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Carter Hart adjusting to new routines during break

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

If anyone is suited to survive the mundane repetitiveness that these current days present, it might be Carter Hart.

The Flyers’ 21-year-old goaltender has built a blossoming career on sticking to routine in the past, and it might be the saving grace to get him through the lingering uncertainty of the NHL’s 2019-20 season.

We’ve seen the videos of Hart sitting in the stands at the Wells Fargo Center with his eyes closed, reacting to imaginary shots on net, envisioning them coming off the stick of one of the league’s best snipers, and balling up his fist as he makes each save.

His breakfast routine didn’t budge an inch while playing in the Western Hockey League with the Everett Silvertips as a teenager: Eggs, toast and chocolate milk — every day for four straight years. He’s made adjustments to his diet since then, ditching the eggs and chocolate milk for bananas and smoothies while the toast remains a steady contributor.

Just before face-off, you can catch Hart squeezing a water bottle and following the drops with his eyes as they fall to the ice in a moment of ultimate focus.

Carter Hart is a notable creature of habit. Perhaps it even explains why his numbers at the Wells Fargo Center are so far superior to his performances on the road.

To put it into baseball terms, Hart is a fastball hitter. If he knows what’s coming, he’ll make the adjustments and knock it out of the park. However, after the NHL season suspended games a month ago, there’s reason to believe there will be little hope of having anything resembling a normal outcome.

A shortened playoff format? Empty-stadium games at a neutral site? Almost immediate playoff hockey after multiple months of inactivity?

Hart and others will eventually be facing some off-speed stuff, maybe even a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.

“You hear a ton of rumors out there,” Hart said on a conference call last week. “But you can’t really know what’s true and what’s not, so I think when the decision comes, us as professional athletes just have to make sure you find a way to stay ready now, and when that time does come, we’re prepared, no matter what kind of format it is.”

Hart has the right mentality.

And he also has the pedigree to give the Flyers an honest chance during a playoff run if and when things resume this spring, or more realistically even summer. Hart’s junior career was one of the best in Canadian Hockey League history, with a career .927 save percentage, and he was the first player to win Goaltender of the Year twice in CHL. He led the Silvertips back to the WHL final in 2018 for the first time in 14 years, while posting a .921 save percentage in the playoffs during that run.

On an even bigger stage, he helped Canada win gold at the World Junior Championships in 2018 with a .930 save percentage. Opponents in that tournament even attempted — and failed — to throw off Hart’s game by interfering with his pregame routine. Picking up on a strategy Finland had tried earlier, Switzerland kept its backup goalie on the ice in pregame to outlast Hart, who, at the time, would stay the longest. The game of chicken lasted four minutes before Hart gave in. He waited for the Swiss goalie to leave, and then re-entered the ice for a few seconds before heading to the locker room. Hart and Team Canada went on to win the game 8-2.

Nowadays, his routines are forced to change, at least a little bit. Currently, Hart is home in Sherwood Park, Alberta, working out, waiting out the coronavirus and optimistically anticipating a blip on the NHL radar.

“It’s kind of the same thing here with lockdown,” Hart said. “You can’t really do too much. I  have a bike in the basement and all my free weights and all my bands that I have to use … My yoga instructor is still doing 1-on-1’s so I’m getting to see her two times a week. But there’s no ice anywhere so we can’t really skate. We just have to maintain our fitness levels off the ice.”

Hart’s presence with the Flyers has been uplifting in his first season and a half with the big club. His numbers aren’t overwhelming, but very efficient. The young goaltender has posted a 40-26-4 record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average in 74 regular season appearances with the Flyers. He’s yet to play in a postseason game in the NHL, which the Flyers were on pace to accomplish this season. Hart is hoping he still gets a chance to add that to his resume in 2020.

“I was definitely excited to play a playoff game hopefully this year,” Hart said. “It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hopefully we get that chance coming up, depending on circumstances here.”

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