With 31 NHL games under his belt after an impressive rookie season, goalie Carter Hart is much more comfortable as he enters his first full year in the league.
Hart, 21, who could become the face of the Flyers sooner rather than later, arrived at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees on Tuesday -- 10 days before veterans will officially be on the ice for the start of training camp.
He arrived feeling good about himself, about his new-look team, about his veteran goalie partner, Brian Elliott.
“Last year made me realize what it’s like to go through an NHL season,” said Hart, who had a 2.83 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage with the Flyers after being recalled from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. “I was only up for 50 games or so, but I got a taste of my first year as a pro and learned what it’s like to be a pro. All the things I went through last season, all the experiences, are only going to help me moving forward.”
Because of Hart’s strong rookie season and the fact that Elliott is coming off two injury-plagued years, it was assumed that Hart would enter training camp as the team’s top goaltender. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, however, said in a recent interview that the No. 1 goalie would be determined in camp.
“Moose has had success in the league for a while,” said Hart, referring to Elliott by his nickname. “I think competition is healthy and it’s good that we’re there every day to push each other to get better.”
Added Hart: “I want to push for a majority of the games, but I just have to take it one game at a time and make sure I’m ready to go every night.”
As for his summer, Hart, who said teammate James van Riemsdyk has helped him with advice on nutrition and sleep habits, had an ambitious training schedule back home in Alberta.
From Monday through Friday, he worked out at the gym from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Three days a week he was on the ice for an hour and a half with his personal goalie coach, Dustin Schwartz. He had twice-a-week sessions with a chiropractor, and had a yoga/Pilates workout on Wednesday nights.
When he wasn’t training, he tried to get on the golf course as much as possible, and he got his handicap down to 13.
Now his attention is toward steering the Flyers into a playoff spot after a disappointing 37-37-8 season, a year in which injuries and poor performances caused them to set a dubious NHL record by using eight goalies.
Acquiring veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, the Flyers hope, will stabilize the defense.
“We added a couple pieces that will definitely help our lineup,” Hart said. “I got to meet some of them today and I’m looking forward to playing alongside them. Obviously, you don’t like to see guys go like Gudie [Radko Gudas]. He’s a great team guy and he treated me really well and the boys are going to miss him, but from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, we’re getting a really good guy in Matt Niskanen, and then to add Justin Braun and Kevin Hayes as well, I’m excited. I think the moves we made this summer are definitely positive.”
Hart got to play for new Flyers coach Alain Vigneault on Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships in May.
“I got to know him a little bit there and all the boys liked him,” Hart said. “He seems like a players’ coach to me. Gets along with the guys really well and seems like a very reasonable guy.”
The lower Hart’s goals-against-average is this season, it can be assumed, the more reasonable Vigneault will be.