- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2015


Life didn’t change much for Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby this summer back in his hometown of Lloydminster, Canada.

He would spend his days at home much of the time, venturing out to the gym in town or to his family’s farm store, where he used to work.

Does he still put in any hours in the family business?

“No, I retired from farm work,” he said, laughing.

No, Holtby doesn’t have to work in the family business anymore — not with the $30 million, five-year contract he signed with Washington on the brink of an arbitration hearing in late July.

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Lloydminster, a small town of about 27,000 divided between two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, doesn’t have many multi-million dollar athletes walking around town. It must have changed Holtby’s life, right?

“Not really,” he said. “I got recognized a little more. My life is pretty tame back there. I don’t stray far from home.”

Lloydminster is the foundation of Holtby’s work ethic. It’s what he believes will keep him grounded despite the generation-changing money he will be paid after a career year. He tied a franchise record with 72 appearances last season, including in 27 consecutive games, with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and 41 wins, second in the NHL.

“It helps to have those roots growing up on a farm in a small town,” the 26-year-old Holtby said. “Things can change, but your personality doesn’t change much. You focus on family first and then work, and then everything after that you try to deal with it as best as possible.”

Lloydminster is the foundation the Capitals are counting on to maintain Holtby’s perspective as they open the season Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center.

“The fear — if there’s fear is when you come off a season like that — the fear is, first, you take your foot off the gas,” Capitals goaltender coach Mitch Korn said. “You feel, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got it now, it’s easy,’ yada yada.

“When you are fortunate enough to get a lucrative contract — a lengthy, lucrative contract — human nature is to take your foot off the gas,” Korn said. “I don’t think either of those things seem to be in Braden’s DNA, which is good.”

What Holtby would really like to have when he heads home is not just a bank account, but a Stanley Cup to parade around town. And, despite a repeat of so many other Capitals seasons that fell short — a second-round exit last year at the hands of the New York Rangers after taking a 3-1 lead in the series — Holtby has bought into a team and an organization he believes is going in the right direction under general manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz.

“It was a disappointing end, but at the same time we came a long way as a team,” Holtby said. “So, there wasn’t as much disappointment and frustration. We know it wasn’t going to be a quick fix, and that it would take us a while to get to where we want to be as a team.

“I think there has been a change in the organization,” he said. “Our main goal last year was to change the culture of the team, the way we went about our business, the accountability in our locker room. Everything was based around our improvement as a team, and we were much more focused on accomplishing our goals as a team and dealt with less adversity from within.

“We came close last year, and we believe we can improve this year to give us a better chance to go farther in the playoffs this year.”

Here’s one thing that Holtby’s contract does — it gives him a bigger voice in the locker room. The reality is that in pro sports, the size of a player’s wallet commands a certain level of respect from teammates. But, of course, one has to deliver on that paycheck.

“If you have a good goalie, you have a better chance to get success,” Alex Ovechkin said. “I hope he’s not going to stop working, because last year, he’s working hard in practice, and at the games as well. He played, I think, 70 games, and his work ethic is unbelievable. I hope that he stays the same way.”

Holtby has no plans to change. He recognizes his responsibility.

“I think your goalie has to be a leader,” he said. “He is on the ice all the time and plays a big role in how the team will perform. I’m not a vocal leader, but I lead from example, doing the right things off the ice and on it. Hopefully, that shows throughout the lineup.”

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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