Braden Holtby on his Holtbyisms
Braden Holtby may be a 21-year old with all of two NHL starts (and another soon to come), but he already has spawned a new hockey word: Holtbyisms. The goalie's pre-game and in-game routines became sort of legendary in Hershey last season, and they've already earned admirers during his brief stint in Washington. (For the background, see RMNB here, here and here.)
"I think they're such good fans in Hershey and Washington, they know what to look for," the young goalie told me this week. "They know a lot about hockey, and I guess when you know a lot about it you start to recognize those kind of things."
What kind of things? A few examples:
The Holtby Shuffle: Perhaps the most popular of Holtby's quirks, this involves the goaltender skating aggressively in place during the National Anthem in what looks like some sort of frantic exercise routine for middle-aged Floridian housewives. See above.
"My biggest fear on the ice, I guess, is getting flat-footed, because my game relies so much on being aggressive," he explained. "I don't know, I think if I can keep moving, it limits my thoughts, and those negative thoughts don't creep in as much. It's basically just another routine, go through the same things over in your head. You're looking at the net, visualizing certain saves. During the anthem, it's basically the only time you're on the ice and it's perfectly quiet, almost. Other than singing in the background."
As for the Holtby Shuffle name, "whatever makes people happy," he said.
The Pad Pound: This occurs out of sight, with Holtby slamming his stick into his pads before taking the ice in the dressing room or hallway.
"It's pretty loud," Karl Alzner told me. "It's hard not to notice."
"When I do it right, yeah, it's pretty loud," Holtby agreed. "I don't know why I do that. That's something that I've done for years in the dressing room. I think it probably annoys some people."
The Roy Routine: Russian Machine Never Breaks, perhaps the world's foremost authority on Holtbyisms, has reports of Holtby consistently hitting all the posts with his stick and then flipping a Gatorade bottle backwards into his glove at the conclusion of every period.
"I don't know why I do that, either," Holtby said. "Patrick Roy used to do that, and I guess that's something I just stuck with, because I did everything the same as him when I was growing up. Some of the things were bound to stick after a while."
Indeed, Holtby said he also modeled his aggressive goaltending style after Roy's.
The Pre-Game Catch: Dozens and dozens of NHL guys - including many Caps - regularly play pre-game soccer juggling games in the arena hallways. Holtby and Alzner instead have a catch, using baseball gloves and a baseball.
It started during the playoffs in Hershey, and since the team was winning they kept it up. Both men grew up playing baseball, with Holtby saying he was actually better at that sport, but lacked high-level coaching in midwestern Canada. He still plays fantasy baseball and misses the game, and he throws curves and knuckleballs and the whole bit to Alzner, who also mixes in ground balls and two-hoppers by the Verizon Center zamboni tunnel.
"He's a player," Alzner said. "You can tell. As soon as he picks the ball up, you can tell."
The Water Squirt: In one of his more impressive routines, Holtby squirts water out of his bottle and toward the boards during stoppages in play, picking out one specific drop from the spray and following it to the ground with his eyes.
"Actually, that looks a little weird," he admitted. "If you can focus in on something, it sharpens up your vision a lot more."
I asked him if this was a common trick for goalies, and he said he didn't think so.
"I think everyone else is scared of looking weird," he said. "I don't really care, as long as it helps me stop the puck."
Indeed, that seems to be the theme of the Holtbyisms, which go far beyond what I've listed here. The young goalie said they aren't superstitions; they just help him stay consistent, and help him feel comfortable.
"It comes with the job," he said with a laugh. "If you're a goalie, everyone thinks you're' weird, so you might as well just go with it."
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