December 17, 2018
The stairwell was a safe refuge. It insulated Carter Hart from anyone stumbling upon the promising goalie at the Flyers’ Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. that late-September afternoon. Hart just finished a meeting with then-Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall, who told Hart glowing things — all except one — “We’re sending you down to Lehigh Valley.”
Hart didn’t take it well. It was crushing. He did everything he thought he could, and then some, good enough to make the Flyers coming out of training camp. But Hextall wanted him to grab more experience in the American Hockey League.
Tears fell down Hart’s face when he shared the news with his father, John, vowing that he would be back — that he would be playing for the Flyers some time this season.
Sitting on a sofa watching the Patriots-Steelers game on Sunday during the Phantoms’ team Christmas party, Hart’s cell lit up. It was Phantoms’ coach Scott Gordon — now Flyers’ interim coach after Dave Hakstol was fired on Monday — telling Hart to go back to his apartment to pick up some clothes and gather his equipment. He was being called up to play for the Flyers.
Hart’s vow to himself has come to fruition.
Hart, at just 20 years old, will become the sixth goalie for the Flyers this season before Christmas, a telling mark of the team’s goalie instability. It will mark just the second time in NHL history a team has had six different goalies before Christmas, the first since the 2002-03 St. Louis Blues, a team that actually went 41-24-11.
Speculation is that Hart, who was 9-5-2 with a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage at Lehigh Valley, though 4-1 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in his last five games, will make his NHL debut Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
If Hart, the Flyers’ second-round selection (48th overall) in the 2016 draft, does get the start, it will make him the youngest goalie in the NHL this season, more than two years younger than the Arizona Coyotes’ 22-year-old Adin Hill.
Presently after 31 games, the Flyers (12-15-4) are the worst team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Their 28 points ties the Blues for the third-worst overall point total in the league. What’s put them there is the worst goalie unit in the NHL. The Flyers’ gang of five — Brian Elliott, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon and Michal Neuvirth so far — has managed to combine for a league-low .874 save percentage.
For the 6-foot-2, 183-pound Hart, his focus is on the present. Nothing before him matters — unless it’s on the ice.
“Went I was sent down to Lehigh Valley I was disappointed at the time, but I had to learn where I am, and make the best of things, and make the best of the chances that I have,” Hart said. “It hurt. I’ll admit it. I thought I did everything I could to make the team. But it forced me to focus on where I am and I got a chance to work on my game down there and come to the rink every day.
“The American Hockey League is a good league with so many great players. I worked hard in trying to get back up here and not worry about other things that I can’t control. Now, I have to do the same thing up here, and that’s playing my game, not worrying about the things I can’t control or what anybody says.
I’ve been playing hockey for most of my life and this is something that I’ve worked my whole life for. ... Tomorrow night will be really special for me.
“I do feel really good right now. Today at practice, I settled in after the first couple of shots. I felt good in the net and I’m really excited to hopefully be playing tomorrow. I have to play my game. Pressure is what you put on yourself. What people talk about doesn’t affect me. I don’t care. I have to be the best player that I can be. I’ve been through a lot of pressure situations. It’s how you view it—and when I went through them, I never viewed them as pressure situations.
“It’s just another game. That’s what I have to go into Tuesday. It’s what I learned in Allentown and what I learned playing in juniors. I don’t worry about what other people think about my game, what other people think about me, and not change myself to please other people. I trust my game, playing to my strengths and having confidence. The last month or so I’ve felt really comfortable in the net. A lot of that has been trusting my game.”
Elliott has been sidelined with a reported hip-related injury and could be unavailable into early-January. But right now, it doesn’t really matter.
The future has now opened the door to the present. This is a Flyers team that is floundering on the ice and in the market. Other than Gritty, there’s been nothing to get excited over, and Hart could spell possible renewed interest in a team that’s heavily overshadowed by the Eagles, Sixers and Phillies to the point of being nonexistent — save for a googly-eyed mascot.
“I want to make the most of this opportunity and the biggest thing for me is to come up and have some fun,” Hart said. “I’ve been playing hockey for most of my life and this is something that I’ve worked my whole life for. My parents are coming and my billet (Parker Fowlds, who Hart lived with while playing for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips) is, too.
“[Tuesday] night will be really special for me. I’ve done a lot of growing up these last few months.”
He vowed back in September that he would be back.
Now it begins Tuesday.
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