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Flyers prospect gets to Hart of matter

By Kevin Woodley / Correspondent, 03/02/18, 12:15PM CST


Season for ages brings Everett goalie into further focus

VANCOUVER -- The Philadelphia Flyers sent goaltender prospect Carter Hart back to Everett of the Western Hockey League in the fall with simple instructions.

"They said just to come back here and be the best junior hockey player -- not just the best junior hockey goalie, but the best junior hockey player," Hart said.

Hart, 19, is delivering on his mandate.

He is 26-4-3 with a 1.53 goals-against average and seven shutouts. His .951 save percentage would be the best in Canadian Hockey League history, by a significant margin.

At the very least, Hart seems a sure bet for a third straight Goalie of the Year Award in the WHL, where the best single-season save percentage in league history is .937 (Griffen Outhouse, Victoria, 2015-16; Dustin Tokarski, Spokane, 2008-09).

He is also well ahead of the Ontario Hockey League single-season record .941 save percentage (Mike Murphy, Belleville; 2008-09; Gerald Coleman, London, 2004-05) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's .931 (Nicola Riopel, Moncton, 2008-09).

"Don't say it, I don't want to know," said Hart, a second-round pick (No. 48) by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL Draft. "I don't want to worry about [save percentage] in a game, like, 'Oh, .920 save percentage, got to make sure I get it up,' so I don't like to look at all."

EVERETT, WA - JANUARY 20: Brandon Wheat Kings forward Luka Burzan (27) tries to sneak the puck by Everett Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart (70) in a game between the Everett Silvertips and the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday, January 20, 2018 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA. Everett shutout Brandon by a final score of 4-0. (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In addition to being on pace to become the first CHL goalie with a save percentage of .950 or higher, Hart likely will become the first two-time recipient of the CHL Goalie of the Year Award, after winning it in 2015-16.

But his focus is making the NHL, preferably sooner than later.

"I want to be a Philadelphia Flyer next year," he said. "That's my goal."

Hart knows, however, that looking too far ahead, like thinking about numbers, could be more detrimental than helpful.

So, amid a historic season and after being the starting goaltender for Canada in a gold-medal performance at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, Hart insists he must try to stay in the moment.

"Your focus has to be right here, right now," he said. "Sometimes that can be hard, but if you get ahead of yourself then you are going to have a lack of consistency because you are worried about things you can't control and a future that hasn't happened yet."

It's a mindset shaped by professional instruction in virtually every aspect of his game.

Watch Hart after a whistle. He grabs his water bottle and squirts a stream into the air, focusing on one drop as it falls to the ice. It looks familiar because it is an identical routine to the one used by Braden Holtby, the No. 1 goalie with the Washington Capitals.

The similarity is intentional. Hart has been working with Holtby's mental and vision coach since he was 10.

"I know a lot of guys are starting to pick that up now, but at least I can say I have been doing it a lot longer," Hart said with a laugh. "It brings my focus back."

Hart has other instructors. Edmonton Oilers goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz has worked with him in the summer for the past six years, with a focus on tracking. Last summer, in Kelowna, British Columbia, Hart worked with Lyle Mast, whose clients include Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and James Reimer of the Florida Panthers. The focus was to improve skating and lateral movement efficiencies, part of a foundation, he says, for the step he's taken this season.

In Everett, he works with goaltending coach Shane Clifford. He also has received advice from Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh, who has helped him with traffic management.

"Building a range of not just looking up and over screens, maybe looking down and around or taking a slight step to the side just to get a better visual and find that puck," Hart said.

EVERETT, WA - FEBRUARY 10: Everett Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart (70) holds the game puck after tying the Western Hockey League record for career shutouts at 26 after a game between the Everett Silvertips and the Vancouver Giants on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA. Everett defeated Vancouver by a final score of 5-0. (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Whether it's a demeanor that doesn't change coming off a shutout or a loss, or the way his improved efficiency makes difficult saves look easy, Everett coach Dennis Williams said Hart is the bedrock of his team.

"What Carter does is he keeps a really calming effect on our guys. You would never know the score, if we're up or we're down, when he's in net," Williams said. "He just goes about this business night in and night out. It's very reassuring to our group. If you don't know the position, you don't appreciate how good he is out there at times because he is so efficient."

That efficiency was on full display last Friday in a 2-1 victory against Vancouver.

Late in the game, Vancouver had an extra attacker and was buzzing the net. A cross-ice pass found the stick of Ty Ronning, a prospect of the New York Rangers who has scored 54 goals in 61 games this season. Ronning shot quickly, but Hart was already square, set at the edge of his crease for a controlled save with no rebound.

In the moment, it was another save in a series of them in a potentially historic CHL season.

In the big picture, it was another example of an evolution that could make Hart the best homegrown goalie for the Flyers since they selected current general manager Ron Hextall in the 1982 NHL Draft.