Ray Emery: A Hip Dude

Four years ago, Ray Emery was as on top of the world as he’s ever been. He was the man, the hip cat around a very unhip town: Ottawa, Ontario. And he was the local NHL team’s starting goaltender. Led them all the way to the finals, against Anaheim, where I first encountered him.

I recall the media day on the Sunday before the series started with two images: those of Emery and Andrej Maszaros, both bedecked for the occasion in casual summer wear, as if they were going to own California.

They failed. The team lost the first two games in Anaheim, the second 1-0, so hardly one the goalie can be blamed for. They then took game 3, 5-3, up in Ottawa, and lost the next one there and the final game in Cali, 6-2. Nobody would have predicted a five-game series. There was just too much confidence on the Sens’ side.

And maybe the problem was just that.

Four years later, Ray Emery is a different man. He’s been through the muck of a career-threatening injury, working his way back in almost miracle fashion.  And because of that, he’s a chastened man, too. Or at least, that’s how it sounds talking to him. Gone is the swagger. What remains is a quiet confidence, almost a soft-spokenness.

Still marking his body are the tattoos he put there over the younger part of his life. But the attitude that had him boxing as a hobby and, reportedly, not shying away from large living, has disappeared. In its place is a daily 45-minute routine that will, he believes, allow him to continue to play the game he has so much promise at.

His numbers in the playoffs of 2007, by the way, were outstanding. He played in all of the Senators’ fifteen games and registered a 1.95 GAA and .919 save percentage. Along the way, he shut out the opponents he faced three times.

For his career, he sports a 2.69 GAA and .907 save percentage. His record is 87-51-15 and he has blanked his opposition 11 times.

Following the stint in Ottawa, Emery went to Russia to play, and bounced from there to the Flyers. The time overseas was rumored to be a sort of penance for the way of living that he’d been following, which didn’t agree with the conservative ways of the hockey world.

It was with the Flyers last spring that Emery suffered a hip injury and was then discovered to be plagued by a degenerative condition in the joint which starved the bone of blood. This is the injury Bo Jackson saw end his career, and a couple of weeks ago, a story about Emery in the Vancouver Sun quoted Jackson as saying something to the effect of “if the kid ever gets back from that, he’s amazing.”

The fact is, medical science has progressed since the two decade-old situation with Jackson, and there is a surgery that can be done, and was to Emery, where bone is fused into the dead part in the joint so that a new blood supply is established.

Hearing that likely makes you feel like grabbing your own hip and hoping you never wreck it getting out of bed.  Not many of us, it’s likely, would ever get back to full activity if we suffered what Emery has.

And playing pro sports? Crazy.

“Well, it’s healed, but obviously you want to protect it and take the stress off the hip, because it was caused by something, and that was stress on the hip,” Emery said about his condition. “The bone’s regenerated, the hip’s fine, but obviously at the same time, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results, so you’ve got to protect that hip.”

None of this would really matter were the Ducks not fighting like heck to survive and wondering where it all went wrong. Check that—it’s clear what has happened. Their star goaltender, Jonas Hiller, has vertigo, and after a brief stint of genius, the guy who was backing him up, Curtis McElhinney, became a nightmare.

Dan Ellis came over to take up the slack, and he played OK for a while, though in most of the contests he was in, he let in at least one semi-suspect goal. It’s hard to say that, because Ellis is such a smart and personable person, always willing to talk, and honest, not a cliché-machine, that it seems unfair to criticize him.

But Sunday night, with the Coyotes in town, his coach finally decided to change things up in period three after Ellis had let in four goals, including two near the end of the second period.  The last of those, in fact, came with less than a minute on the clock.

Emery played the third period in that game until he was pulled for the extra man. He faced nine shots and stopped them all. Wednesday with the Blues in town, he started.

So he’s the savior, right?  Don’t get in such a big hurry. He’s sure of himself, and he wouldn’t be where he is if the team wasn’t also confident, but he’s far from altogether past his injury and recovery.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel as good as I’ve felt in the past four or five years.”

Emery is 28, having been drafted by the Sens in 2001 with the 99th overall pick (fourth round).

Partly because I was impressed with the stories I’d read about the insane work Emery had put in to get back on the ice, I asked him about his routine off the ice.

Specifically, I said, “Can you just bust out a splits anytime you feel like it?”  As I do, I looked at the skinny legs that hold the guy up.

“No, no, not me” he says with a laugh, gesturing over to Ellis in the stall next to his. “That’s him over there. But I do keep picking up mobility, and I make sure that I don’t tighten up, certain areas that tighten up, hip flexors tighten up, I’ve got to maintain [that].”

Emery’s routine, alluded to before, was months of physical therapy at his cottage, hours a day. He’s not doing that anymore.

“That was more of a, um, something that got me to the point where I was able to heal it back, so that I could start to play,” he comments.

Now, he says, he’s working more on maintaining, and he’s got the routine down to about 45 minutes a day.

