May 22, 2018
The woman with the dirty-blonde hair walking in Malvern on a dreary, overcast Friday dressed in a sharp, grey business casual outfit might have been in her mid-to late-20s. She was minding her own business when someone she passed on a cell phone noticed she was drinking from a straw out of a transparent cup with a Flyers’ insignia, and called her attention to the individual on the other end of his conversation.
She says one of her office walls is adorned with nothing but Flyers’ gear. When she’s told the person she was about to say hello to was Carter Hart, she couldn’t literally speak for a few seconds, her mouth agape. “You’re kidding, right?” she asked, incredulously. “Oh my goodness, wow, come here right now!” she yelled at Carter Hart.
That’s the prevailing thought of Flyers’ fans throughout the area—and the attitude the stellar 19-year-old goaltender of the Flyers’ future has, too.
Hart wants to make Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall’s job difficult in the fall, forcing Flyers’ management to take a legitimate look at him as the team’s No. 1 goalie next season, wearing No. 79 in Flyers’ black-and-orange. Hextall, the former fiery Flyers’ goaltender, wouldn’t want any part of Hart if the three-time Western Hockey League Goalie of the Year thought differently.
Hart finished an amazing season for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, leading the team to its second WHL finals in the franchise’s 15-year history. The Silvertips lost to the Swift Current Broncos, 4-2, in the WHL championship. It wasn’t because of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Hart, who finished the season with an astounding 31-6-3 record. The netminder rounded out his numbers with a WHL-high 7 shutouts, and WHL-best 1.60 goals-against-average, giving up 65 goals in 41 games, and a .947 save-percentage—also a league best.
In the WHL playoffs, Hart stopped 618 of 671 shots taken on him, with a 2.40 GAA, a .921 save-percentage, going 14-5. Three of Everett’s four WHL championship losses were by one goal—and two of the four defeats came in overtime.
Hart’s overall body of work this season will most probably earn him Goalie of the Year of the Canadian Hockey League, which is comprised of three member leagues, the WHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Think of it as the goalie equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for the world’s best young hockey players.
“I’ve said it all year, Carter was not only the best goalie, he was the best player in our league, and that takes in forwards, defense and goaltending,” said Silvertips’ first-year coach Dennis Williams, the WHL Western Conference Coach of the Year. Williams’ first coaching job was in the Philadelphia area, at Division III Neumann College in Aston, Delaware County, now Neumann University, so he’s quite familiar with how rabid Flyers’ fans are.
And how impatient they may be when it comes to finding a legitimate goalie.
“There’s something that has to be said about what Carter’s been able to do and all he’s been able to accomplish at such a young age, not only in the WHL, but internationally as well [leading Canada to the World Junior Championship in January],” Williams said. “Think about it, as a goalie for Team Canada, with the spotlight on him and being able to respond the way he did? It says a lot about his approach and demeanor. He continues to get better, and as far as coaching him, his routine was so contagious, a lot of younger guys learned from him.”
Hart has innate instincts to read plays before they unfold, and reads odd-man rushes very well. He’s aware of his angles, his depth is exceptional—as is his intuitive ability to control rebounds. Then there his uncanny ability to be in two places at once, where he’s seemingly out of position, and comes from nowhere to make a save. It was enough to make Williams continually shake his head all season and ask, “I don’t know how that just happened?”
“Carter’s athleticism to get to second and third opportunities instilled so much confidence in our core, because it’s a premium to score goals in this day and age in hockey,” Williams said. “All of the goalies are bigger, faster, bigger gear, and Carter allowed us to get up the ice. Everyone plays such a systematic game that it allowed our guys to cheat up. Everett had its most offensive production in Everett history.
“A lot of that had to do with Carter. We entrusted Carter to bail us out. He saw more odd-man rushes than he did in the past, but that allowed us to score more goals and win more hockey games. Carter gave us the confidence to cheat up, especially with a young defensive corps. I thought it was tremendous that they didn’t have to grip their stick all of the time, because they knew who was back there.
“I think it would definitely be up to Carter to play in the NHL right now. I wouldn’t expect anything different from him. He wants to start his NHL career. With me not knowing the depth chart in Philly right now, the prime spot is the goalie. There is no doubt they want to do what’s best for Carter and the team. Ron Hextall knows what it takes and Carter’s in great hands. Carter wants to make the decision hard for the Flyers, and anyone in management likes to make those hard decisions.”
