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Thom Loverro: No boundaries for fans of the Capitals, Holtby

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Thom Loverro

Lloydminster is a divided town -- literally.

The western Canadian oil and farming community sits right on the border separating the two provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It has two different area codes and laws, even though it's just a small town of about 25,000 people.

But one thing that unites both sides of the small Canadian city is the Washington Capitals. Rookie goaltending sensation and Lloydminster native Braden Holtby has been the talk of the hockey world after leading the Capitals to their seven-game upset win over the defending champion Boston Bruins.

"Braden Holtby rocks!" said Jamie Johnson, a bartender at Cheers -- one of the drinking establishments in Lloydminster, a town founded in 1903 as a temperance community with no drinking allowed.

"Everybody is watching the Caps," Johnson said. "The place went crazy when the Caps beat Boston."

Lloydminster, as you would expect from any Canadian town, is a hockey hotbed. It recently hosted the Allan Cup, an annual tournament to determine the national senior amateur men's hockey champion.

The Stanley Cup -- and the Capitals quest for it, led by Holtby -- is now dominating daily life in Lloydminster.

"That's a no-brainer, eh?" said Wil Wolunak, who owns Bar 5, another restaurant and drinking establishment in this one-time dry town. "We're all very happy for him and quite impressed. Everyone has been talking about it."

In fact, everywhere Holby's mom, Tami, goes -- from their farm to their grocery store -- people have been singing the praises of her son.

"People drive by and they yell, 'Go Caps,'?" Tami said. "We just hosted the Allan Cup, and there were people in the stands with signs that said, 'Go number 70. Go Caps.' It's been overwhelming. He's put the Capitals on the map here."

Braden still lives in Lloydminster in the offseason, but when he comes home this summer, he may find he has a lot more friends than before.

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls and emails from all over the place," Tami said. "He's a hero around here."

The 22-year-old goaltender, who started his junior career with the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League before being picked by the Capitals in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, was called on to play his first NHL playoff games when Washington's two goaltenders, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, were hurt.

Holtby responded with one clutch performance after another, outplaying Tim Thomas and stopping 31 of 32 shots in the 2-1 overtime win in Game 7.

He has become the toast of the nation's capital -- and the once-dry town of Lloydminster.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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