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Canadian goaltender takes his routine to heart

Whether it's being the last off the ice, or having another three-egg breakfast, Carter Hart knows what it takes to be him, Bruce Arthur writes.

Canada goalie Carter Hart looks on during snowfall in a break of IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary outdoor game action against the United States.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada goalie Carter Hart looks on during snowfall in a break of IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary outdoor game action against the United States.

BUFFALO, N.Y.—Carter Hart has always been this way, he figures. He’s been doing it a long time. He first got a sports psychologist when he was 10 — it’s the same guy Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals uses — and he’s always found comfort in the invisible superstitions, the routines that become hardwired. So Tuesday night in Buffalo he stood at the door of the Canadian bench as the Zambonis churned by, and he waited.

“I’ve had one standoff in my life before this tournament,” said Hart, after he stopped 13 of 15 shots in Canada’s 8-2 win over Switzerland in the quarter-finals of the world junior hockey championship. “And now I’ve had two in this tournament.”

One of Hart’s superstitions is that he always has to be the last player off the ice. The Finns tried to out-wait him in the opening game; on Tuesday it was Swiss backup Matteo Ritz who crouched against the boards after the first period, dodging Zambonis, ostensibly doing some work. Hart waited. Ritz hunkered down. Hart waited. Ritz was as stubborn as a Buffalonian who sticks with all-season tires. Hart left.

Only then did Ritz depart, and then Hart jumped back on and off. He figured it counted.

“Like, I didn’t really care,” Hart said. “I knew he was just going to keep going, and waiting and waiting, so I just decided to hop off because I knew he would hop off, and I hopped back on.”

Well, he clearly cared. The 19-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., said he would have pulled the chute at the 10-minute mark, but he also said if the Czechs try this in the semi-final Thursday, he would engage in another duel of patience and cunning. Goalies have long been known as the odd men of hockey, the ones who occupy a slightly different universe. But unlike a lot of goalies, Hart is open about it.

“I’ve got a couple (routines), but I just kind of follow everything before the game,” he said. “Like, it’s just kind of time-based for me, and it’s just kind of to help with my focus, and block out other distractions.

“(Off the ice) I have a weird one, and my billet (with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips) hates it. My billet, Parker Fowlds, he loves to make me and my roommate Riley (Sutter) breakfast. He gets up early, so he doesn’t have anything else to do. I always have three eggs, two pieces of toast, and a glass of chocolate milk, and I’ve had that breakfast every single day for the past four years. And he’s been making it for me every single day. And he says, ‘Do you want anything else, like pancakes? French toast? And I’m like no, just eggs and toast, please.”

Four years? You don’t get sick of it?

“Yeah, I get sick of it, but it’s just what I do now. It’s just my routine. My breakfast routine. I do the same thing with my lunch at the rink, too. I actually changed it up this year. I do chicken and rice every day at the rink, and I would make chicken and rice every day in the morning — actually my billet makes it — but I’ve had it for lunch every day for the past three years. This year I was super sick of it, so I switched it up a little bit, and instead of chicken and rice, I have chicken and sweet potatoes now.”

Dinner, for the record, isn’t bound by routine. Not every aspect of Hart’s life is tripwires and switches to flip. But in some ways, he is compelled. Philadelphia took Hart in the second round in 2016, 48th overall, and it’s probably a coincidence that Philadelphia has a long history of eccentric goalies — Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Ilya Bryzgalov, and general manager Ron Hextall, to start. Hart is one of the brightest goalie prospects Canada has produced in a long time; he isn’t big at six-foot-one, but he has a .961 save percentage in 17 games in the WHL this season, after a .927 mark last season. He’s at .920 in this tournament.

So as teammate Drake Batherson put it, “That’s Hartsy. He’s pretty good, so he’s going to keep doing that.” Or as coach Dominique Ducharme put it, regarding the intermission standoff, “I mean, we focus so much on the 60 minutes that we play, so those little things, we don’t get into. I know Hartsy likes to be the last guy out. As long as he’s ready to play and stops pucks.”

“I think it’s funny,” said team captain Dillon Dubé. “He came into the dressing room, we started laughing. Obviously, they’re trying to do that and it didn’t throw him off at all. He’s not too worried about it. It’s just a routine, it’s not a superstition. It’s not going to get him off his game. He just likes messing around with everybody.”

Maybe that’s it, and maybe not, but that’s the thing with goalies: Nobody cares if they never speak or juggle cats or only eat eggs and toast, as long as the puck stays out. The Czech team Canada will face in the semis has a lot of players from the team that won the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament two years ago, which was only the third time Canada hadn’t won the tournament since 1995. (This Canadian team has almost no overlap with that tournament team.) If Canada wins, Hart gets another shot at gold after losing to the U.S. in the final last year. Whatever comes, Hart will be himself, doing the things that make him feel like himself.

“I mean, I’ve been doing those things for a long time now,” Hart said. “So it’s just part of who I am, and what I do.”

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