Hart is walking into a logjam at goaltender for the Flyers. Brian Elliott is a bridge, in the second year of his two-year deal, after coming off a decent season in which he finished with a 2.66 goals-against-average, his highest in seven years in the NHL. “Moose” is 33 and his body began giving out last season, losing two months of the season after undergoing core-muscle surgery on Feb. 13. Michal Neuvirth seems like he’s constantly hurt. He has one more year left on a contract that holds $2.5 million of cap space.
Petr Mrazek doesn’t appear to be in the Flyers’ future plans and Alex Lyon seems like a capable NHL back-up.
Another strong component is Claude Giroux. He’s coming off a career season in goals (34), assists (68) and points (102). It would be a mistake to waste his prime years without a reliable, quality goaltender.
So the Flyers’ future could be now—if Carter Hart has anything to say about it.
“Honestly, my goal has always been to play in the NHL and that’s my dream since I started playing hockey at the age of 4, and my goal next year is to make it to the NHL,” said Hart, who will wear No. 31 if he’s at Lehigh Valley next season, and No. 79 if he’s with the Flyers. “I do want to make it difficult for the Flyers—I want to play for the Flyers next year, and I think they would be disappointed in me if I did think otherwise.
“Lehigh Valley is a good organization and the AHL is good hockey, too. They produce quality players. I want to be an impact player when I’m in the NHL. I don’t want to be a guy sitting on the bench, being an average player. I want to wear No. 79. I do want to make it difficult for the Flyers not to consider me.
“I do think it’s pretty cool that the fans in Philadelphia know who I am. Philadelphia is a great sports town, with great fans. When you think of Philadelphia, you think about the Liberty Bell, the Eagles, the Sixers, the Phillies and the Flyers.
“I’m lucky to be drafted by a sports city that love their sports, and I’m lucky to be drafted by a city and team that cares about winning. Where you see other markets that aren’t getting that support, they aren’t getting the fan turnout, they don’t care about winning. Philadelphia is one of the most passionate sports cities that I’ve seen.”
That’s when the young woman walked by with a Flyers’ cup in her hands. Hart said hello to the fan, whose day was made.
“That’s funny,” reacted Hart, laughing. “After we lost to Swift Current, we had a bunch of fans waiting for the bus to arrive, and they were there to see us. Saying goodbye to those fans was tough. It shows how much the Silvertips mean to the community. It’s why it’s great going to a city whose fans are just as passionate. I’m going to miss Everett. I grew up in Everett, it’s a place that I’ll always remember.
“But I’m ready take another step. I’m ready to play in the NHL. I think I’ve improved a lot, and I think I can improve even more. I’ll never be happy. This is the longest I’ve played hockey in my life. I’ve never played into May before, and this came after missing about a month with mononucleosis in the beginning of the year.
“I saw a quote from J.J. Watt the other day that said, ‘It never gets easier, you just get better.’ I came in here at Everett when I was 16, and things were really fast for me. When I was 16, there were guys in the league like Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart. When you’re 16, you’re wide-eyed when you see those guys. In time, you wind up being one of those guys.”
After Hart lost to Swift Current, he was the last one to leave the Everett locker room, still in uniform and padded up an hour after Game No. 6 was over. The Everett dressing room was also cleared out in the following days—all accept Hart’s locker.
He doesn’t accept losing and he had a tough time letting go of Everett—but ready to begin the next step in his journey.
“I’m my biggest critic, and nothing will change that,” Hart said. “I blamed myself after the [WHL game No. 6] loss. But I have learned to find more of a balance though. I don’t get too high or too low on myself. I feel I’m ready to take this next step. My job next fall is to go into camp and do my job, and that’s to stop pucks.
“I have to concern myself with the things that I can control, and that’s keep a simple and clear mindset—and that’s stop pucks. I can’t think about what other people think, I have to concern myself with what I think. Anyone who knows me, they know that I want to be an NHL goalie. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”
The Flyers let up 28 goals in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. Their goalies let up 7 and 8 goals in the bookend games of the series. Carter Hart doesn’t like losing green-against-grey scrimmages and two-on-two small area battle drills.
And those are supposed to be fun.
Hart, who will turn 20 on Aug. 13, flew across country on Monday to be with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the AHL semifinals against Toronto. “Alex is doing great, I’m there to back him up,” Hart said. “I’m there to learn and watch.”
Flyers’ training camp begins in mid-September.
“I’m always the last guy to take my stuff off, and I’ll clear out my [Everett] locker [on Friday],” Hart said. “It is hard to say goodbye to Everett, whose fans love their team and have taken us in like family. I’m taking a little piece of Everett to another place whose fans love their team, Philadelphia. I can’t wait. All I want is a chance to prove myself.”
No one has doubted him yet.
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