By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA-Flyers goalie Ray Emery returns to the City of the Brotherly Love with a better understanding of what means to keep fighting on in the face of difficult circumstances.
During his last stint with the Flyers in 2010, he was diagnosed with avascular necrosis or AVN in his right hip and it nearly ended his career. Luckily, the doctors caught the disease before it spread and did a bone graft to repair it.
“It was a shock to me,” Emery said. “Being an athlete you feel invincible. When somebody gives you news like that, you almost don’t believe it. I’m very fortunate that I had that operation. It stopped the deterioration of my hip and the function came back to 100 percent.
“I was that close to not being able to play the sport.”
The 30-year-old Emery said coming that close to seeing his career end has given him the confidence to get through difficult stretches of games during the course of a season.
“You gain confidence just because of past experiences,” said Emery, who credits the Flyers with helping him find the doctors needed to treat his condition. “It’s just kind of a process involved when overcoming things that pop up.”
A rejuvenated Emery comes back to the Flyers after helping to lead the Chicago Black Hawks to the 2013 Stanley Cup title. He signed a one-year contract with the Flyers last week worth $1.65 million. The Flyers also signed former New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit and former Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent LeCavalier.
Emery is coming off a regular season where he went 17-1 backing up fellow Black Hawks goal tender Corey Crawford. Emery also had an average of 1.94 in goals against (number of goals scored on him) and a .920 save percentage.
To start the 2013 season, Emery set an NHL record by winning 12 straight games as the goalie for the Black Hawks. During his first stint with the Flyers in the 2009-2010 season, he was 16-11. He had a 2.64 goals against average and .908 save percentage.
Emery’s hip injury in March of 2010 kept him out of the Flyers run to the Stanley Cup finals. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he’s glad to have him back, but still wonders what would have happened if he had Emery in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
“He’s one of the better goalies in the league,” said Holmgren. “If you look at Ray’s record since he’s been in the NHL all he does is win. You can even go back to the short time he was here. I remember his last game, he shutout Calgary 3-0 (in 2010) and then we got that phone call that his hip was bad.
“Everybody remembers our goaltending situation after that. Who didn’t we have playing after that? If we had Ray Emery that year, who knows? It’s easy to look back and say who knows, I guess.”
Oddly enough, during the Black Hawks march to the Stanley Cup, Emery was on the bench mainly because he had a groin injury prior to the playoffs and because Crawford was hot and Chicago was winning.
“That’s how it goes. Like I said there’s a certain part of you that wants to be in there,” Emery said. “But it’s your team. It was so exciting watching your team and being part of it.”
Coming to the Flyers, Emery will be competing for the starting goalie position with Steve Mason. Even with the possibility of having to split time, Emery said he’s willing to do his part help the team to win.
“It’s more about the relationship,” Emery said. “It’s more about making it comfortable and getting the most out of both guys.”
Since starting his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators in 2002-2003, he has compiled a 126-63 record. He was the goalie for the Senators when they lost to Anaheim in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals.
Emery is one of 22 Black players currently playing in the NHL.
At this year’s NHL Draft, two Black players—Seth Jones, taken fourth by the Nashville Predators, and Darnell Nurse who was the seventh pick by the Edmonton Oilers-are the first to be taken in the top 10 of the NHL Draft.
Emery said he doesn’t mind being a role model to get more Black kids interested in the sport.
“It exciting when you’re a kid to have someone that if you’re interested in hockey and you’re a Black kid to have someone to look up to,” Emery said. “When I was a kid I had Grant Fuhr and Tony McKegney, a select few guys to look up to. I hope we can expand the game to different demographics. I think that’s a good thing.”