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 condonation. 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.”

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011.

Team Canada names Sean Burke GM for 2018 Olympics
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach.

Sabres re-sign goalie Lehner to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils re-sign 3 restricted free agents
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.