“It’s stretching, treatments, activation things that I do every day, and that’s sufficient to protect the hip and make sure that everything else is working as well.”

The question you have to ask yourself when you watch Emery is, would I see him any differently had I no knowledge of his injury? He seems, at times, hobbled as he moves. But it might be that he’s just a goaltender who uses a lot of short, choppy steps as he moves side to side. His style reflects that. It’s not terribly clean, if you will, but that’s not a criticism.

These days, we’re so used to seeing robo-perfect netminders, every move scripted, all the motions controlled, that to see a guy like Emery is a bit of a shock. For instance, at the end of the first period against the Blues in Anaheim Wednesday night, the puck worked into his end. He shuffled from left to right across the crease.

The puck worked to his right, and as the shot came, he was right out on the edge of the crease. The puck went long side, and he got his left arm up tight to his body to squeeze it off.  It hit him on the outside of the arm and went wide and into the corner. Not by much, but wide is wide.

He tracked the puck over to his left with those little steps, giving the guy standing on the edge of the crease a shiv with the goal stick as he did so. The referee seemed to drift over to say something, but Emery wasn’t listening, because he was stopping another shot, one which came through a crowd low. He got his right leg down for it. It wasn’t a splits, but rather the left leg was bent a bit. So what? He had a margin of error of a good eight inches when he blocked the puck with the middle of his pad.

And that’s they way he does things. Inefficiently, if you will. The Ducks don’t care. Just as long as he wins.

On the way back to the NHL, he played a number of games with the team’s AHL farm club in Syracuse. A really weak team this year which is last in the East division and within two points of being at the bottom of the league, the Crunch would test the mettle of anyone who played for them in the nets. Emery was there twice, posting a 4-1 record and letting in ten goals. His save percentage was .943 and his GAA 1.98. Remember, that’s on a team which has a record at this point in the season of 24-35-3.

As for his seeming inefficiency in the crease, his skating belies this fact. He’s fast, as when he hustled to the bench for the extra man on a delayed penalty call against the Blues. I’m not sure I’ve seen a goalie this quick, though again, it was those short, choppy strides which took him past the center line from his crease in short order.

In terms of how he plays the puck, it’s from his knees with the legs not fanned out far like Hiller does, but rather in a kind of tight V behind him. He’ll sometimes stay down for seconds at a time, moving laterally like that. He frequently uses his blocker to make a save. And he’s a bit like a nervous baseball player stepping up to the plate in that he’s always touching his posts and making a check that his left (catching) glove is tight. Sometimes, he does this by pushing it against his knee pad.

Another way to say all of this is that like the goalies of the past, Emery has a personality in there, one that is bigger than what can be contained in the modern giganto-pads that netminders all wear.

On the first goal he let in Wednesday night, the first one he let in in over a year, he was on his knees in that posture described above. The puck was in the high slot, and Emery stayed down, a screen in front of him. Nathan Oystrick took a near-perfect shot that glanced off the inside of the post about 18 inches high and went in. Emery didn’t have a chance. No one would have.

Meanwhile, the Blues had taken over in terms of shots on goal, leading 18-11. The Ducks got the goal back shortly thereafter on their way to an eventual 2-1 victory. The Blues did surprise Emery with a quick shot right off a faceoff in the Ducks’ end with a minute left. It came right across right to left, and he got a stick on it, then dove.  David Backes came in for the jam, but the puck stayed out. A scrum ensued.

Glorious? Not really, though the announced 12,600 cheered him more heartily as the night went on (It was more like 8500—for every seat filled, there was at least one empty). Emery was named the second star of the game.

So it is that Anaheim is the place where Emery’s NHL dream has come true once more. Does he feel a bit of regret that this is also the place where his Stanley Cup dream died four years ago?

“That’s a long time ago,” he said. “You know what, I’ve been here, the year after with Ottawa, and I’m not sure if I was here last year with Philly. But you know what? Every year’s a new year, and you can’t dwell on the past too much. Just keep moving.”

As I thank him and say my goodbyes, a little bit of that old, hipster Emery comes out. “Thanks, bro,” he says.

I smile. You can’t help but wish the guy well.


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5 Responses to “Ray Emery: A Hip Dude”

  1. Karen Francis
    March 17, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    Fabulous writing as always, Brian, and spot on observations about Emery! Thank you!

  2. Josh Provost
    March 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Great read Bri, Emery is a great character good to see his new attitude, with hips like a german sheppard I never thought he’d be back in the show.

  3. Jerry Mac
    March 22, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    Excellent article! I enjoyed every word. Bravo. (Hip HIP) hurray Ray Emery! GO MIGHTY DUCKS GO!

  4. Donna Shewfelt
    April 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    Emery’s story is remarkable. My son (now 16) was 13 when he had osteomyelitis in his tibea. Three surgeries, a bone tissue transplant and 6 months of recovery and training and he was back on the ice. He played Junior hockey this year and hopes to be drafted to Major Junior. In April my son will be participating in a charity hockey game of donor recipients against family members of donors. See attached article in today’s Chronicle Herald newspaper from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wonder if Emery would be interested in supporting this cause in any way.

