Flyers

Just a teenager, Carter Hart already mentally fit for Flyers' future

Just a teenager, Carter Hart already mentally fit for Flyers' future

VOORHEES, N.J. — The last time Carter Hart recalls becoming irritated on the ice, he was 10 years old. He was in his first year of playing goaltender after previously playing forward.

His dad, John Hart, was his coach and his current sports psychologist, John Stevenson, was then his goalie coach. What transpired may have resembled a more PG version of this.

“This one kid kept crashing into my crease,” Hart said, “so my dad was on the bench coaching and he’s just like, ‘Just give it to this kid.’ So I just started blockering him.

“I actually didn’t know to blocker a kid, they consider it a weapon [and it’s] a five-game suspension. So I got a five-game suspension when I was 10 years old.”

Eight years later, Hart finds himself as one of the most anticipated goaltending prospects the Flyers have ever had, perhaps even more than the person who drafted him, Ron Hextall.

There was Pete Peeters in the late 1970s and Pelle Lindbergh in the ‘80s. Hextall, of course, in the late ‘80s. The Flyers’ history of drafting goalies is an urban legend.

Not many swooned over the likes of Dominic Roussel and Neil Little.

Hart is a different breed of goaltender. The Flyers made him the first goalie drafted in 2016 when they selected him 48th overall. He won the CHL Goaltender of the Year his draft year.

Last season, he posted superior numbers but didn’t recapture his crown. Owen Sound’s Michael McNiven won the title. Politics was likely involved. No goalie has ever won it twice.

Still, Hart won the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Goaltender of the Year for the second consecutive season and was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week.

When sports psychologist and an 18-year-old come up in the same sentence, it may carry a negative connotation. Some may trigger the alarms. It shouldn’t, especially for a goalie.

Mental toughness is as essential to goaltending as hand-eye coordination is to hitting a baseball. If any conclusion can be drawn from Hart having one, it should be positive. 

Stevenson is a registered psychologist based in Edmonton, Alberta. He runs Zone Performance Psychology with his wife, Jaci Stevenson, and is a former scout for the Oilers.

The relationship between Hart and Stevenson goes back to when Hart was 10 when he was encouraged by his dad to blocker the kid crashing his crease. Stevenson was originally his goalie coach before transitioning into psychology full-time. Hart describes himself as laid-back whose “energy levels have dropped” in the eight years since. On the ice, he carries a calm demeanor — he doesn’t get mad and doesn’t consider himself to be vocal.

Perhaps some tricks he’s applicated from working with Stevenson, who also works with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner. As a former goalie coach, Stevenson would try to get in Hart’s head to mess with him, according to Hart, which taught the Sherwood Park, Alberta, native to control what he can control.

“I talk to him on a regular basis,” Hart said Friday of Stevenson. “I’ve learned a lot on the mental side of things. The mental game is huge. It’s probably 90 percent of the position, really. If you believe you can do it, you can. That’s the mindset you have to have, you have to believe in yourself. You really have to believe in yourself and trust everything that you do.”

Holtby has been working with Stevenson since he was 15 years old. The Capitals’ goaltender told The Washington Post in 2015 that he didn’t realize how important Stevenson has been to him in his professional life until his first year away from him.

“That’s when I really found out how crucial that experience I had with him was,” he told the Post. “Kind of take it for granted when it’s right there at your fingertips, and once it’s gone, you have to start doing it on your own. It makes it harder, but you learn it even more.”

While Holtby and Hart share the same psychologist, Holtby isn’t the goalie Hart admires most, though he did call Holtby “one of the most mentally tough guys in the business.” Hart said he’s met Holtby a few times through Stevenson, and Holtby texted him after the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships. The goalie he models his game after is Carey Price.

“He’s very efficient,” Hart said of Price. “He’s one of the best skaters in the game. He makes things simple and makes difficult saves look easy. I really admire the way he skates. That’s one of the biggest things for me is being a good skater. If you can’t skate, you can’t play.

“You have to be an elite-level skater to play in the NHL. … I think Price is the most elite skater in the league.”

Hart turns 19 on Aug. 13 and is not eligible for the AHL. It’s either one more year in Everett or breaking training camp with the Flyers. “Obviously, it doesn’t happen often for 19-year-old goalies,” he said. That’s his goal, but the numbers game dictates his October destination. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are the Flyers’ goalies for the next two years.

In 2016-17, Hart posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games last season with the Silvertips. He led the WHL in goals-against average (1.99), save percentage (.927) and shutouts (nine). He had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 38 seconds during the record season.

After his season ended in Everett, Hart joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during AHL playoffs largely as a third goalie with Anthony Stolarz injured. Then Alex Lyon suffered an injury in Game 2 of their first-round series with the Hershey Bears. Hart found himself on the bench backing up Martin Ouellette for Game 3. The Phantoms rode Ouellette for Games 4 and 5 with Mark Dekanich backing up. Lehigh Valley lost in five games.

Hart never played.

“I thought maybe against Hershey when I backed up, maybe see what happens,” he said.

Hextall drafted his fifth goalie in his fourth draft last month as Flyers general manager, selecting Russian netminder Kirill Ustimenko in the third round. With Ustimenko in the fold, the Flyers now have nine goalies in the organization.

“It doesn’t really matter. It’s just goalie depth,” Hart said. “There’s nothing wrong with having goalie depth because you never know what happens. The position of goaltending can be tough and tough on the body. … It’s a long year. Seventy-two games in the WHL, 76 games in the American League and obviously 82 in The Show.

“It doesn't bother me. Just got to worry about yourself.”

Flyers weren't kidding themselves about the process

Flyers weren't kidding themselves about the process

Maybe Alain Vigneault wanted to make a point.

