RAY'S KIND OF TOWN
CHICAGO – The Windy City is a special place for Ray Emery.
Not because he won a Stanley Cup here with the Blackhawks last summer, although that was pretty cool.
Not because he had a phenomenal record of 17-1 with a 1.94 goals against average and was a groin injury away from being the go-to guy for the Cup run, even though those numbers were impressive.
Instead, it had meaning long before that.
Chicago is near and dear to Emery and has been since July 27, 2011.
That was the day the Blackhawks officially gave him a chance to return to the NHL on a permanent basis.
“Chicago invited me in on a tryout during training camp,” Emery said. “I was coming back from an injury and teams were kind of scared of that injury. Chicago gave me an opportunity and I was really grateful for that.”
Emery’s one-in-a-million recovery from his injury is well known by now – He suffered from avascular necrosis (AVN) in his hip; had to have a risky surgery that took bone from his leg and replaced the dead bone in his hip; went through intense and incredibly painful rehabilitation; changed his style of goaltending; and made it back to the NHL for a 10-game cup of coffee with the Anaheim Ducks at the end of the 2010-11 season.
But that following summer would be an important one. Here he was, a free agent, and he was considered damaged goods.
No longer was he the brash, up-and-coming hotshot netminder that carried the Ottawa Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
Instead, he was a risk – a very high risk.
And when the free agency frenzy kicked off that summer, on July 1, no offers came. They didn’t come on the 2nd or the 3rd. Independence Day went by without a peep. And by then most teams were looking more into summer vacation plans than backup goalies.
Finally, on that 27th of July, a call came from the Chicago Blackhawks. They were willing to let him try out in camp and see if he could still play.
And Emery proved, he can still play.
As the season was about to begin, Emery signed a two-year deal with the Blackhawks. The first season, 2011-12, Emery was 15-9-4 in 34 games as a backup, with a 2.81 GAA and a .900 save percentage. The fact that he was even playing hockey should have been applauded, even if the numbers were just pedestrian.
But that’s the thing with Emery. Just playing wasn’t enough. Being pedestrian wouldn’t suffice. He had to come all the way back.
Then came last season. He won his first 12 starts, becoming the first goalie in NHL history to do that. His GAA (1.94) was the best of his career. His save percentage (.922) was the best of his career. Emery had come all the way back.
And even though Corey Crawford ultimately was the guy the Blackhawks would turn to in the playoffs – he was hot down the stretch when Emery was nursing his groin injury – “Razor Ray” had a front row seat for a championship dash.
After coming so close with the Senators in 2007, and wondering if things would have been different in 2010 if it were he, not Michael Leighton between the pipes for the Flyers in the Finals, the thought of winning a Stanley Cup seemed improbable and virtually impossible.
Yet, it happened.
“You’re fortunate any time you get to the Finals no matter what the role or what team you are with,” Emery said. “Just getting there means it was a pretty exciting year. When we made it with Chicago, I was even more fortunate that I finally got it.”
Emery has a special bond with that Blackhawks team. He’s been to a few weddings. He still talks to a lot of the guys. He even made the trip down to Washington D.C. to take part in the honorary ceremony with President Barrack Obama in October, while a member of the Flyers.
So one would think that Emery, returning to Chicago for the first time as a goalie, and being given the nod as the Flyers starter in what amounts to an important, intra-conference matchup, that he’d be pumped at the chance to take on his ex-mates.
Um, not so fast.
“It’s just another game,” Emery said. “You can’t get too caught up in past experiences. You just got to live in the moment and realize you are playing against a pretty good team.”
Or, the team with the best record in the NHL who happens to be the defending champions.
But, hey, when you’ve been through hat Emery’s been through, there’s no reason to sweat it. Just playing hockey these days is having the cake and eating it too.
And playing against the same group of guys who you drank champagne out of the big silver chalice with, just so happens to be the icing.
NOTES: Claude Giroux, Steve Downie and Kimmo Timonen all skipped practice Tuesday with maintenance days, however all three are expected in the lineup tomorrow against the Blackhawks… The Flyers worked on the shootout at the end of practice with a series of forwards taking repeated shots on both goalies. Not everyone took part. Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl took all the shots…. Some of the Flyers got to meet NBA legend Scottie Pippen who was playing some pick-up hoops on the United Center floor prior to the Bulls game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers