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Razor Remembered

A look back at the moments Emery made special as a Flyer

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

Three-stint Flyers goaltender Ray Emery passed away on Sunday morning. According to official reports, the 35-year-old drowned in Hamilton Harbour during a swimming outing with friends at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club in Hamilton, Ontario.

"The Philadelphia Flyers are stunned and extremely saddened to hear of the tragic passing of former Flyers goaltender Ray Emery. Ray was an outstanding teammate and an extremely gifted goaltender," said Flyers president Paul Holmgren.

"He had exceptional athleticism, was a fierce competitor and battled in every game he played with the Flyers. His performances through the 2009-10 season were a very big part of the team's success in making the playoffs and reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Ray's talent, work ethic and determination helped him enjoy a successful 11-year NHL career. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

Emery was born September 28, 1982 in Hamilton, Ontario. The Ottawa Senators drafted the athletically gifted 6-foot-2 netminder from the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2001 NHL Draft. He was the CHL Goaltender of the Year in 2001-02

Nicknamed "Razor" for his competitive nature as well as his name and "Sugar Ray" (as in Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard) for his love of pro boxing and own fistic prowess, Emery learned over time to channel his inner fire in positive ways. He turned around a negative early career reputation to become known as an outstanding teammate and a player dedicated to his craft. Twice, he was a finalist for the NHL's Masterton Trophy (2010-11 and 2011-12).

Emery spent three different stints with the Flyers. 

On June 10, 2009, the club signed the goaltender as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year contract. Emery thrived for the Flyers early in the 2009-10. He notched a 28-save road shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes in his Flyers debut and followed it up the next night by outdueling the legendary Martin Brodeur in a 5-2 road win over the Devils. He finished his first month as a Flyer with a 6-3-1 record, 2.46 goals against average and .915 save percentage.

On December 9, 2009, Emery underwent sports hernia surgery to repair a significant muscle tear on the left side of his lower abdominal area. Although Emery eventually returned to the lineup from mid-January to February 1, something was still physically wrong with him even as he gritted through games.

On February 1, 2010, Emery battled his way through an 18-save shutout in a 3-0 home win over the Calgary Flames. Shortly thereafter, he was shut down after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis. The player had a condition in his right hip called avascular necrosis, a condition in which blood supply did not reach his hip joint, causing once-healthy tissue to die and the bone to deteriorate.

For many years, avascular necrosis was a career-ending condition. Most famously, National Football League and Major League Baseball player Bo Jackson saw his brilliant athletic career come to an end due to the debilitating condition.

With no guarantees - in fact, with initially feared long odds - of resuming his hockey career, Emery was shut down for the remainder of the 2009-10 season as the Flyers eventually reached the Stanley Cup Final and fell two wins shy of the Cup against the Chicago Blackhawks. Emery underwent a bone-grafting surgery.

An unsigned free agent, Emery began a long and arduous comeback attempt. Emery began training with an OHL team. He hired a personal trainer, Matt Nichol. Additionally, he also worked out on the ice with retired former Flyers superstar Eric Lindros. On February 7, 2011, Emery signed a contract with the Anaheim Ducks for the rest of the season.

Emery made his return to the NHL as he appeared in his first game for the Ducks on March 11, 2011. He remained healthy the rest of the season. He was a finalist for the 2010-11 Masterton Trophy along with two other men who played for the Flyers, Ian Laperriere (who won the award) and ex-Flyer forward Daymond Langkow.

Thus began the third, and most satisfying, chapter of Emery's NHL career. He was now universally regarded as a model of professionalism, team-oriented selflessness, hard work and dedication to his craft. From a goaltending technique standpoint, Emery had lost some of his once remarkable lateral movement and recovery ability. However, he compensated by evolving into a more patient and positionally sound goaltender than he had been in his Ottawa days. Emery also still had quick hands and good anticipation.

