World juniors: Carter Hart's calming influence earns him starting nod
Canadian goaltender took last year's gold medal loss as lesson
Always smiling, friendly and articulate, Carter Hart was suddenly flustered when a reporter started to rhyme off his statistics with the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips.
"Whoa, I didn't even know that that's what it was. I don't like to look at my stats. I don't want to get caught up in them," said Hart, raising his voice to talk over the reporter. "So don't tell me what my stats are."
That moment at Canada's junior team selection camp is as close as Hart ever gets to losing his composure.
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Hart's demeanour and the effect it has on the players in front of him is why head coach Dominique Ducharme has named him the starting goaltender for Canada's first game of the world junior championship on Boxing Day against Finland.
"He brings a confidence to a team because he's calm," said Ducharme. "I think it was helpful that he went through the tournament last year. It's a different thing for a goalie to go through a tournament. The pressure, everything else around you, is bigger and those guys are by themselves. It's a different pressure they have and I think that experience for him has helped him mature a lot."
Lesson in composure, consistency
Hart's ability to focus and put his emotions aside in high-pressure situations is one of the reasons why Ducharme felt comfortable substituting Hart in for Connor Ingram midway through last year's gold-medal game against the United States.
Although Canada's shootout loss in that game is still a sore point for some of Hart's teammates, to the 19-year-old goalie it was a lesson in composure and consistency.
"What was that, a year ago now?" said Hart. "It doesn't really matter now. It definitely put some fire in the belly for some of the guys but, at the same time, that happened almost a year ago. This is a new situation and that's all you have to prepare for now."
Hart says that as soon as he returned to Everett after last year's loss, his mind returned to helping the Silvertips. Hart's stats, the ones he doesn't want to talk about, show just how focused he was.
He finished last year with a 2.99 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage to earn WHL goaltender of the year honours. This year, despite battling through mononucleosis, his numbers have improved. Through 17 games he has a 1.32 GAA and a jaw-dropping .961 save percentage.
Dealing with pressure
Instead of focusing on his numbers, Hart likes to evaluate himself differently.
"I think the biggest thing for me is improving all areas of my game, whether it's on the ice, off the ice, mentally," said Hart. "I think if I just worry about those things and set goals physically, technically, mentally, stuff like that, the stuff on the ice will take care of itself."
Shane Clifford, the Silvertips goalie coach, insists that pressure isn't something that Hart feels. Ducharme sees it differently, though.
"I think he deals with pressure in a good way. He learned from last year and now it's not pressure because, what is pressure, exactly? It's a different tournament," said Ducharme. "[The world juniors are] something he hadn't seen before last year when he came in. He knows what's coming. He understands. So we can see that he's comfortable, calm, confident. He's in the right zone."