Don’t let John Stevens or Paul Holmgren see this.
Jeff Carter is a NASCAR fan. He’s attended races at Michigan International Speedway and Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway.
When I asked Carter if he’d ever been interested in racing cars, he smiled and replied, “I don’t think these guys (Flyers management) would let me. It would be cool though.”
If Carter would be as effective at racing cars as he is playing hockey, look out Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carter’s best output his first three seasons with the Flyers was a year ago with 29 goals and 24 assists. If he continues his early scoring pace, he’ll surpass those numbers. Carter already has 11 goals and 14 points in the first 17 games this season.
As effective as Carter is offensively, coach John Stevens counts on his two-way play to help the Flyers.
“He’s a very good checking player,” Stevens said. “When he has the puck, he hangs onto it. He’s got great strength on the puck. He’s a great skater.
“Jeff came in as an offensive player, but we use him to play against the top lines. He still creates offense from being a good checker.”
Stevens said Carter is emerging as a team leader.
|Jeff Carter met NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick before a game at the Wachovia Center last season. (Flyers Photos) |
“We thought we saw it with Jeff last year where he was taking more responsibility,” the coach said. “We’ve included him in some of the leadership meetings this year. He’s not a vocal guy; he leads by example.
“He’s much more confident now. He’s a quiet guy, but he’s a little more outgoing.”
Carter’s wrist shot is considered one of the best in the NHL. With his blinking-quick release and unique sense of when and where to shoot, he is a goaltender’s nightmare.
“A lot of it is natural, but I definitely worked on it,” Carter said. “My dad (Jim) had a net built for me with a slab of plexi-glass and I’d go out and shoot pucks pretty much every night.”
Shooting pucks in the backyard helps a player polish his skills, but it’s on the ice, against stubborn shot-snuffing goaltenders, where the dramatic improvement occurs.
Carter has never lacked confidence. He was the Flyers’ first-round draft choice in 2003. Sometimes it takes several seasons for top draft picks to settle in. Carter isn’t among those players.
“I’ve always been a pretty confident guy,” he said. “I always thought that I could play in this league. Coming into the first training camp was an eye opener, sensing what the level is. Once I got a few games under my belt, I knew I could play here.”
During the latest Flyers-Penguins game in Pittsburgh, the Flyers were on their way to suffering a blowout loss. With the Flyers trailing 3-0, I noted “Richards, Carter and Gagne must do something soon.” Bingo! Carter scored off a pass by Scott Hartnell
, triggering a four-goal Flyers spurt. The Penguins eventually won in a shootout, but Carter’s 10th goal of the season illustrated how he can jump-start the Flyers offense.
In the next game, Carter struck again
. His wrist shot beat goaltender Jaroslav Halak, giving the Flyers a 2-0 lead in Montreal. Between periods, Comcast SportsNet’s rinkside reporter Steve Coates told Carter that his shot, over the goalie’s shoulder, had become his “signature” shot. Smiling, Carter said, “Coatesy, you’re giving away my secret.” (The Flyers won, 2-1).
You learn a few things over the years, but really, it’s instinct: reading the goalie, reading where the holes are, trying to get a quick release and score.” - Jeff Carter
Next to hockey, NASCAR racing is one of Carter’s big interests. Growing up, he and his father, with friends and neighbors, watched the races on television. They also attended races at Michigan International Speedway, about a four-hour drive from his London, Ontario home.
Last season, Carter met NASCAR racer Kevin Harvick when he was in Philadelphia promoting the races at Richmond, Virginia. Harvick, a Californian, has qualified for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup the past three years.
Carter and some friends attended the races at Bristol last August. They watched the races from Harvick’s deluxe box and also strolled through the pits. Carter hopes Harvick will attend a Flyers home game in December around the time of the annual NASCAR awards festivities in New York City. Carter also attended this year’s Indianapolis 500.
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Injuries sustained by defensemen Randy Jones and Ryan Parent was one reason for the Flyers' slow start. A dressing room visitor wondered if another reason for the disappointing start was the result of high expectations and players straining to meet those expectations. A year ago, coming off the worst season in club history, expectations weren’t high. Now, following last season’s surge to the Eastern Conference Final, fans, management and the media are prepped for another run deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|Carter fires the puck over Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak during a Flyers 2-1 win in Montreal on November 15, 2008. (Getty Images) |
Carter disagrees with the theory that some players are caving under those expectations.
“We come into camp every year with a clean slate,” he said. “We just haven’t been playing the way we did last year. There’s little things that we really need to improve on. Everyone has to get themselves mentally prepared to play every game (well). If a couple guys take a night off it’s hard for the team (to succeed).”
Stevens has said that Carter came to camp stronger and faster.
“I didn’t do anything different than what I normally did,” Carter said. “I had my workout program that (trainer) Jimmy (McCrossin) gives us. I came back in early August, worked out with Jimmy during the week and went down the shore (on weekends). I’m a little older (23) and put on some muscle.”
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Carter is one of several young Flyers who live in the Olde City section of Philadelphia. For years, most Flyers lived in South Jersey, close to the team’s practice facility, or in the Pennsylvania suburbs.
“I had a nice house (in South Jersey) for three years,” he said. “I love the area, but for a young guy there’s not much going on,” he said. “In Philadelphia there’s lots of restaurants. We don’t cook.”
The Flyers need Carter and his teammates to keep cooking on the ice.Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.