by Jas Faulkner, contributing editor
Watch this video. Really. Watch it. I’ll wait.
Okay. That kid, the one between the pipes? His name is Braden Holtby and at some point in the future, it is likely that hockey lovers all over the continent are going to know this nervous, tic-y young man by the way he moves on the sidelines, during pre-game skate, and between the pipes. In the midst of story after story after yet another damned story about the latest seasoned professional who decided the playoffs would be a good time to audition for the WWE, there is this rookie who was given the opportunity to start for the Capitals during the playoffs.
If you get the chance before the playoffs are over for Washington, watch Holtby prepare for the game. Watch him go out there and do nothing but play hockey and play it hard and play it like that is the only thing in the world that matters during those particular sixty minutes. Holtby and players like him are the answers to those questions of why many of us love hockey.
A quick digression here: When I write “love hockey”, I don’t mean, “love the Bruins” or “love the Coyotes” or “lovethe Kings”. I mean “love hockey.” And that’s not to say that you can’t love a particular team, it means that you have a love of the sport that goes beyond the localised loyalty, or, as my friend, ‘dre, might say, “it transcends worshiping the laundry.” It is the moment when you realise that you can watch any team play and it’s a good time. You stop seeing the logo and start seeing the people who throw every ounce of passion they have on the ice. A real fan might not be caught dead in a Boston sweater, but he still pauses when he sees footage of Bobby Orr’s flying goal. She might only grudgingly admit that Kessel is better than everyone thought, but she knows all the words to “50 Mission Cap”. The people who truly love the game are the ones who can be in the moment but not lose sight of the big picture. They understand the larger significance that can take place depending on who steps on the ice when and where in his career. That’s where the continuum of memory and history turn a night at the arena into the stuff of legends.
Okay, that wasn’t such a quick digression. Getting back to the Braden Holbys of the NHL… It’s far too easy to get jaded. The bright-eyed kid who is there for the love of the game turns into a very conscious commodity. Players behave in ways that make you question the people running things and it all feels broken somehow. Amidst the noise are young men who are there to play. They understand only too well the chest-tightening, dizzying, almost breath-denying moment of stepping on the ice when it still feels a little sacred. Yes, I am going to go there: These young men have made it to heaven and they know it.Holtby’s storyline might end when the Capitals clean out their lockers. I hope not. Some might argue that it is really too soon to tell, that this is reading an awful lot into some youthful nervy twitchiness. He’s engaging in interviews and on the sidelines. His goaltending for Washington during this series is amazing in the same almost surreal way that Alexander Ovechkin was amazing during his first two seasons in the NHL. The great ones, whether they enjoy long careers or are flashes of brilliance that becomes a part of the larger story of hockey, are artists and eccentrics at heart. The ice is where the filters come off and the hockey heart and mind and soul are revealed. That’s where the magic still is.