Emery joined the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 season. In the latter, lockout-shortened season, Emery shared the Jennings Trophy with Corey Crawford for the fewest goals allowed in the NHL that season. Individually in 21 appearances, he posted a 17-1-0 record (setting a new NHL record by going 12-0-0 to start the season), 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts. The Blackhawks, with Crawford in goal throughout the postseason, went on to win the Stanley Cup. Emery finally had a Cup ring.

On July 5, 2013, Emery returned to the Flyers as an unrestricted free agent. Serving primarily as the back up to Steve Mason, with whom he quickly established a strong rapport, Emery spent the next seasons in Philadelphia on a pair of one-year contracts.

In 2013-14, the Flyers got off to a poor start. The team went 3-9-0 over the first 12 games and had trouble scoring goals (through 15 games, the club had scored just 22 times). Things came to a head in an embarrassing 7-0 pasting on home ice at the hands of the Washington Capitals; a game that started with the Flyers holding Washington without a shot for the first 15 minutes.

Playing in relief of starter Mason, the Flyers and Emery hit their boiling point when his mask was knocked ajar in a collision at the net with Jason Chimera and an ensuing Jason Ward power play goal was allowed to stand to make it a 7-0 game in the third period.

On the next shift, a series of fights broke out in the Washington end of the ice. Emery promptly skated down the ice and challenged Washington goalie Braden Holtby to fight. Holtby refused. Emery said, "Then you'd better protect yourself," and proceeded to lay a one-sided beatdown on the opposing netminder as he released a month's worth of frustrations.

Although Emery and the Flyers received widespread negative press, the brawls in general and Emery's role in particular had an internally cathartic effect on the hockey team (which was the only response that Emery cared about in the first place). The club's nerves calmed and the players collectively became a more united front.

The very next night, Emery and the Flyers breezed to a 14-save shutout in a 1-0 win in New Jersey. A few games later, the Flyers began a winning streak and the goals started to go in with regularity. Ultimately, the team made the playoffs despite one of the worst starts in franchise history.

The Flyers drew the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. With Mason sidelined by a late-season concussion until Game Four, Emery started the first three games. He won Game Two at Madison Square Garden but lost in Games One and Three. Mason played brilliantly upon his return, nearly stealing the series for Philadelphia but the Flyers ultimately dropped a 2-1 in Game Seven.

Statistically, Emery posted a 9-12-2 record, two shutouts, 2.96 GAA and .903 save percentage in 28 regular season outings in 2013-14, but his play in the majority of his outings was better than the subpar appearance of his numbers. He went 1-2 in the playoff series against the Rangers, with a 3.49 GAA and .888 save percentage.   

In 2014-15, Emery did not play as well as the previous season but had a good early season run. The team hit a rut from mid-November to mid-December and spent the rest of the season trying unsuccessfully to get into playoff position. Overall, Emery had a 10-11-7 record, 3.06 goals against average and .894 save percentage in 31 appearances.

Emery became an unrestricted free agent in July 2015. Moving in a different direction, the Flyers signed the younger Michal Neuvirth to share duties with Mason. 

Emery, who was not signed by an NHL team before the season, bounced around and looked for a landing spot. He had a preseason tryout with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a pair of three-game American Hockey League tryouts (with the Ontario Reign and Toronto Marlies) and then went to Germany's DEL to play for Adler Mannheim during the league's stretch drive and playoffs (which come earlier in Europe than in the NHL).

On April 1, 2016, the Flyers announced the club had signed Emery for the rest of the 2015-16 season. With Neuvirth recovering from injury and rookie Anthony Stolarz (who had not appeared in an NHL regular season game) backing up Mason, the move was made for depth.

As required by NHL rules for free agents signed after playing in Europe during the same season, the Flyers placed Emery on waivers upon his signing before they were able to add him the roster. Emery was not eligible for the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. However, he dressed as a backup for the returning Neuvirth in the regular season finale.

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