That it’s not all about goals.

Philly is a results city and, ultimately, the NHL is a results business. But Vigneault firmly believes in the process behind the results. He will see past the goal tallies bolded in the box score — if the process is being grown and done right.

The Flyers’ head coach constantly refers to the process. It’s what matters most when he attempts to build a contender, especially in Year 1 with a new team.

The process, one would think, looked pretty good Monday night … right? 

Especially during a four-goal second period in which the Flyers blew open an eventual 6-2 win over the Golden Knights (see observations). After all, the Flyers had scored only four goals over their past two games, both lopsided losses.

But Vigneault had other thoughts. He wasn’t about to forget the meaning of the process. He could have easily said the goals came because the Flyers stuck to it.

He didn’t go there.

“We had some puck luck in the second, found a way to score four and got outstanding goaltending,” Vigneault said. “In my mind, that could have been our least effective period in the last eight. But we found a way to win that period, 4-0. Sometimes it works out that way.”

Found a way to score four goals? A least-effective period of four goals?

The Flyers were outshot by Vegas in the middle stanza, 18-13. Brian Elliott came up with monstrous saves as the Flyers permitted some Grade A chances to a dangerous Western Conference team. After the past two losses, the Flyers had mentioned that they expected to be on the positive end of fortunate wins, too — as in that’s hockey, teams can get outplayed and still come away with victories.

The Flyers scored only one goal in the first period Monday but outshot the Golden Knights, 15-7, and really got after them in the offensive zone. The Flyers would take that opening frame over their second period just about every time.

“We thought we played better in the games that we lost,” Michael Raffl said. “We got away from it in the second period a little bit. We’ve got to keep doing what we do and it’s going to work. At the end of the day, when you work like that and keep outshooting opponents, you’ll be on the better end of the game at the end most of the time.”

The Flyers had to practically defend themselves following back-to-back losses by a combined score of 10-4. The Flyers outshot the opposition, 91-38, but uneven defeats don’t sit well with fans, especially ones that have become accustomed to mediocre Octobers.

“Last two games, I know we didn't have the result we wanted, we lost both games, but if you really look into the game, if you understand the game, you understand that we played great games,” Claude Giroux said after morning skate Monday.

The Flyers were OK admitting that they didn’t play their best game against Vegas.

Especially Vigneault.

He’ll be honest about the process — good or bad, no matter what the final score.

“In the second period, we scored four but I really believe that in our last eight periods, it could have been our least effective as far as going north-south a little bit quick, our puck management, making the right plays at the right time,” Vigneault said. “But when we didn’t do it the right way, we got big saves and when they made a mistake in that second period, we were able to make them pay, which we hadn’t been able to do for quite some time.”

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How's that for a breakthrough? Flyers catch fire and beat Golden Knights to snap losing streak

How's that for a breakthrough? Flyers catch fire and beat Golden Knights to snap losing streak

BOX SCORE 

The Flyers felt they had dominated their last two games.

The scoreboard said otherwise.

On Monday night, the Flyers quashed the debate by ripping off five goals through the first two periods en route to an emphatic 6-2 win over the Golden Knights at the Wells Fargo Center.

The victory for the Flyers (3-3-1) put a four-game losing streak to bed as Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, Michael Raffl (two), Matt Niskanen and Oskar Lindblom all scored.

The Golden Knights (6-4-0) were coming off a shutout of the Penguins and their penalty kill was 33 for 35 on the season.

The Flyers impressively put up a six-spot on Vegas with two of the goals coming on the man advantage.

• Alain Vigneault’s team made a statement in the second period with four goals. Quite frankly, it needed to make a statement. Winning the shot battle is not a statement — putting up crooked numbers, though, speaks volumes (see story).

The Flyers had scored seven combined goals through the first and second periods this season. They weren’t giving up a ton, but they weren’t capitalizing, either.

This time, the Flyers did, and against a pretty good Western Conference contender.

Now it’s a matter of producing consistently.

• Let’s not forget how good Brian Elliott was against the Golden Knights. He converted big saves, many of which came before the score turned lopsided.

After the Flyers had yielded 10 goals in their previous two games, the 34-year-old picked up 33 stops. He has 76 saves on 81 shots in three career matchups with Vegas.

He could get the next game in Chicago.

Golden Knights backup Oscar Dansk had a rough outing.

• Joel Farabee, the 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft, made his anticipated NHL debut just five games into his pro career.

Last Saturday, Farabee’s mother, grandmother and older brother traveled from Cicero, New York (right outside of Syracuse) to watch his game at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

His mother Pam was back on the road Monday with Farabee’s father Dave to watch their son’s first NHL game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Farabee, a skilled and strategic goal-scoring winger, didn’t score but exhibited his sharp reads and angles to the puck. He gives the Flyers a flashy skill in the bottom six, a type of player who can make a play out of nothing.

• There has been no slowing down Konecny and Lindblom, who have been the Flyers’ two best players. The Flyers have desperately needed some of their promising youth to take big steps. So far, so good from the 22-year-old Konecny and 23-year-old Lindblom.

Konecny has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in seven games.

For some perspective on his start, the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau has eight points (three goals, five assists) in 10 games so far.

With his two-point effort, Lindblom has four goals and six points in seven games. Last season, he scored four goals in his first 45 games. The Flyers have put Lindblom in a position that suits him well and he’s taking advantage of it.

• The Flyers’ defensemen were strong and a combined plus-6.

• The unsung Raffl notched his first two-goal game since March 15, 2016.

• Four of the Flyers’ next five games are on the road.

To begin the stretch, the Flyers visit the Blackhawks on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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