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Hart knows he's not alone as he heads home and Flyers head into offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Carter Hart stated it with confidence and eagerness.
"I'm looking forward to having a clean slate next year; I think we all are," the Flyers' goalie said Tuesday at his end-of-the-season press conference. "And we're all going to be better next year — I know it."
But for a fresh start, one needs a restart — a sense of normalcy, a way to build a new foundation. No better way than to go home and see the ones that make life a lot simpler. Hart, who is from Sherwood Park, Alberta — right outside of Edmonton — said he had not seen his mom Shauna and dad John since the beginning of December.
"I believe in myself and I believe that I can be a top goaltender in this league," Hart said. "I'm just looking forward to a great offseason of training, get settled back in with my family and friends and get a good plan going forward for this offseason."
For Hart, the 2020-21 season turned out to be as much of a grind mentally — if not more — as it was physically. The goaltending position can be a mental beast. Playing the position at 22 years old, in Philadelphia, during a pandemic — that compounds the beast. With tight restrictions because of COVID-19, it was difficult for players to get away from the game and not stew in the anxiety of a bad performance or stretch.
“I think just this year, it was it was challenging for everybody," Hart said. "Tough circumstances with COVID and everything. Some guys it didn't affect them and others more than others. It was a little bit difficult this year when you live alone and stuff and you just go back and forth from the rink to your apartment every day. But near the end, things were getting a lot better, I was hanging out with the boys a lot more, some of the boys were inviting me over for dinners. Just little things like that make it so much easier in, I guess, a weird year.”
After going 24-13-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage last season, followed up by playoff marks of 9-5-0, a 2.23 GAA and .926 save percentage, Hart stomached a tumultuous 2020-21 season. He struggled to the tune of a 9-11-5 record, 3.67 goals-against average and .877 save percentage.
Following a March 9 start in which he was pulled for the third time of the season, Hart said things were "sh---y" and he didn't feel like himself. The club had him go through a mini, practice-oriented reset at the end of March and into early April.
“You kind of go home and you're just in your own thoughts the whole time because you’re just sitting in your apartment alone," Hart said. "Things were a lot better at the end, I was feeling a lot happier and hanging out with the boys more, and I think that that was kind of a big part of my play toward the end was just enjoying the game more and being more grateful for where I am. I mean, I’m in the NHL, I’m in the best league in the world. So instead of dwelling on other things, shifting my focus toward being more grateful.”
Before missing the Flyers' final 13 games because of an MCL sprain in his left knee, Hart went 1-2-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .910 save percentage over his final five starts.
“I was feeling good," Hart said. "In April there, I was feeling a lot better. And I think it just starts in practice — practice like you play. I was working my nuts off in practice and off the ice and I was feeling a lot better with my game.”
The Flyers' faith in Hart has not wavered. They believe in the 22-year-old and his ability to be a cornerstone of the club's attempt at a rebound 2021-22 season.
"My level of confidence in Carter is very high," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. "He’s a good young man, he probably went through the first time in his life, his career, adversity. You have to go through adversity to get better and to grow. He’s gone through that, he’s playing the toughest position in hockey.
"He had only played a small sample, a couple of games his first year, 20-somewhat. A lot of those games meaningless in the sense that the team was out. Last year, played, had a good season, was real good at home, improved on the road, then we went into the bubble and he played well for us there. This year, got off to a good start and then it became challenging.
"He faced some adversity. I think that adversity is good — it’s going to make him better. He’s still a very young player playing a real tough position. With the right mindset, the right attitude, the right work ethic moving forward, he’s got all the capabilities to become a real solid goaltender. Now he’s got to go out and prove it."
And forget a weird, strange, difficult season. The Flyers won't forget the reasons for why Hart was the first goalie taken in the 2016 draft, why he had a heralded junior hockey career and why he experienced immediate success at the NHL level.
"I think Carter’s no different than a lot of 22-year-old individuals — in every walk of life, whether you're in college or working or in sports, he’s a young man that’s finding his way," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday. "We’ve asked a lot out of Carter, he’s a precocious talent, he’s climbed the ladder very quickly. Clearly this year didn’t go the way he had hoped, the way we had all hoped, but yet there’s a lot of talent there.
"I think our expectation is that Carter will make the adjustments necessary and come back and be the goalie that we all want him to be and that he expects to be. He’s a top-end talent and it’s a tough league, but he’ll make the adjustments he has to make and he’ll return to form."
In a letdown, playoff-less season for the Flyers, the club allowed the NHL's most goals per game (3.52) and had the league's worst save percentage (.883). Hart's play will be imperative to the Flyers wanting to change those troubling figures next season.
"We're all in this together with this year," Hart said. "Obviously it wasn't nowhere near our expectations for the season. It was just a weird year and with everything going on outside of hockey, but I think you really need to lean on your teammates during this time. Those times where you're in the team bonding and hanging out with the boys, I think that's crucial for a successful team. You need that.
"I think going forward, this is only going to help me with my career. Going into next season, I’ll have a great summer of training and I'll be ready for next year."
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