Whether it has been a text message from an old teammate or a conversation on the telephone with another, Hershey Bears assistant coach Troy Mann has discussed Braden Holtby plenty these days.
"I had a text from a teammate [Quinn Fair] I played with and won a ECHL championship with in Mississippi. He's living in Texas and he said something like 'how about your boy Holtby,'" Mann said. "Then I was talking with [University of Toronto teammate] Chris DePiero and we talked about Braden, too. They want to know about him. They want to know if he's for real."
What does Mann tell them?
"He's for real. He is a confident kid. He's not cocky, but there is a swagger to him. He's down to earth and you can tell he's been well brought up by his parents."
Most of the hockey world has been talking about the confident, unflappable 22-year-old Washington Capitals goalie, wondering what's in store for him in Game 7 of his second-round series against New York Rangers on Saturday evening.
Three times Holtby and the Capitals have bounced back with wins after losses to the Rangers in this series. Holtby also has gone 6-0 with a 1.24 goals-against average and .960 save percentage following a loss in the playoffs and including the regular season he has played in 29 games without suffering back-to-back defeats.
But can Holtby check in with back-to-back wins and steal this second-round series? To make this story even more compelling, fiancée Brandi Bodnar gave birth to the couple's first child, a son Benjamin Hunter Holtby.
"The one thing about Braden is that he has an ability to take each game and separate them," Mann said. "If he was great one night or not that good another night, he has the ability to enjoy the moment or forget about a loss and turn the page."
For Holtby, the most difficult page to turn was last fall after he was returned to Hershey. He played well enough in training camp, but was sent back to the AHL because the Capitals had signed Tomas Vokoun to share the net with Michal Neuvirth.
Mann remarked that Holtby rejoined the Bears with a good attitude and continued to work hard. But his results were inconsistent.
"There was one game I knew he was on the right track," recalled Mann of a 38-save 3-2 victory Holtby turned in over the Norfolk Admirals, a few days before the Admirals would go on their pro hockey record 28-game win streak.
"I first met him at my first developmental camp in the summer of 2009. Like I said, this was a real confident kid with a good skill set. He looked like he could be a keeper. He didn't care where he was drafted [fourth round], he was motivated to be the best."
Holtby was penciled in as the Capitals fifth goalie in the organization and began his first pro season in 2009-10 in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. But his stay there was short because of injuries.
And here is Holtby a few years later, in a position to pull off another upset. He entered this playoff run with only 16 games of postseason experience, seven with his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades, and nine more with Hershey.
This will be his 14th Stanley Cup playoff game, and another chance for the hockey world to keep talking about him.
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