For the last three or four months, one of the more popular sayings is “the new normal.” Wearing masks, practicing social distancing and modifying behaviors to adhere to public health guidelines have become part of the fabric of our daily lives. As each sport returns to play, there is bound to be a new normal for baseball, basketball, football and hockey. The bottom line is that things that would have once been viewed as abnormal have now become normal.
For Flyers goaltender Carter Hart, abnormal has been all he has known since coming up to the NHL. Hart’s career began as an early holiday gift for Flyers fans. Hart made his debut against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 18, 2018, after the Flyers were more than two months into their season. Hart performed admirably in his first season, finishing ninth in Calder Trophy voting for the league’s best rookie and despite missing games because of injury, his rookie season was anything but normal.
Flyers fans and Hart alike were looking forward to the young goaltender’s first full season as the franchise goaltender. Hart was having a good season, especially at home where he was flat-out dominant. Enter COVID-19 and the league pause instituted in early March. Hart spent time at his home near Edmonton, Alberta, during the break, and now is looking at his first NHL playoffs, which are now occurring in late summer, as opposed to “normal” early spring. The list of goaltenders that have dealt with this sort of turmoil and adversity in their first two seasons contains one name — Carter Hart. And I believe this will only benefit him going forward in his career.
Assuming the NHL plan comes to fruition in the way it has planned, that means Hart’s third season will not be a normal NHL season either. While it may be an 82-game slate, as the league has stated it wishes to have, it will be a condensed schedule. If this happens as planned, Hart will have experienced coming up in the middle of a season, having the weight of a franchise on his back, getting injured and dealing with a season interrupted by a pandemic, followed by a condensed season, all before the age of 24. Kids grow up fast, and in Hart’s case, he’s being forced to do so. Thus far, he hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.
If Hart succeeds when play resumes, because these unique circumstances, he will have experienced more in two or three seasons than most goaltenders experience in their entire career. Though his appearance may not suggest it, Hart will be a grown-up goaltender in the NHL.
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