One day last summer, long before he would wander into the teeth of Madison Square Garden, Braden Holtby hired an airbrush artist in Sweden to paint a new motif onto his hockey mask. Holtby, from Marshall, Saskatchewan, asked for the image of a roller coaster, ridden by an unfazed bear -- a clear symbol of his bittersweet bond with Hershey, Pa. Hershey was home to the Capitals' top minor-league affiliate, the Bears; a dozen or so roller coasters; and, at this point, despite a sterling 1.79 goals-against average and 10-2-2 record with Washington last year, the young netminder himself.
"Hershey's a great place," explained Holtby's father, Greg, a farmer and former junior-hockey goalie. "But it wasn't where Braden was hoping to be."
Where his 22-year-old son finally ended up was well beyond any of the Holtbys' hopes and dreams. Yes, Braden lost to the Rangers on Saturday, 2-1, making him the goalie of yet another Washington team to fall short of the Eastern conference finals, a streak dating back to 1998. But then, neither Holtby nor his family had ever fathomed him getting here, and starting a game this deep into the NHL playoffs, this soon.