In less than 48 hours Capitals goalie Braden Holtby not only dealt with a disappointing game seven loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but also the surprising news that the man who helped lead them there is leaving.
Capitals GM George McPhee announced Monday that Dale Hunter would not be returning to the team as their head coach next season. McPhee said the decision didn’t come as a surprise.
Before joining rejoining the Capitals this past winter, Hunter was the Co-Owner, president and head coach of the London Knights from the Ontario Hockey League.
Speaking on behalf of his team, the rookie goaltender told Lavar Arrington and Chad Dukes that he understands his former coaches’ decision to go back to OHL.
“We appreciate everything that he did for our group this year and I’ll be sad to see him go, but we all understand,” said Holtby. “When you put so much work into something that you care about like he has with the London Knights, definitely no one blames him for that.”
After playing most of the season with the Caps AHL affiliate in Hershey, Holtby was called upon to start for 14-straight games during a gritty and hard fought playoff run that involved an opening round upset of the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
But only after under-achieving during the regular season and barely making the playoffs did the Capitals begin to play a defensive style of hockey that kept them in every game.
Holtby said the team forgot all the distractions and remembered how to have fun.
“I came up for the game in San Jose, I think it was January February or something like that, the team wasn’t exactly where it wanted to be especially in the locker room,” said Holtby. “It was a lot of frustration and what not, and when I got called up again it was just night and day. You could see guys start to figure out what this group needed to do in order to win games and we’re starting to have fun again.”
In what had to be one of the most chaotic weeks of his life, the 22-year old also became a dad. Holtby remained undistracted and produced one of the most memorable post-season performances for a goalie in team history.
Although the team fell short of their ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup, Holtby thinks they should be proud and that they’ve got plenty to look back and learn from.
“That’s a big step because one of the hardest things is getting through adversity and learning your lessons from it,” said Holtby. “This group, as it showed in the playoffs, did that admirably.”