    Do you have any way to contact him?

    ext + -

    Their goal is life, and to pass it on
    Three friends, all transplant recipients, want others to consider organ donation
    By BILL SPURR Features Writer
    Sat, Apr 2 – 4:54 AM

    Blair Landry, Trevor Umlah and Chris Meagher, wearing their Transplantasaurus hockey sweaters, have all received organ transplants and have formed a society to promote awareness of tissue and organ donations.
    Blair Landry, Trevor Umlah and Chris Meagher, wearing their Transplantasaurus hockey sweaters, have all received organ transplants and have formed a society to promote awareness of tissue and organ donations.

    Blair Landry had just returned to Halifax from the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where he was a hockey official, when things really got interesting.

    “I got back in March of last year and around April, I started feeling tired,” Landry said.

    “I would say the main symptom was feeling tired, and also just feeling jittery. My legs didn’t feel that strong. I’d come home from work and take a nap at six at night. I wouldn’t even eat supper.

    “I’d just go have a nap for two hours and have supper at eight. I just figured ‘Well, I’m going to be 42 this summer — I’m old.’ ”

    But when he started having trouble climbing stairs, and constantly had the taste of metal in his mouth, he went to his family doctor, who prescribed blood work.

    “He called me on a Wednesday, and said, ‘Your blood work came in, get it redone today.’ I said, ‘I’m in Middleton. I’ll do it tomorrow,’ and he said, ‘No. Today.’ ”

    So Landry drove back to the city, had more blood taken.

    “That night, a kidney specialist called and said ‘You have less than five per cent kidney function. Meet me at the hospital in one hour.’ ”

    Landry and his wife, Deanna, briefly discussed what to tell their three children and then he packed a bag and was admitted that night.

    “They took my blood pressure and it was through the roof, because the kidneys regulate blood pressure, and it was 220 over 140, resting, laying in a hospital bed,” he remembered.

    “They said, ‘You’ll have a biopsy in the morning so we can figure out what this is,’ then they turned the lights out and I laid there thinking a lot of things, when you hear ‘biopsy.’ It wasn’t that, obviously. They did a biopsy and they found out I had an autoimmune disease, where your own body is attacking the kidneys. They said I might have had it 10, 15, 20 years. They don’t know how you get it, and they don’t know how to fix it.”

    Landry started getting dialysis treatment that week, and being grateful for the fact he has three brothers.

    “A brother has a two-in-four chance of being a half-match, one-in-four of being no match whatsoever, and one-in-four of being perfect,” he said.

    “Before I found out I needed a transplant, my younger brother in Montreal emailed me and said, ‘If you need a transplant, here’s my blood type. I went to the doctor and here’s all my blood work results.’ ”

    Landry’s brother, Craig, turned out to be a match, and after a few months to match tissue and do other preliminary work, the transplant took place in November.

    Landry had been told he would be in hospital for two weeks and off work for three months, but he beat both timelines by a wide margin.

    Now, life is mostly back to normal.

    “I can’t play contact sports, and I can’t eat grapefruit (because it might disrupt medications), and I’m fine with that sacrifice.

    “Craig wouldn’t warranty the kidney, and the doctor wouldn’t warranty the service,” Landry joked.

    “But, as someone pointed out, I didn’t pay for it.”

    In a bizarre coincidence, Landry’s transplant made him the third guy on his gentlemen’s hockey team to be, as he puts it, “running on spare parts.”

    His longtime friend, Trevor Umlah, underwent a double lung transplant in 2007, and Chris Meagher had a kidney transplant in 2009 after being diagnosed with the same disease that Landry has.

    “On the Internet, it says the odds are one-in-5,000,” said Landry. “So what are the odds of two friends from Fairview having it?”

    Umlah and Landry are both 42. Meagher is 39. The three, along with two women who donated their teenagers’ organs when they died prematurely, have formed a society called Life: Pass it On.

    The society is hosting the Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness hockey game and family skate ( http://www.lifepassiton.ca) at the Halifax Forum on April 17. The goal is to get families to discuss organ donation before someone dies.

    “We all feel super fortunate to have the quality of life that we have today. So we sort of sat around and tried to figure out what we could do to help others get the same benefit,” said Landry, who vividly recalls his time in the hospital.

    “When I walked out of my last day of dialysis, the dialysis unit in Halifax was full. It’s standing-room only in there. Not all those people are candidates for transplant, but a lot of them are.

    “People don’t really seem to talk about (organ donation) until it’s too late, and the ultimate decision is left to the family to make, maybe not knowing the wishes of the person who died.”

  5. Dale
    June 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Very good article. I wish he had stayed with the sens, always one of my favourite players…but that’s the game I guess. Really commendable what he has done to get back to health.