(Photo: Kate Frese)
By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
At the NHLPA Rookie Showcase in August, Carter Hart was in attendance wearing a No. 31 Flyers jersey. The No. 31 has been unofficially “retired” by the Flyers since 1985 and the untimely passing of Pelle Lindbergh. Hart wore the number in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and will keep the number this season, should he be in Allentown.
In juniors, he wore No. 70 and that figured to be the number he would take to the NHL. But it seems a new number will be Hart’s choice whenever he makes his NHL debut.
Hart was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft and reported to his first development camp that summer. He was given the number 79, as all prospects are given high numbers for development camp, rookie camp and any preseason action they may see.
“My first development camp with the Flyers they gave me 79,” Hart said to Philly Voice, “just because the rookies get the higher numbers.”
Hart was already a well-established goalie prospect in the WHL, playing for the Everett Silvertips since he was 16, when he was drafted by the Flyers just a few weeks prior to his 18th birthday. Hart was a fan favorite among the many fans that flock to Silvertips games, but specifically two young boys.
These two boys are Connor, a seven-year-old with autism, and Cavan, a six-year-old, who both attended every Silvertips home game.
For many players, a jersey number is either something personal to them — a number from their youth hockey days, college days or junior days, or it is just a number. Until it becomes established in some way. Hart doesn’t have an NHL game under his belt yet. The only jersey he has worn with the Flyers logo on the front has had the number 79 on the back.
As the number assigned to Hart in development camp, it seems like there would be little significance to the number for now, until his NHL career begins. But that changed early in his time as a Flyers prospect.
Upon returning to Everett from his first development camp with the Flyers, Connor was wearing a No. 79 Flyers jersey with Hart’s name on the back. That was all Hart needed to see to know the number he would take to the NHL one day.
“Connor and Cavan were there since Day One when I was in Everett,” Hart said. “I remember those two kids ever since I started playing there. When I came back to Everett, Connor was there waiting for me, like he usually did, and he was yelling at me trying to show me his new jersey. He had a Flyers’ jersey with Hart No. 79 on the back.
“When I saw that, I decided I had to stick with No. 79, because there is a No. 79 out there.”
The thought that a No. 79 jersey existed was enough for Hart, who simply didn’t want to let two of his biggest fans down.
No. 79 would be a first in Flyers history. No player has worn the number in an NHL regular-season or playoff game. Hart’s NHL career is around the corner, with the 20-year-old now turning pro. So get ready, No. 79 is coming.
Hart noted that his junior number, 70, was certainly an option, but Connor’s fandom changed that.
“I probably would have stuck with No. 70, because that was my number in juniors. But because Connor had the Hart No. 79 Flyers’ jersey on, I realized I couldn’t change the jersey number now,” Hart said. “I didn’t think Connor would have been too happy if I had the wrong jersey with the wrong number on the back. Because it was Connor, he was one of our biggest fans and it was really cool how much love Connor and Cavan gave us. To them, they’re 6, 7 years old, they look up to us. I couldn’t let them down.
“I just turned 20. I’m not really that much older than Connor or Cavan. You can’t let your fans down, especially the younger ones.”
Hart will come into camp wearing No. 79 as he has in each of the last two seasons. His goal is to make the Flyers this season, having added seven pounds since development camp in late June.
“For me, going into camp, I have to worry about what I can control,” Hart said. “I can’t concern myself with what anyone else thinks. If I keep my focus on that, I think I’ll be okay. My body feels good. I’ve been training five days a week and skating three days a week.”
Hart’s quest to make the Flyers begins in less than one week when rookie camp opens. Whether he ends up with the Flyers in October, later in the 2018-19 season or following the season, Hart is already a popular name among fans. It won’t be long before that popularity becomes even more present in No. 79 jerseys at Wells Fargo Center.