You just never know whose watching you.
One year ago Carter Hart was home in Sherwood Park, Alta., not among the dozen goaltenders invited to Hockey Canada’s national under-17 development camp
and not likely to be selected to represent his country at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge that fall in Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.
Fast-forward 12 months and Hart is one of only four goaltenders at Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp this week in Calgary, Alta.
How exactly does one go from obscurity to notoriety, from being an eighth-round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft to posting the lowest goals-against
average in the league as a 16-year-old rookie?
It started with a shutout.
Hart’s first start for the Everett Silvertips was the team’s 2014-15 season opener, a road game versus the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Silvertips scored less
than two minutes in, a lead that Hart made stand up the rest of the way. The season was only one game old, but the 26-save performance proved to be a
turning point for the supposed backup ‘tender.
“After the game in the dressing room, seeing how happy the boys were, it just felt really great,” says Hart. “And it felt, hey, I’m here to stay.”
Among the 5,300 people in attendance that Saturday night was Ryan Jankowski, director of player personnel for Hockey Canada.
“I was watching other guys, but he was outstanding,” says Jankowski. “He played extremely well for his first WHL start and it was like, ‘Who is this guy?’
I’ve got to do some more research on him. That game is what put him on the map.”
Hart finished the year with a 18-5-2-3 record, posting a .915 save percentage, 2.29 goals-against average and four shutouts. He added an exclamation point
in the playoffs, making 53 saves in the deciding game of his team’s opening round series against the Spokane Chiefs. The Silvertips’ 2-1 win in triple
overtime sent the team to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
It may have also stamped Hart’s under-18 camp invitation.
“For a guy who was really not on the radar a year ago to come in and start as a 16-year-old goaltender at the end of the year and run the playoffs for his
team, that caught our attention,” says Jankowski. “At the end he played down the stretch for them, displaced a 19-year-old goaltender and won a playoff
series. It made it all real.”
Hart attributes his breakout season to a couple of factors. For starters, he upped the intensity of his on-ice training.
“Off ice I’ve always worked hard,” he says, “but on ice my practicing throughout the year wasn’t the best. I was told that if I practice harder I could
start playing more, so I really took that to heart. I started giving it my all and things started happening.”
Secondly, he credits his support system in Everett. The work goalie coach Shane Clifford did with him, the faith head coach Kevin Constantine put in him
and the long-distance instruction from Dustin Schwartz, an Edmonton Oilers goalie coach who mentored Hart back in Alberta, gave him all paid dividends last
So, too, did the guidance of his teammates.
“I think playing on a team of mostly older guys really helped me out,” says Hart.” A lot of mature guys on my team showed me the ropes there.”
As much as Hart talks about becoming more accountable with his on-ice preparation, moving more than 1,200 kilometres away from home forced him to become
more responsible away from the rink.
“Before I didn’t really do my own laundry,” he says, laughing, “so coming to my billets and having to make breakfast, having to make lunch and having to do
my laundry was really good for me.”
Hart doesn’t dwell on the disappointment of being overlooked in the past – “You’ve just got to move forward; you can’t live in the past, right?” – using it
instead as continual motivation. “When you’re doing that last bike sprint or whatever you’re doing to benefit your training, you think
back to the times when things haven’t gone your way and you just got to push through it and good things will come.”
The first good thing was a place at Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence goaltending camp in June. The next was a call from Jankowski inviting him to the
under-18 camp and with it a chance to play for Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team at 2015 U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
“I was very honoured,” says Hart. “It’s always a great honour to represent your country and to come battle it out and showcase your skills and see what the
nation has to offer.”