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Holtby call inspired Flyers goalie prospect Hart

Pep talk from Capitals veteran after 2017 World Juniors loss helped him learn to handle adversity

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Carter Hart needed one phone call and one half-serious, half-joking threat to readjust after one of the biggest disappointments of his hockey life.

Hart, a Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect, was decompressing from a 5-4 shootout loss for Canada against the United States in the gold-medal game at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship when his phone rang.

On the other end was Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

John Stevenson, Hart's mental strength coach since the goaltender was 10 years old, asked Holtby, one of his other clients, to make the call.

"That was really cool for him to do that," Hart said. "Just to hear from him after the World Juniors, to hear from a guy like that who's an established NHL goaltender, one of the best, was pretty cool for sure."

Holtby said reaching out to Hart was easy and something he was happy to do.

Video: Carter Hart joins the show to talk about WJC and more

"Obviously, that was after kind of a tough loss, and you want to keep him encouraged because that's a pretty big stage, the World Juniors in Canada," Holtby said. "So for a young kid to have that pressure, you want to make sure he knows he's doing all right and just keep going."

Hart said he and Holtby talked about handling adversity, including some reminders about lessons they have learned from Stevenson.

There also was a bit of good-natured kidding.

"He said, 'Good luck going all the way even though you're a Flyer,'" Hart said. "There's that Washington-Flyers rivalry there a little bit."

Stevenson said Hart gave him a few more details about the conversation: "At the end, he says, 'Mr. Hart, you're a Philadelphia Flyer and when I meet you I'm going to kick your [butt].'"

Future NHL rivalry aside, Hart said having a relationship with Holtby and Stevenson will benefit him as he starts his professional career this season.

"I don't really know [Holtby] that well," Hart said. "I'll hear from him every now and then, just a text. That's pretty cool to have a guy like that you can talk to. Entering my first year pro, I was going to talk to him about expectations and about your first year of pro hockey and what it's about in the transition from junior to pro. I think it's pretty cool that he's open to talking about that."

Hart has done well since that WJC loss. He was named Western Hockey League goaltender of the year after the 2016-17 season, the second of three consecutive seasons he won the award with Everett. Last season, he was in net for Canada when it won gold at the 2018 WJC. And in addition to winning his third straight WHL goaltending award, he was named the top goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League.

Hart, selected by the Flyers in the second round (No. 48) of the 2016 NHL Draft, likely will start with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League. With veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth unsigned beyond this season, he could be the Flyers' long-term answer in net.

Hart isn't concerned by that now. He's leaning on a mantra Stevenson taught him when he was 10 years old: "I have no future. I have no past. My goal is to make the present last. I'm right here, right now."

"You just have to control what you can control," Hart said. "You can't control what other people think about you, what the staff thinks and their decisions. But what you can control is how you conduct yourself and how you prepare and all the little details with your game. I think that's where your focus has to be."

Hart has been impressive during training camp with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in two preseason games. He made 25 saves on 27 shots in 40 minutes of a 6-4 win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, including 17 saves on 18 shots in the third period. He also made saves on all 11 shots he saw in 29:55 of ice time in a 3-1 win against the New York Islanders on Sept. 17.

"He's not an overactive guy in the net, especially for a young guy," coach Dave Hakstol said. "He is very calm and doesn't make anything look too difficult because he is settled and really good and sound."

Video: Flyers land at No. 4 in Prospect Pipeline

That wasn't always the case. Stevenson said Hart had a high work ethic from an early age but was overly concerned with what people thought of him.

"He was very worried about letting people down," Stevenson said. "That's something that was probably, with a young Carter Hart, that was the biggest thing that he learned how to let go."

The turning point came in 2013, when Hart was 15. He was cut from Everett during training camp and then was cut from the midget AAA team he was expected to play for in 2013-14. He ended up playing that season in minor midget hockey, a step down, in his hometown of Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Stevenson said it took some tough love to get Hart centered emotionally.

"I said, 'Carter, if you ask a girl out for a date and she said no, would you stop your dating career?'" Stevenson said. "Basically, the answer was no. And I said why are you letting this (midget AAA) coach determine your hockey career? … That was a real breakthrough moment for him. There's no person place or thing that's going to determine his career."

Hart has carried those lessons with him into training camp with the Flyers.

"I'm entering the same sort of phase when I was 16, but now I'm 20 and in the pros," he said. "It's the same approach here. For me, I think I have to worry about things day by day and stay present where I'm at, and focus on the things I can control. I think if I do that, I'll set myself up pretty good."

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