VOORHEES — Bernie Parent was just 22 years old when he suited up to compete in his first playoff game for the Flyers. Ditto Ron Hextall. And Pelle Lindbergh, who rounds out the franchise’s top three goalies, certainly wasn’t worldly at 23.
Yet there’s more than your average-size bag of pucks placed on the shoulders of 21-year-old Carter Hart as he gets ready to play his first NHL postseason match, perhaps because that number generally is viewed as the cusp of adulthood.
Or maybe because he was the only playoff-bound 21-and-under goalie to play more than 20 games this past season.
Either way, you can bet a lot of people are wondering how the Flyers’ second-year netminder will react to perceived pressure when his team takes the ice vs. the Boston Bruins on Aug. 2 for the first of three round-robin tournament games.
During an interview following the second day of Flyers training camp on Tuesday, Hart said he’s not dwelling on the subject.
“I don’t think,’’ he said. “Just trying to prepare. We’re all in the stage where we are just coming back into things, gradually ramping things up here. Some guys had more access to ice than others. Some guys were skating all of break. Some guys didn’t really have much access. I think we are all just here trying to prepare for that opening day when it comes.’’
Nerves? What nerves?
“To be honest, whenever I play I am always nervous before games, but that’s just because I care,’’ Hart said. “That’s not at the point where I let it affect me or affect my game. I am sure there will be nerves that come when that first playoff game comes about here. That’s just part of the game of hockey.
“As a younger player, that’s just part of the steps in your career that you have to take. I think it’s one step that I have been waiting for my whole life. It’s going to be very exciting. Our group here is ready to get things going.’’
The fact has Hart played so many games on the international stage may help keep him somewhat calm in this rather tense situation as well. He’s won gold with Canada at the World Junior Championships among many honors.
“Yeah, I’ve gone through different experiences in my hockey career,’’ he recounted. “Western Hockey League finals, World Junior Championship gold medal game, outdoor games. It’s nothing to the magnitude of me going into my first Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s something that every kid dreams about playing for.
“(But) I think those experiences I’ve had in the past, World Juniors and stuff, are definitely things that are going to help me going into the playoffs here. It’s a different situation for everybody in the sense that it’s going to be unlike any other playoffs, playing with no fans, playing in the same location and away from family and friends. It’s something that is going to be different for us and take a little time to adjust to. As professional athletes, that’s our job. We have to overcome those challenges and adapt.’’
Hart also has an “ace in the hole’’ with playoff veteran Brian Elliott as his sidekick. No doubt Hart will tap this resource for advice both on and off the ice.
“+’Moose’ has been great to me since I got here,’’ Hart said. “ He’s a great mentor. Obviously he’s a great goalie. He has been around the league a long time. He’s been in the playoffs and played in the playoffs many times, conference finals. He definitely knows what it’s about. He’s somebody that I’m going to lean on for help and support.’’
Elliott is more than happy to help out.
“It’s funny we haven’t really had an opportunity to be around each other yet this first week here because we’ve been on opposite schedules,’’ Elliott said.
“Once we get in the mix here and practicing full as a team, I’m sure we’ll talk more. It’s going to be different though. Playoffs is all about the fans, the atmosphere and trying to calm yourself down. This one, there’s no fans and you might have to jack yourself up. It could be the opposite. It’s definitely a unique experience and we’re all going to have to handle it our own way. We’ll take it as we come. If I can help him, great.’’
Besides having Elliott as a confidant, Hart can lean on others as well. In just over a season, he’s earned the trust of many veterans.
“You know what, since Day 1, since I came up last year, I felt that right (trust) from the beginning,’’ Hart said. “We have a really good leadership group here with Jake (Voracek), Coots (Sean Couturier), G (Claude Giroux) and the list goes on. We have a really good group of guys here. We all gel really well together. We’re the kind of group where outside the rink we are always doing things together and having fun.
“I think that’s really important. For me as a younger guy, you feel like you are a part of the team right from the beginning. That’s special. When I came up there, my first two weeks, obviously I was very nervous. I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. Right from Day 1 since I got here, they’ve all made me feel like part of the group.’’
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