The puck went harmlessly toward the corner 65 seconds into Tuesday night’s game, and the Wells Fargo crowd roared. Roared as much as a partially filled arena can, anyway. Carter Hart’s first save was in the books, the era Flyers fans have pined for since he was setting junior-hockey records a continent away had begun, and for a night anyway, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
``It was kind of funny,’’ Hart said, after stopping 20 of 22 shots in the Flyers' 3-2 victory over Detroit. ``A little toe save, and they were going nuts.’’
Two such nutjobs were down along a rail in section 120. Shauna Hart and Parker Fowlds had leaked from their luxury box seats above to be closer to the action, closer to the net. Fowlds, the 77-year-old man who looked over Shauna’s kid for the previous three seasons as his billet in Everett, Wash., needed his cane to get there. But given that he had arisen that day at 2 a.m. to catch a plane from Seattle, this was a minor obstacle.
``I was there way too early,’’ he said, laughing. ``But I didn’t want to miss my plane. I didn’t want to miss this.’’
This, of course, was the NHL debut of the most talked-about goaltender in these parts since Pelle Lindbergh. Hart became the sixth goalie the Flyers have used this season, which is the biggest reason both the general manager who drafted him and the coach who hoped to be rescued by him are no longer here.
On the other hand, Hart might not have been on the ice Tuesday night if Ron Hextall were still here, and the rescue might have seemed more desperate than inspired if it were Dave Hakstol behind the bench instead of Scott Gordon, Hart’s coach with the Phantoms. Hextall had been steadfast in his desire to season the 20-year-old at the American Hockey League level. And Hakstol, to his everlasting credit, never begged for the goaltender most likely to save his job.
Anyway, Fowlds, Shauna and her husband, John, were not averse to that line of thinking. This time a year ago, Hart didn’t know how to cook, didn’t clean much, didn’t do his own laundry. They have constituted his greatest challenges as a pro to date.
``I hate doing laundry,’’ Hart said.
That’s just part of the process as refining his game. Hart still has a teenage body to go along with the sense of wonderment that pervades everything he does. But the on-ice cool that has been his personal brand since a young age was there for him last night, amid the fanfare and crowd noise and the Jumbotron image of his mom punching both fists in the air after that first save.
``Sometimes," Shauna recalled, "he got picked on when he was younger, because he would say out loud, ‘I know what I want: I want to be the next great goaltender, the next Carey Price. I want to be better than Carey Price.’ Kids would pick on him because of that, and he didn’t care. He said to me, `Mom, I’m going to be who I am.’
``His first year in the WHL, the coach asked him what his goals were at the start of the season. And Carter said, ‘I will be the starting goalie by Christmas.’ The coach said, `That’s a little cocky, don’t you think?'
``And he said, `Well, you told me to list my goals.’ ’’
Hart laughed when this was relayed to him afterward. He said he laughed out loud when he saw a replay of his mother pumping her fists. He doesn’t pretend to not hear or see any of the fanfare. He gets a kick out of all of it, actually.
His dad? Not so much. There were three seats reserved for the Hart family on Tuesday night, but one was used by various well-wishers and reporters. John Hart doesn’t like watching his son live, and the son is fine with that. Instead, John was pacing the Wells Fargo corridors, using the crowd and the televisions he passed to track the game.
Some of it is nerves, Shauna said.
A lot of it is superstition, Fowlds said. ``Runs in the family,’’ the billet said, laughing again.
``There was a time in pee-wee when Carter had more wins when his mom was at his games than when his dad was,’’ Shauna said. ``And he was, like, `Dad, are you coming tonight? Maybe mom should just come.’ ’’
It led to Fowlds' being misidentified on one video shot as Hart’s father. Besides the obvious age difference – Shauna is a youthful-looking 52 – it is not that great of a leap. Fowlds was the adult in charge for three of Carter’s most formative winters, symbiotic seasons in which the old man taught him what to say in interviews and the hockey prodigy taught his billet about Facetime and Snapchat.
``He’s like my grandpa,’’ Hart said. ``Really, he is my grandpa.’’
The smile disappeared for a moment.