Two years ago there was a ton of uncertainty surrounding the team, but on this day in 2018, the Flyers began transitioning into the next era of Flyers hockey. Already out was Ron Hextall as general manager, and just one-day prior head coach Dave Hakstol had also been shown the door. Maybe the most significant development of all was in goal.
Carter Hart would become the second-youngest goaltender in team history to start a game, at 20 years old. He would make 20 saves en route to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings; a winning performance that would be a sign of things to come.
As the season progressed, the basement-dwelling Flyers were thrown back into the conversation regarding the playoffs. And while it was always unlikely, the fact that there was any amount of hope in March after how the season had started was extraordinary.
“We still have nine games here, and mathematically we’re not out of it so there’s still a chance. That’s what the mindset has to be in this locker room.” (Hart, 3/19/2019)
Now, we could talk about how in his first full season Hart finished top-10 in wins and was one of the best goaltenders in the league by advanced metrics, but what he also brought back was a sense of confidence. Not only with his teammates, of which any will rave about his abilities and demeanor, but also with what was a broken fanbase. It feels a little off to use such dramatics about sports right now, in the middle of a pandemic, but we were collectively at quite the low in the months before Hart’s arrival. At least, as low as a sports team can actually make you.
The empty seats at the Wells Fargo Center were loud, but the silence was even louder. On most nights, the most thunderous the building would get would be at the end of a period, while the team would be dismissed with boos as they left the ice. Gritty, for all that he’s become, started as a way to bring in new fans. They had to do something, and while Gritty’s almost immediate ascension to icon status is something nobody could have predicted, calling up the “kid goalie” turned out to be an even better way to get asses in seats.
Of course, it’d be going too far to place the franchise’s entire turnaround on Hart; the job Chuck Fletcher has done has been nothing short of fantastic to date. But Hart’s debut will serve as the moment looked back on that marks the beginning of whatever is to come for the Flyers.
It’s been a long time since the city has had full confidence in their team’s goaltender, but times have changed. The Hart era is underway in Philadelphia, and if we’re to trust anything or anyone, it’s him.