidt in Vancouver. He will also look to mentor 24-year-old emerging star Thatcher Demko.
One of the first things Braden Holtby did after signing with Canucks was ask for Thatcher Demko’s phone number. Holtby has to perform, but sounds like he’s going to be good teammate/mentor.
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) October 9, 2020
Here’s the rest of Holtby’s interview with Canucks media.
When your friend Jay Beagle, he talked about how fast the career goes by. He was brought here for his leadership. You’re not at a stage, the team would look at you for leadership and a mentor for Thatcher Demko. How much do you embrace that role in your career?
Braden Holtby: You can always be viewed as a leader if you actually lead. That’s always been my goal. When you mentioned Jay, that’s the way he is. I don’t think he ever wants to be a leader. He just is. That’s just his natural personality and talents. We played a long time together and we viewed the game a similar way in order to have success. I think the older you get, the more you can play that experience and can help use it in the right way. It can help others and help other teammates and the team in general. My goal is to use that. It’s not going to be a crutch because you really only live in today. The past is only so useful. For the moment, it’s not much to dwell on. I’m going to try and use that to best of my abilities but it’s more about focusing on the moment.
You were the starter for so long in Washington, but in Vancouver, it’ll be more of a tandem. Do you know much about Thatcher Demko?
Braden Holtby: I don’t know a ton obviously [about him]. Things are different in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. I think the way this next season is going to be and probably the next couple, it’s going to be a condensed schedule. It’s going to be a grind and you’re going to have to have two guys that can win games for you. I think in order to have success as a team and to win a championship, I think you need to have two goalies that are going to get you there. Everything I’ve heard speaks to how much talent he has and how good of a goaltender he is. That’s exciting. You want to be able to push each other and have success that way. That’s really exciting to me. Put some young blood into me too. It’s always fun to work with the young guys and see a different way too and you can learn a lot from them.
Based on your numbers last year, where do you think your game is at currently?
Braden Holtby: Obviously, last year was a bit of a struggle at times. It didn’t go as planned. After things kind of shut down, it was kind of a blessing in disguise. Myself and Scott Murray (the goalie coach in Washington) broke things down and found some different ways to train and when we came back I felt as good as I have been in a long time. I think that’s just the way things go sometimes; it’s up or down, you just keep working as hard as you can. The way last season was, especially at the end, I felt really strong and excited to keep going that way with the start of a new season.
Was goaltending coach Ian Clark one of the reasons why you signed with Vancouver?
Braden Holtby: It was definitely big. I know how much a good relationship and the talent of a goalie coach can go. That was definitely a big part of really wanting to come to Vancouver and a good chance of success.
It’s a long time since you played in Canada. How did that factor into your decision?
Braden Holtby: Obviously, I’ve never been through [free agency] before. It’s very different. There are a lot of different things that factor in. My two kind of things I was looking for was a place where there was an extremely good chance of winning and it’s going to be a good fit for my family. Being closer out west is something that was very intriguing for us as our kids get older. A good team in a good Canadian city can be real exciting. That’s part of the reason I’m looking forward to getting things rolling.
Walk us through the process of free agency for you. This year was obviously different due to the flat cap and the pandemic.
Braden Holtby: We tried to figure out as best we could. As you know, everything is different this year. A different way of life in a lot of ways. I knew that, my family did, my agent did. You go with it. I let him know the places I had on my list and he found it. Luckily it was able to work out. The best of all scenarios. It’s not an experience that I think is that fun for anyone not knowing and all that. I’m excited to now have it over with and going to a great team, a great city, and move on from there.
How much different was it from what you envisioned when your contract was up?
Braden Holtby: Obviously, I didn’t really know what it was like too much. I thought probably a clearer picture early on. But the way things go on, you just really (realize) a lot was up in the air. It’s very different, but I think it’s nice to have that load off. Now you can just move on and focus on the team, the Canucks, and winning and that’s as far as it goes now.
What was the situation like with so many goalies available? Did that impact the way it went with you?
Braden Holtby: Yeah. Kinda strange. Coming into it, I didn’t really pay much attention to that, but as you got down, you realize there’s a lot of really good goalies out there. They kind of all came up at the same time. That obviously changed things with the way the market places this year. It was a lot of uncertainty but I’m really thankful that’s in the past now. It worked out perfectly.
Did you consider the mesh of your playing style with how the team defends when signing?
Braden Holtby: It does and doesn’t, I guess. With the fact that you try to know your strength, that’s one of the most important things of having success is knowing yourself. I’m a guy that believes in hard work and competitiveness and a hard style of hockey. You see a lot of the players on the Canucks and I think that fits right into that mold. I just want to bring what I can contribute to that part to help win and have success. From an outsider looking in, I think it’s going to be a great fit. I’m really excited to get after it.
Do you leave Washington with satisfaction with everything you were able to accomplish?
Braden Holtby: I think that’s a good question. I think so. We accomplished what we wanted to do there. We won a championship and I think that’s nothing you can ever take away. It was very important to that city and that organization and my time there that we did it, we accomplished what we wanted to. This year coming up it’s time to move that drive and that energy into new things. That’s why it was very important to find a team that has that same chance and same structure of an organization. A team that can win. That’s what you play for. That’s the opportunity that we have in Vancouver. It’s very exciting to me.
Did the pandemic make you strongly consider playing in Canada over the US?
Braden Holtby: I don’t know if it played too much into it. I don’t think myself or my family is one to run from uncertainty be it outside of hockey or anything. In saying that, Canada’s home. That’s just the way it is. If not all, most Canadians feel that way. That’s exciting. You always want to play in Canada as a hockey player. I don’t think it played too much into our decision whether it’s north or south of the border. It was about the team and the opportunity.
The last 15 years, the goaltending in Vancouver is very good. You’re replacing Jacob Markstrom who was the Team MVP over the last few years. How did that effect your thought process?
Braden Holtby: It doesn’t play into my thoughts too much. I’ve never really been one to compare myself to other goaltenders. I compare myself to whether we win or lose. The goal is to win. That’s not about a goaltender and not about any individuals. It’s about the team finding a way to do that and my focus is on myself is using the talents I have and what I feel like I bring to a team to accomplish that goal. It’s living in the moment now and try to accomplish what we want to do.
Screenshot courtesy of Vancouver Canucks
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