Sports: Ray Emery’s Biggest Save

Think Michael Vick is the only athlete in town looking for redemption? Meet the Flyers’ new goalie — the T.O. of hockey

Every move he made was scrutinized in the papers and online, like that Snoop Dogg photo. Shouldn’t he be practicing instead of partying with his new famous pals? Internet rumors of cocaine abuse were so persistent that, according to one Senators source, the team asked him, more than once, if he had a problem; Emery told them no. (In 2008, Emery told TSN, the ESPN of Canada, that the Senators questioned him about drugs; today, Emery says they didn’t.) Worse than the gossip, his teammates and coaches began to question his desire to work hard. “Ray is a good guy,” says former Senators president and CEO Roy Mlakar. “But he let his teammates down with his attitude.”

In mid-2008, the team bought out his remaining contract and cut Emery loose. No other NHL team decided he was worth the risk. At 25, one year removed from nearly winning a championship, Emery packed his bags and flew to Russia, unsure of how things had soured so quickly, and wondering if his second chance would ever come.

EMERY WAS NERVOUS about playing in Moscow. He’d heard the horror stories — awful food and living conditions, paychecks that never come. Then there was the pressure to perform. “If you don’t do well in Russia,” Emery says with a laugh, “you’re kind of out of luck.” To his surprise, the experience proved far better than he anticipated, and Emery was dominant in goal. But he was eager to make a comeback in the NHL.

The redemption of Ray Emery began in March, when Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren flew to Ottawa for a one-on-one meeting at Emery’s home. The Flyers had long kept their eyes on Emery, who plays the kind of hockey that owner Ed Snider loves most — physical and fearless. Emery gave Holmgren a lift from the airport in a Ford Taurus. It was a practical move to avoid any media attention, but also symbolic of what Holmgren would see over the next few hours — the Razor humbled. “I was impressed by his honesty,” Holmgren says. “He was open about what happened in Ottawa. He knows the mistakes he’s made.”

The next step was a background check that would make the FBI proud. Holmgren spoke with former teammates and coaches who knew Emery, as did other Flyers brass. Emery flew to Philly and charmed the team’s executives. Holmgren also heard character endorsements for Emery everywhere he turned. One surprising supporter was Holmgren’s own assistant general manager, John Paddock. He’d been Emery’s coach in Ottawa, and his firing was considered a direct result of Emery’s misbehavior. “He wasn’t unlike a lot of players,” Paddock says. “You have success and you don’t prepare as well. He wasn’t being a good pro. But it’s something I think is over with.”