Like pitching in baseball, goaltending in hockey might be the position requiring the most time to prepare for a return to action after a long layoff.
With one stark difference, however.
When the “off’’ time happens to be a pandemic, a hurler can simply head down to the local high school diamond and start chucking with a socially distanced catcher.
Hockey? Not so easy.
Nearly all North American ice skating rinks have been closed for the better part of three months.
So someone such as Flyers second-year netminder Carter Hart felt fortunate just to get in about four workouts on his own since the NHL shut down on March 11-12.
Hart, a native of Sherwood Park, Alberta, arrived in Voorhees, N.J. for his initial informal practice on Monday, some two weeks after the Skate Zone opened for the first time on June 8.
The 21-year-old has a lot of catching up to do but says he should be ready by the time training camp officially opens on July 10.
“It felt great to get back out there,’’ Hart said during an interview with the Flyers’ public relations department. “Nice to see some of the boys are here. Just to get back there on the ice, feel the ice again. I didn’t have much for ice back home so it’s nice to get back here and get into a rhythm again and see some of the guys.’’
According to Hart, this is the biggest gap in his hockey training since his he began to play the sport back during his early childhood.
“I had a couple times (skating) but not very often, maybe four times before I left,’’ he said. “It’s probably the longest I’ve been off the ice ever in my whole life. . .being three months without skating. That’s a pretty long time. I know the first time you get on the ice and skate around again it’s a pretty good feeling.’’
Like the rest of his teammates, Hart hopes both he and the Flyers can pick up where they left off when they were closing in on the Metro Division lead on the strength of a nine-game winning streak.
Hart was on a personal roll, putting together a seven-game winning streak prior to a 2-0 loss to Boston on March 10 (the last game prior to the lockdown).
“I think when we get our camp rolling on July 10, to come in and everybody’s ready to go, we’ll use those two or three weeks to get ready and then one exhibition game, however it’s going to go to get ourselves prepared,’’ he said.
“I mean I know we have the right group here that will be ready to go whenever that is, whatever date they tell us to play. I’m sure everyone was staying ready the whole time. Whenever we do get the nod to play, whenever that may be, we’ll be ready.’’
When things were put on pause, effectively ending the regular season, Hart’s numbers were impressive, particularly in the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center.
Overall, Hart was eighth in the NHL in the all-important goals-against average, checking in at 2.42. His 24 wins were tied for 10th.
At home, he was virtually unbeatable, going 20-3-2, with a 1.63 GAA and .943 save percentage.
Alas, there will be no WFC home-ice advantage. Hart and his comrades will compete in a “bubble,’’ with no fans to provide extra energy.
“It will definitely be different,’’ Hart said. “You see different leagues across the world that are beginning to open up. There’s an Asian baseball league that has blow-up dolls in the stands for fans. So that was pretty creative.
“A soccer league put up a bunch of cardboard cutouts. The people are coming up with some creative ideas. It definitely will be different at first. We’ve played in front of big crowds of people are whole lives, our whole pro careers so it will be definitely be different but it will just be something we have to do.’’
If the Flyers are hoping to make a deep run, they need Hart at the top of his game. He’s not only the franchise goalie of the future but the key cog right now.
It starts with the round-robin tournament against the likes of Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington. That will be as good a test as any.
“They’re trying to make it as fair as possible,’’ Hart said. “Like
‘Coots’ (Sean Couturier) said the other day, we’re coming in as a fourth seed and we can only move up. So I think we’re in a good spot where we’re at.’’