There were going to have to be some changes if Carter Hart were ever to make it in Parker Fowlds’ house when he was in juniors.
It was Hart’s second year with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and the goalie didn’t seem like much of a teammate to his new landlord.
Fowlds, now 77, is in his 15th year as a billet for Silvertips players, hosting two guests a year. They’ll always invite teammates over to his one-story rambler on a quiet street in Everett, Wash.
“He was standoffish from the other players,” Fowlds said by phone. “I’m so used to having players just walk in and say hi and things like that, but he would not greet them very politely. So, I finally said, ‘Look, you’ve got to become friends with the players. Because if they don’t like you, they’re not gonna work for you.’ He started right away.”
Fowlds and Hart became quick friends. The goalie said his host is “like my grandpa” and will come visit Hart and his parents in Alberta this summer. They’ve gone to the beach, gone to Seattle Mariners games and have forged a lifelong bond.
“I just think that he’s part of family now,” Hart said. “As soon as I got there I felt comfortable. He does whatever it takes to make us feel comfortable.”
Hart turns 20 next month and will become a professional this fall, no longer under someone else’s roof. That will take some adjusting because every morning at 5 a.m., Fowlds wakes up and goes to a Safeway grocery store to restock his house with fresh fruit and healthy food, and he also does laundry for two growing hockey players.
His family room looks different than it used to. One wall now holds 53 hockey sticks, one for each of the kids that he’s hosted. And above his 60-inch television are two goalie sticks, one from Hart, the first goalie he’s billeted.
The shelf in the room has some new hardware courtesy of Hart’s stellar junior hockey career. On the wall next to are three large photos of the Flyers’ potential franchise goalie.
“He’d rather put them in his room or put them away because he says, ‘You don’t need to have those out,’” Fowlds remarked, “and I say, ‘Well, I do.’”
Hart is quickly becoming much bigger than a minor-league star on the West Coast. In the fall there will be a new chapter in his hockey career, either with the Flyers or the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and there will be a lot more pressure than just a couple of new rules in someone else’s home.
A two-time goalie for Canada in the World Junior Championships, Hart has felt the pressure of a whole country.
Sooner or later, he’ll have that burden for the Flyers franchise also.
“I think he’s prepared,” Fowlds said. “He’s very careful on what he eats. He exercises every day. He stretches and he keeps himself in shape. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. He turned out to be a really nice young man. He was a little sketchy to begin with, but I was always told goalies are a little different. And they were.”
This week marked the third time Hart had gone through one of the Flyers’ development camps. It’s mostly teenagers with the rare college player in his 20s. For the most part it’s the same level of competition he’s faced with in Everett where he won CHL Goaltender of the Year honors twice in three years, the first to do so.
The opposition will change when he turns pro.
“Obviously it’s going to be a jump up, but you just have to adjust and adapt to everything and you’re not gonna get the guys just coming in, the little 16-year-olds with a flip shot,” Hart said. “Guys can shoot the puck a lot harder. I’ve experienced that with the Phantoms (in two brief call-ups) and with camps here. I think you just have to adapt and adjust.”
His goal this summer is to add 10 pounds. He weighs 185 and wants to pack on muscle in his five-days-a-week routine back home in Alberta with trainer Phil Daly. Wednesdays are for yoga, but the other days he wants to bulk up. Too much weight and he can’t keep his flexibility, so he has to be careful.
“I know he knows that this summer I want to get a lot bigger, stronger, faster and Phil is one of the best trainers I know,” Hart said.
When Hart returns to South Jersey for training camp in September, he hopes to be in the proper frame to bypass the AHL and start his pro career with the Flyers. His resume to this point as well as his mental game suggest he’s more than capable.
“Everybody knows he’s one of the best around, if not the best,” said Wyatte Wylie, a Silvertips defenseman the Flyers selected in the fifth round of last week’s draft. “Having him back there you feel safe and can play your game. He’s a very good goalie.”
“Obviously I want to play here,” Hart added said. “I love coming to Philly, coming to development camp or training camp and I want to be a Philadelphia Flyer next year, and that’s my goal.”
Matej Tomek, the Flyers’ third-round pick in 2015, had a lot more breathing room at this year’s camp than last year’s because the media circus was cattycorner to him instead of in his lap.
“I was his stall-mate last year,” he said, referring to Hart. “It was like sitting next to (Sidney) Crosby.”
In part because of the expectations he brings and in part because he’s a thoughtful quote, Hart gets his fair share of attention from reporters in the locker room.
He doesn’t seem to mind that the outside noise is screaming for a star between the pipes, the first one the Flyers have had since GM Ron Hextall. Last week, he feels he took a positive step in that direction by deleting the Twitter app from his iPhone.
“I found there’s almost no point of having it,” Hart said. “You’re seeing a lot of news, whether it’s positive or negative you just don’t want to hear that stuff. For me I just try to stay away from it and worry about what I’m doing and where I’m at right now.”
He has found a way to narrow his focus, especially when he’s on the ice. The secret? Breathing techniques. At least before Hart goes on the ice. That was reinforced this week when the Flyers prospects did some training with Navy SEALS and were told “the breath is the gateway to the mind.”
Fowlds can attest to the tunnel vision. His seats in Everett are in the fifth row, behind the goal that the Silvertips defend twice. He’s missed only three home games since the inception of the team in 2003. Hart would wave at him once in warmups, then he would dial in.
“It’s full concentration,” Fowlds said. “I don’t think he really sees anybody in the stands.”
It seems to be working. Last season Hart had a mind-blowing .941 save percentage in 41 games. The next-best goalie was teammate Dustin Wolf, who had a .928 save percentage and played in only 20 games.
What Hart and the Flyers are hoping is that he can translate his game to the NHL. Fast.
“Coming to camp in September, my job is to just stop the puck,” Hart said. “The only thing that really matters is what I think about myself. I can’t worry about what staff thinks, management thinks, what other people think, what fans think. I just have to worry about what I think as soon as I step out onto that ice.”