Thursday, October 02, 2014

Emery shone in Flyers debut 5 years ago today

Thanks to the Associated Press
Ray Emery, at age 32 is nearing the end of his career and his days of being a starter have likely drifted past.

Signed for this season, his 11th as a pro, he'll serve as Steve Mason's backup on a one-year deal which amounts to one-third less than his initial free agent contract signed in July of 2013.

It will be anyone's guess when Emery will see his first action in the 2014-15 regular season thanks to Mason's status and a nagging lower-body injury, but five years ago tonight, the fiery Ontario native and former Ottawa Senator made himself known to Philly fans during the club's season opener in North Carolina.

It was a 2-0 victory over the Hurricanes which began one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent franchise history, one which would end in the worst way possible, on home ice, with the silver chalice rewarded to someone other than the Orange and Black thanks to a historic tally which only the goal scorer seemed to know hit the net.

Rewinding the tape to eight months earlier, that Saturday night in RBC Center was not only Emery's introduction to the Flyers, but also his re-introduction to a league which bore witness to the immaturity that led him out of North America and into the interiors of the Russian Federation.

After leading the Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals in June of 2007, Emery's success seemed to get the better of him. He was running in heady circles, partying, indulging in alcohol and drugs, engaging in road rage incidents near Canada's capital. Even worse, he was fighting with teammates, showing up late for practices and generally showing little respect for Ottawa's hockey management -- including then-head coach John Paddock, who had to send Emery home on at least two occasions. 

"There were a bunch of 'yes men' that were around. I had to cut them out. I'm not a dumb guy. I'm sure I was probably using them for something, and they were probably using me for something," Emery said in an interview from August of 2008. 

A wrist injury had slowed his progress from the start of that season, and his poor play from there caused him to lose his starting job to journeyman Martin Gerber. The Sens eventually placed him on waivers at the end of the 07-08 campaign, and when there were no takers, bought out his contract later in the offseason. 

Even after taking up residence in a foreign land, Emery still didn't seem to learn a lesson about taming that anger, and he was caught attacking the trainer for his team, Atlant Mytishchi, in late January of 2009 after being pulled in the middle of a game. He subsequently left the team and staged a brief hold-out over money which was soon resolved.

Enter Paul Holmgren, and exit Martin Biron. Biron, the starter for Philadelphia's previous two playoff slates, overvalued himself in the free-agent market and left the Flyers for a lucrative backup slot with the New York Islanders. They needed a starter, and one on the cheap. Emery fit the bill as a reclamation project, but one who had been at the top of his profession just over two years prior.

On June 10, 2009, Holmgren announced a one-year deal worth $1.5 million to bring Emery back to the NHL, and he proved to be a model player and teammate. 

With that stellar opening effort, Emery earned his first NHL victory since February 23, 2008 while tending net for Ottawa. He also picked up his first regular-season whitewash since February 28, 2007, coincidentally against Carolina.

"I didn't know that information, but that's terrific," Flyers head coach John Stevens admitted after the game, his first in what would be his final season at the helm. "As I said before, he's looked more comfortable everyday. He looks alert, he's finding pucks, and makes saves on effort. He was tremendous." 

The Flyers' previous opening-game shutout victory came on October 9, 2003 against Buffalo in a 2-0 decision with Jeff Hackett doing the honors. Their last road opener shutout occurred on October 9, 1998 at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers -- a 1-0 triumph in John Vanbiesbrouck's Flyers bow which also included the game's lone tally from Alexandre Daigle. 

Last season, in the midst of a dismal start, Emery also managed to post the club's first shutout, stopping 14 Devils chances in a 1-0 decision at Prudential Center on November 2. 

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