Sports: Ray Emery’s Biggest Save

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He was also a black kid in an overwhelmingly white sport, which made Emery a nonconformist just by lacing up his skates. It was a role Emery embraced. Hockey, like baseball, is governed by traditions and a thick unwritten-rule book, which Emery usually ignored. For starters, goalies don’t fight. They also don’t stroll into the opposing team’s locker room — especially after beating that team, the way Emery did playing in juniors. “He wasn’t trying to start trouble. He just wanted to talk to his buddy,” says Paul Schonfelder, the losing goaltender and Emery’s best friend. “ He does his own thing and doesn’t worry about what people think.” That laissez-faire approach to how others perceived him would eventually contribute to his downfall.

When Emery was called up from the minors to play for the Ottawa Senators in 2005, the guy ahead of him on the depth chart was goaltender Dominik Hasek. Emery reveled in his underdog status and pushed hard to show he was more than a backup. When Hasek was injured, Emery took the team to the playoffs. The next year, Ottawa brought in Martin Gerber to replace Hasek. Again, Emery had to prove himself. Gerber faltered, and Emery’s stellar play led the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals.

Then there was what’s considered the signature moment in Emery’s career. After pummeling Buffalo Sabres goaltender Martin Biron (ironically, the guy he replaced with the Flyers), Emery found himself face-to-face with that team’s enforcer, six-foot-four-inch, 250-pound Andrew Peters. Most goalies would skate in the other direction. Emery gave Peters a smile, as if to say “Bring it on,” and started throwing punches.

His 2007 championship bid ended in a 4-1 series loss, but Emery’s status as a celebrity in Canada was cemented. “Hockey is what they live for,” says NHL analyst and former Flyer Keith Jones. “There’s a canal that runs through Ottawa, and people skate to work. The Senators are the Eagles, and if you’re the goaltender, you’re Donovan McNabb.” Emery also reveled in his image as the fashion plate of the league, sporting $4,000 suits on game day, including a baby-blue pimp model, a burgundy version, and a black one with white pinstripes that his Ottawa teammates called “the jailbird outfit.”

But the transition from understudy to superstar turned ugly as success, fame, and his own immaturity created a sense of entitlement. Emery reported to training camp the next season out of shape, and when a wrist injury hampered his play, he lost his starting job again. His frustration spilled over into a fight with a teammate and a stick-throwing tantrum at practice. Off-ice problems followed — showing up late for practice, including once after spending the All-Star break in Las Vegas; missing a team flight to Atlanta; and repeatedly getting pulled over by the Ottawa police. Once, he got into a minor collision while rushing to make a team flight; as the Senators waited on the tarmac for their goaltender, Emery signed autographs at the accident scene.