Nine years ago the Flyers used the slogan "Hungry for More" to represent the burning desire to take the next steps after reaching the Eastern Conference Final the previous season. The same motto could also be applied today to goaltending prospect Carter Hart.
Each of the last two seasons, the Flyers' 2016 second-round pick (48th overall) has won the Del Wilson Trophy as the top goaltender in the Western Hockey League. He won the CHL Goaltender of the Year award in 2015-16 as he was selected as the best netminder in any of the three Canadian major junior leagues (WHL, OHL, QMJHL). Last season, Hart represented silver medalist Team Canada at the World Junior Championships on home ice.
Now, Hart is hungry for even more. Bright, charismatic and hard-working as well as gifted, the teenager has his sights set high.
Hart, who will turn 19 on August 13, realizes that he has little realistic shot of earning an NHL job with the Flyers out of training camp in September with veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth on hand and Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltenders Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon in the wings. Hart is not eligible for American Hockey League play in 2017-18 due to the age restrictions on players drafted from CHL-affiliated leagues.
That does not mean, however, that Hart is not aiming to give Flyers general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol pause for consideration.
"My goal is to make the team [for 2017-18] here. Obviously it doesn't happen often with 19-year-old goalies, but it's something that I really want. It's something that I'm working for. I'm coming here to try to make the team in the fall," Hart said.
A more likely scenario is that Hart returns to his junior team, the Everett Silvertips, for one additional year of seasoning before playing pro hockey. The Flyers signed Hart to an entry-level contract on Oct. 2, 2016. His contract slid to the Western League last season and is also slide-rule eligible (meaning that it would not count against the NHL-mandated 50-contract maximum for each season and the first season of the contract would defer another year).
Even if Hart is reassigned to the WHL, he still has much to play for next season. For one, he would stand a strong chance of returning to Team Canada to take aim at a gold medal in the 2017-18 World Junior Championships.
"I took away so much from playing in the World Juniors last year," Hart said. "It's always special to represent your country. The tempo of play in the tournament is very high, because these are the best players in the world your age. It's higher tempo than a typical junior game."
At last year's tournament, Hart split playing time in net with Connor Ingram during the preliminary round with Ingram seeing more duty. In the medal round semifinals, Canada faced Sweden. The Junior Crowns had Flyers prospect Felix Sandstrom, who ultimately won tournament Best Goaltender honors, in goal. Ingram started in goal for Canada but faltered early.
Hart entered the game in relief, and outdueled Sandstrom on this night. After Canada trailed by scores of 1-0 and 2-0, Hart stopped all 28 shots he faced as Canada went on to win, 5-2, to earn a gold medal match meeting with Team USA.
An ultimately heartbroken Hart (no pun intended) stopped 32 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime and denied each American shooter except Troy Terry. Several of the American goals in regulation were scored on wicked deflections and another was a snipe by Kieffer Bellows. Terry, who scored three straight five-hole goals in the Russia shootout also found the five-hole on Hart. Otherwise, Hart stopped three glove-side attempts and a second five-hole try with authority.
"Obviously, if I could have scripted it differently, we would have won. But anything can happen in a shootout. That was a great game and the [Canada vs. USA] rivalry is pretty special. I don't know how things will work out for next season but if I am in a situation where I can be in Buffalo [the host site for the 2018 tournament]. I would love to do that and try to win a gold medal. I've heard there's going to be an outdoor game between USA and Canada. That will be incredible," Hart said.
Hart also feels he has more to give at the WHL level if he is reassigned to the Silvertips. No goaltender in league history has ever won the Del Wilson Trophy three straight seasons and there has never been a two-time winner of CHL Goaltender of the Year honors. More important, the Silvertips have not advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs in the player's WHL career to date and only once (2003-04) in franchise history has the team reached the playoff finals.
At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Hart is only considered an "average-sized" goaltender by current-day standards. However, while he's not among the behemoth athletes who often populate the net nowadays, Hart more than makes up for it with sound positioning, an economy of movement and a quick glove. At the World Junior Championships, the Team USA shootout attackers kept trying to shoot high on him, only for Hart to snap the puck out of the air.
Hart is quick to credit his goaltending coaches and mentors through the years, including sports psychologist (and former goalie, goaltending coach and Edmonton Oilers scout) John Stevenson. One of the primary reasons he was excited to attend the Flyers Development Camp the last two seasons was the opportunity to work with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh and goaltending development coach Brady Robinson.
"Anytime you can get that caliber of coaching, there are things you can learn and apply," Hart said. "We focused here on post-to-post work, and there are some things in guarding the post that I plan to work into my game."