To constantly sharpen his hand-eye coordination and reaction time, Carter Hart likes to juggle.
The 22-year-old goalie will juggle in the bowels of the arena before a game or whenever he's not able to hit the ice and actually track pucks in net. He wasn't able to hit the ice recently for seven straight days as the Flyers were on an NHL-mandated shutdown because of COVID protocols following some positive cases within the team last week.
So out rolled the juggling balls for Hart. In quarantine, he added to his act.
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"During this past week or so, I perfected my four-ball juggling," Hart said with a smile Wednesday. "I was able to kind of do like one or two [rotations] in a row, and now I'm up to doing four balls pretty solid now. A lot of my time was spent perfecting my four-ball juggling this week."
Good thing the Flyers' goalie doesn't mind juggling. The team has a whole lot up in the air right now and its best bet is on the back end between the pipes, a guy that can keep everything moving and in place.
With seven players on the NHL's COVID protocol list, the Flyers will be severely undermanned when they host the Rangers on Thursday night for their first game in 11 days (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP). The Flyers are depleted at forward as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton are all out.
"No excuses," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday, "we've got to go out and try to find a way to win a game."
The Flyers will attempt to do so with a patchwork lineup up front. They'll be missing Justin Braun on defense, but here's how they looked at forward in Wednesday's practice:
James van Riemsdyk-Sean Couturier-Joel Farabee
Michael Raffl-Kevin Hayes-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman-Nolan Patrick-David Kase
Samuel Morin-Andy Andreoff-Maksim Sushko
Morin and Sushko have played one combined career NHL game at the wing position. If the lineup above sticks for Thursday (and it likely should), Sushko will make his NHL debut. Morin, a defenseman turned forward, is playing his 11th career game and Kase his seventh. The 29-year-old Andreoff is making his season debut and suiting up in his 15th game over the last three seasons. The Flyers will feature five players 22 years old or younger: Hart (22), Patrick (22), Bunnaman (22), Sushko (22) and Farabee (20).
The Flyers are happy to be back, though, given the precariousness that hovered over their COVID-19 lockdown. The team is embracing the circumstances and has always enjoyed integrating call-ups to its group.
"Always welcoming, they give some advice and even joke for a bit," Sushko said Wednesday. "It's always nice when you come to pretty much a new team and everybody's friendly with you, everybody wants to talk with you and everybody wants to help you."
Sushko, a 2017 fourth-round draft pick, will become the 12th Belarusian to ever play in the NHL.
"Lots of people follow hockey back in Belarus," Sushko said. "Lots of people texted me yesterday and said congrats, get your chance and just play your best game."
The Flyers are not yet thinking about Lake Tahoe; they're thinking about winning Thursday's game.
"I know we've got some guys stepping up into different roles and some young kids getting a chance," Hart said. "I think it's going to be a great challenge for us. We'll find a way to get into the game, whatever it may be, but I know we're excited just to get back and play."
Aside from juggling, the guitarist Hart kept himself busy at home away from the ice.
"Broke the high-E string on my guitar the other night, so I've got to get that fixed," he said. "Played some video games with my buddies online, some with my teammates. Just stayed in touch with my teammates and with my family and friends."
On the ice, despite all the Flyers' movement and missing pieces, Hart provides the club a much-needed juggler right now in the all-important blue paint. Adverse winds don't seem to faze the kid who has been lauded for his maturity going back to his 2016 draft year. After last season's pause of 140-plus days, Hart went 9-5-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and two shutouts in his first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Flyers are in a tough spot with tough, important games ahead. After playing the Rangers, they fly to Stateline, Nevada, to face the Bruins on Sunday in one of the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe games this weekend. Boston is one of the NHL's best clubs and has handed the Flyers four of their five losses thus far.
With all the Flyers' turnover in the personnel department, Hart makes the situation sound not as dire. The Flyers are 8-3-2 and Hart gives them a real chance to fly home with double-digit wins.
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