‘You’ve got the hair’, Carter Hart told me, smiling while slicking his back jokingly. A lot of people said we looked similar and today I was finally able to get the world the answer they were searching for.
But whether we do or don’t, that’s where the similarities end. Hart is coming off of an outstanding first year of NHL play. I, (shocking, I know) am not. In a season that was filled with highs, lows, and question marks, Hart pulled the plug on the goaltender carousel and gave Philly the savior it was searching for.
In what became a season of disappointment, Hart was one of the lone shining stars, giving Flyers fans a reason to believe again. With a new Head Coach in town, someone who has historically been great during his first year with a new team, confidence is high.
“My game feels really good right now.” Hart told me after the team’s practice on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to getting things going, I feel confident where I am right now. “
Hart posted a save percentage of .917% during his first season as a Pro, and the former Western Hockey League Player of the Year has now been given the reins. Brian Elliott returns as a mentor and reliable backup, but the spotlight is now fully on Hart and he had to prepare as such.
“I think this offseason I wanted to add a bit of muscle.” He explained. “But this season, the biggest thing is to take care of my body. One thing I learned is that there’s a quick turnaround. We play almost every second night. I have to take care of my body off the ice just as much as I do on the ice”
The former second-round pick will roll into tomorrow weighing 181 lbs, around 5 pounds heavier than he was when he donned the iconic orange jersey for the first time in a debut win over the Detroit Red Wings. A lot has changed for the young goaltender since then. His status, his size, his goals. But a lot has also stayed the same.
Hart has never been one to shy away from big moments. He comes alive in the lights and is one of the few who embodies the statement ‘ice in his veins’. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though, he’s been thriving in them since he can remember. He won Gold with Canada at the World Juniors and enjoyed plenty of success with the Silvertips, including 26 shutouts that tied a CHL record. The exposure to neutral sites and high-pressure environments not only prepared Hart well for his rookie season, but for another new challenge in what lies ahead.
The Flyers held an open practice at The 02 Arena on Thursday ahead of tomorrow night’s season-opening clash with Chicago and the stadium was more than half-full. For practice. In a foreign country and playing in front of an audience who are all there to celebrate the sport they love and their national hero, Jake Voracek, Hart can expect a lot of intensity. But you wouldn’t think that given the way he discusses the matchup.
“Going through all those experiences helped me transition last year.” He explained. “Tomorrow night is just a regular-season game, it doesn’t matter if it’s here, Philly, or Chicago. It’s back on NHL Ice. There’s a lot of hype around the global series but we have to prepare the same way.”
Preparation is going to be key. But Hart has been doing such a good job in getting himself ready this preseason, that newly-acquired Kevin Hayes was quick to give praise when asked who’s stood out to him over the last few weeks.
“Oh, Carter Hart.” Hayes said. “He is a very important guy for our team. If you have a good goalie, you can do some damage in this league.”
So with the world desperate to see what Carter Hart will do next, we already know what we’re going to be treated to. The same goalie that surged into the record books as the first in Flyers history to win six games before the age of 21.
With the franchise turning over a new leaf, it’s time to sit down and grab some popcorn. The Carter Hart show is about to begin.
Photo credit: Alex Mcintyre