Much like the Eagles' Michael Vick, new Flyers goalie Ray Emery is in need of an image repair.
Fixing a reputation built on fighting with teammates and opponents, missed practices, and a slew of speeding tickets, Emery said, is not why he headlined a clinic yesterday for 50 youngsters from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
He did it, quite simply, because he likes kids, likes to pass along his knowledge, likes to give back.
"I used to do camps all the time in Ottawa," he said after captivating the players, ages 9 to 16, at the Flyers Skate Zone in Northeast Philadelphia. Players from five city rinks attended, and most were from West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Kensington, and Camden.
After 16-year-old goalie Thomas Brown gave a glowing and well-prepared introduction of the goaltender, Emery did a goalie clinic, took some shots on Brown, and participated in an on-ice question-and-answer session with the youngsters.
Emery told them that as a youth, he started out as a defenseman, "but I wasn't that good, and my best friend was a goalie, so I tried it at a hockey camp like this, and I was better at it than I was on defense. Plus, I liked the [goalie] equipment."
Emery smiled widely at the third question: Why do you like to fight?
"I like to fight every once in a while," he said. "I like boxing. I like sports like that. It's one sport that fighting is kind of part of the game."
"Not out here," one of the instructors interrupted. "But in the NHL, it's part of the game."
The next questioner wanted to know how many fights Emery had been in and his success rate.
The young boy was interrupted.
"Let's get over the fighting questions, all right?" the instructor said. "You win some, you lose some."
Afterward, Emery talked about playing hockey in Ottawa as a youngster.
"I got a chance to meet people that I looked up to," he said. "There were some black goalies back home, like myself, that I got a chance to meet. Someone who looks like me and I can kind of identify with. . . . I was a black kid in a white sport back home, and there weren't many people who looked like me. Knowing what it means to be on the other side of that, it's special for me to come out and show kids I'm a normal dude and someone who wants to play the sport. Anytime you can encourage a kid to do positive things with his time, it's a good thing."
Brown, a goalie from West Philadelphia, said having Emery on the Flyers was inspiring.
"I follow hockey a lot and, actually, prior to rumors of him coming to the Flyers, I was thinking about when he would come back to the NHL, so it's pretty fun to see him here," he said.
Emery, who received loud applause as he was presented with an Ed Snider Youth Foundation jersey, was signed by the Flyers in the off-season. They hope he can regain the form that took Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. One year later, he was, in effect, banished to Russia because of his conduct.
"I care about what people think and what the general consensus is as it pertains to our team," Emery said after the session. "But I know what type of person I am. People who do things in the community just to change their image, that's not the right reason. That's B.S. I do it because it's something I like to do. I've always been open to that. Always."
Before arriving at the Northeast Philadelphia rink in his white Lamborghini, Emery worked out at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees. He has been skating and working out regularly at the rink, trying to get a head start on camp, which begins with physicals Sept. 12.
"I think it's no secret we have a good team," he said. "It's a new scene for myself, and there's some new faces on the team, so that kind of adds to the excitement going into the year - to challenge yourself to get off to a good start."