July 10, 2019
Carter Hart stands in line like everyone else at Jim’s Steaks on South Street on a balmy July weekday night. He doesn’t have to tug his 76ers’ hat down to his eyebrows to avoid attention. The Flyers’ goalie looks up and sees shots of Flyers’ Hall of Famer Eric Lindros on the wall. One day, he’ll probably be up there with No. 88. But for now, No. 79 has no problem waiting — for the future fame, the coming fortune or for the cheesesteak he’s been craving.
He embraces his anonymity.
It’s not important that anyone knows him. Hart, who will turn 21 on Aug. 13, likes to keep it simple: He would like to play in all 82 games this season and win them all.
Last year at this time, Hart wanted to come up with the Flyers when they began the 2018-19 season. He felt he earned the chance — and he did. But when then-Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told him last September, “We’re sending you down to Lehigh Valley,” it crushed Hart (and may have cost Hextall his job).
This time, he knows. This is Carter Hart’s team now.
Perhaps the only one who doesn't think that is Carter Hart.
“It’s important that I get a good summer of training in here, and I have a couple of months left to prepare for the NHL season and it’s a long year,” Hart said over his first-ever Jim's cheesesteak. “We play 82 games, almost every second night, and it’s important that I come into camp in the best shape I can, so I can endure the 82-game season and play as many games as I can.
“I like to play every game and I want to play every game. I think it’s important that I come into camp ready to go from the beginning in shape.”
He’s added five more pounds of muscle, weighing around 189 pounds. He would like to add about 4 more pounds and play around 193 pounds to increase his durability.
Flyers’ fans have been waiting for a franchise goalie ever since Hextall was in the crease during his first incarnation as a Flyer in the late-1980s.
With Hart, the wait seems to be over.
Last season, Hart was called up in mid-December, ironically, about three weeks after Hextall, who drafted Hart in the second round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, was fired on Monday, Nov. 26, when the Flyers were sitting at 10-11-2 and in the basement of the Metropolitan Division for the second straight season.
[Philly fans] really get behind their teams when they’re doing well, and they get on you when you’re losing, but as a player and a professional athlete in the Philly market, I wouldn’t ask for anything less.
Hart played in 31 games for the Flyers, and started 30, going 16-13-1, with a team-best 2.83 goals-against average. He faced a team-high 976 shots — and a pattern emerged. The more activity Hart saw, the better he was. In 21 of the 30 games he started, he faced 30 shots or more. In those games, his record was 14-5-1. And when he faced at least 40 shots, Hart was an even more impressive 6-1-0.
But Hart, who doesn’t really like talking about himself, dismisses any notion that this is “his team.”
“No, it’s not, this is the Flyers, coming into this group last December, they welcomed me right from the beginning and made me feel like I was a part of the team from Day One. That was really huge,” Hart said. “I know we traded some guys away, and I was really sad to see some guys go, but we’ve added some really good pieces in guys like Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, Matt Niskanan and Tyler Pitlick. They add depth to an already strong team and an already strong roster.
“What separates us, I think, is we have a really good leadership group of guys in the locker room. We have a strong work culture in the room, too. They’ve been around the league for a long time and they know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to have fun, too. It’s a long season and I enjoy being around the guys and I think that’s really important that guys are around each other and bond.”
The hub is Claude Giroux, one of the more underappreciated superstars in Philadelphia sports history.
When Hart came up last season, it was Giroux and Jake Voracek that took him in and made him feel welcome. In the second half of last season, Hart got a firsthand look at how much of a leader “G” is.
“G is awesome — an unbelievable human being, unbelievable hockey player and one of the most skilled guys in the NHL,” Hart said. “He’s an awesome captain. He does a lot of things people don’t see. It can be a little intimidating to see someone who you saw on TV your whole life invite you to his house during Christmas for a home-cooked meal. He speaks up in the locker room when he needs to. He says the right things at the right times.
“He made me feel welcome immediately. He and Jake Voracek really took me in. Jake let me stay at his place rent-free — and I offered him to pay rent. All I needed was a mattress.”
There is also something that is emerging in the NHL: Players want to come to the Flyers to play with Carter Hart. When Braun was traded by San Jose to the Flyers in June, the veteran defenseman described Hart as, “the real deal.”
All of this is flattering to the 20-year-old, but he dismisses that, too. It’s not him that’s the magnet — it’s the Flyers.
“We have a great culture in the locker room and those guys see that and understand the Flyers’ culture is a winning culture and this is a place to do it,” Hart said. “They know we want to win and we want to succeed. This is an awesome sports town. This is the place to do it. Philly is an awesome sports town. The fans love their sports. They get behind you and want to see their teams succeed, and they really get behind their teams when they’re doing well, and they get on you when you’re losing, but as a player and a professional athlete in the Philly market, I wouldn’t ask for anything less.”
Hart, and Sean Couturier, got a head start on their Flyer teammates by playing for new Flyers’ coach Alain Vigneault for Team Canada during the IIHF hockey world championships in May.
“I didn’t know much about Vigneault coming into the tournament, but it was awesome getting to know him,” Hart said. “I was lucky to have him there. Coots (Couturier) and me got to know him really well. All of the guys really liked him, and I really liked him. He’s easy to get along with and he’s going to fit in real well with our group.
“He’s really approachable. He’s a reasonable guy to talk to.”
Hart also stressed the growing bond he formed with Brian Elliott, who the Flyers signed to a one-year extension in June. Hart saw what Elliott puts into his preparation.
“Brian really was a big help to me as a veteran NHL goalie,” Hart said. “I really respect his work ethic. He talks about making the most day-by-day. He warms up properly and cools down properly. He treated me really well. He’s always the first one at the rink. He works really hard at his craft and I respect guys who do that.
“Just being around him and seeing what he does every day is really cool to see.”
Hart has his 76ers and Eagles’ hats. He’s taken in a few Phillies games at Citizen Bank Park and his goals are to still meet Bryce Harper, Carson Wentz and Joel Embiid.
“I love this city,” Hart said. “I like meeting different people and being able to walk up and down the street.”
Without even being recognized — sometimes.
On Monday, while he was in a local Apple store, a young couple recognized Hart and approached him with their baby.
“They walked up to me and said, ‘Hey Carter, we would like you to meet Carter,’ their newborn, who they said they named after me.” Hart said. “They were watching a Flyers’ game one night and they love Philly sports. They thought Bryce was a cool name, and Ben (after Ben Simmons) was a cool name, and Rhys (after Rhys Hoskins) was a cool name, but they thought Carter was a cool name.
“Wow! That kind of blew me away.”
Flyers’ training camp begins in September. Hart plans on being back in Philadelphia for good in August.
“I really love this city, and love playing here,” Hart said. “I really miss Philly, to be honest. I love it here, but I can’t wait to get things going this season. I want to play as many games as I can this year.”
At one point, Hart did a FaceTime chat with a 10-year-old hockey player recovering from a broken arm. The local kid wears No. 90, because of the St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly. But he’ll be changing his number this season to No. 79, Carter Hart’s number.
And on Wednesday, Hart hosted a local hockey fan Brandon Hull, who lost a portion of his foot in a lawn mower accident at Flyers Skate Zone. Originally, Hull was hoping for an autograph, but after hearing his story, Hart rearranged his schedule and insisted on having Hull come out for a skate with him.
Slowly, but surely, Hart is winning over the city, one young hockey player and one cheesesteak at a time.
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