Braden Holtby admits he’s one of the lucky ones.
He could have been like a lot of other NHL players who left their families to find work overseas during the NHL lockout.
Because he does not yet qualify as an NHL rookie, the Capitals’ No.1 goaltender returned to Hershey for fourth season. It wasn’t the ideal road map for the 23-year-old netminder, but it sure beat leaving his newborn son for a job in Europe.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be back [in Hershey] this year, but I am,” said Holtby, who will return to Verizon Center for the first time since May 9 when the Bears take on the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL Showcase. “And it probably was the best thing that could have happened.”
Holtby is expected to get the start tonight when pro hockey returns to D.C. for the first time since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Caps won that game 2-1 to force a Game 7 in New York, which they lost to the Rangers by the same score to end their season.
“It brings back memories, obviously, of last year,” Holtby said of returning to Kettler Capitals Complex, where teammates Jason Chimera, John Carlson and Jay Beagle were working out.
“The last time I was in here was obviously a sad day that we were out, but there was a lot of great times at the end of last year. I think we’re all ready to get back and make more of those memories.
“It’s definitely different without seeing the familiar faces in the locker room. That kind of makes this place what it is, the people around. It’s good to be back, but it’s definitely a little weird.”
A sellout crowd of 18,506 is anticipated for tonight’s game. About 7,500 of those tickets were sold to season-ticket holders as part of their game plan, but the other 11,000 tickets went to a mixture of Bears fans and diehards craving to see professional hockey.
“As a fan, a player, that’s what you live your life based around,” Holtby said of the NHL. “That’s the hardest part to take. I’m very thankful to be here, to get to play. We have a great group of guys here in this room and it’s been great, but definitely I would like to get the NHL back going for fans, everyone involved.”
Holtby who is 7-7-0 with a 2.71 GAA for the Bears, says he was an avid follower of NHL lockout news in September and October but his interested waned until hopes of an agreement spiked this week.
“At the start I was following it fairly closely, but once it seemed to be negative news after negative news I just kind of thought it was wearing too much on my head. The last few days I’ve been following it more. It’s one of those things that you have to be in the [negotiating] room to really know what’s going on. You just take it as it is and when it’s over it’s over.”