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Jeff Carter makes his dad proud

by Chuck Gormley

"He was never one of those dads who just pushes, pushes, pushes. With him, you go play, you go home and you leave the game at the rink. He just wanted me to go out and have fun and it all worked out."
-- Jeff Carter, speaking about his father

MONTREAL -- Jim Carter knows what it's like to fall short of people's expectations.

Before his son's meteoric rise to NHL stardom, his claim to fame was being selected between Mike Gartner and Dino Ciccarelli in the 1976 Ontario Hockey League draft.

Gartner and Ciccarelli went on to become NHL superstars, combining for more than 1,300 goals and 2,500 points. Jim Carter, a 5-foot-8, 145-pound forward, endured the worst season in Oshawa Generals history, hung up his skates, and went to work at a local copper mill.

This past weekend in Montreal, Jim Carter was beaming with pride as he watched his son, Philadelphia Flyers' center Jeff Carter, participate his first NHL All-Star experience.

"I think I'm more excited than he is," Jim said.

Maybe, but not as grateful. Jeff Carter, who turned 24 on New Year's Day, said his father is the biggest reason he is sharing the same ice with stars like Alex Ovechkin, Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton.

"He coached me from the time I could skate until I was 16," said Carter, who is second behind Ovechkin with a career-high 30 goals in 46 games. "It was awesome.

"He was never one of those dads who just pushes, pushes, pushes. With him, you go play, you go home and you leave the game at the rink. He just wanted me to go out and have fun and it all worked out."

Now in his fourth NHL season, Carter is realizing the potential his father saw in him as a 10-year-old, when he began dominating his leagues by scoring nearly a goal a game.

"He'd score 75 or 100 goals in a season," Jim Carter said. "You could tell he was a natural because things came to him fairly easy."

As a coach, Jim Carter said he stressed the fundamentals of the game with an emphasis on skating and positioning.

"If you can't skate," he said, "you can't play."

Jeff Carter's offensive flair as a 16-year-old with the Strathroy Rockets caught the attention of OHL scouts, and he was taken by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with the third pick of 2001 OHL draft, one pick ahead of Mike Richards, who went to Kitchener.

"You could see he had talent because he could dominate for stretches," Flyers amateur scout John Chapman said, "but the consistency wasn't there. He didn't bring it every night."

Carter credits former Flyers assistant and current Ottawa Senators coach Craig Hartsburg for demanding more from him than any coach he'd ever had. Under Hartsburg, Carter's overall play improved, and so did his stock among NHL scouts preparing for the 2003 Entry Draft.

Jim Carter said he thought the Canadiens would take his son with the 10th pick of the draft, but when the Habs selected Andrei Kostitsyn, he figured the Flyers would take Carter at No. 11 because of their association with Hartsburg.

"We had Jeff higher on our list than 11," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said. "Once we took off the players one through eight, Jeff was the next guy, so there was no debate."

Thirteen picks later Bob Clarke selected Richards at No. 24 -- and the Flyers had themselves the building blocks for their future.

After leading the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms to the Calder Cup title in 2005, Carter and Richards had promising rookie seasons under coach Ken Hitchcock, but struggled in their sophomore years as the Flyers endured the worst season in franchise history.

Jim Carter, who went through a similar season with the Oshawa Generals 30 years earlier, said he could sympathize with his son, who was forced to fill in for injured centers Keith Primeau and Peter Forsberg.

"They kind of threw him to the dogs that season," Jim Carter said. "It was trial by fire, but I think he's better for it. He worked hard already, but I think it made him want to work even harder."

Jeff emerged as an offensive threat last season, scoring 29 goals and adding six more in the playoffs. He's already surpassed that total this season and while his wicked wrist shot is a big reason he's on pace to become the first Flyer since John LeClair to score 50 goals, it is Carter's deceptive speed that many agree is his greatest asset.

"His shot's great, but I think it's his speed that allows him to get that shot," linemate Joffrey Lupul said. "A lot of guys in the league can really shoot the puck, but not many of them get five or six chances a game to do it."
"His skills are something you're born with. It's a blessing, a gift. I'll never have what he has. He's built to score." -- Riley Cote
"His skills are something you're born with," said Flyers enforcer Riley Cote, who is in his second season as Carter's road roommate. "It's a blessing, a gift. I'll never have what he has. He's built to score."

Carter said coach John Stevens' willingness to keep him on a line with Lupul and Scott Hartnell has helped bring consistency to his game, saying it's difficult to have chemistry on a line when his wingers are a revolving door.

"We work well together," he said. "It's nice when they're not changing them up all the time. In past years we've had new lines every other day, which makes it tougher to get going."

Carter insists that although he was the Flyers' lone representative All-Star Weekend, he prefers to stay in the shadows of teammates like Richards, Simon Gagne and Kimmo Timonen, all of whom he says could have joined him in Montreal.

Stevens says that in that sense, Carter is like many other players in the NHL.

"All Jeff wants to do is come to the rink, play hockey and leave," Stevens said.

Just like his father taught him.
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