Young Glove Grows

March 14, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

For Jim Carey, being a 20-year-old rookie called up to play goal for the then-struggling Washington Capitals in the NHL wasn't pressure.

Pressure, Carey said, is when you're a 7-year-old goaltender and you're trying out for one of the most successful youth teams in Boston. Pressure is when it's down to you and one other kid and the coach says, "Fastest glove wins."

"St. Moritz was a big team . . . and I was thinking all these guys are great," Carey said. "I'm trying out and I'm thinking, 'This team is from the whole city of Boston, not just my little town team in Weymouth.' And then I can distinctly remember the coach shooting on us and saying the quicker glove gets the final spot."

Carey had the quicker glove.

So when the Capitals called him up from Portland of the American Hockey League, where he had started 13-0-3 this season, all he could see was another opportunity.

"I thought about that glove save that got me on St. Moritz," said Carey. "It was that save, even at that young age, that shaped my future.

"It was being on that team for the next five years that allowed me to get the attention of Catholic Memorial High School. It was playing at Catholic and having success there that attracted the University of Wisconsin, and it was being at Wisconsin that caught the eye of the Capitals. Then I did well in Portland and got to come here."

His performance at Portland anchored a 14-0-3 run that was the best season-opening production ever at any hockey level.

"I think it's all connected," he said. "It's weird. But it all started with that save when I was 7."

Thirteen years later he is the Capitals' starting goalie. His nickname is Ace, and he certainly has been that. Yesterday, he was named the NHL Player of the Week, the first Caps player to earn that distinction since Don Beaupre in November 1989. Last night, he blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-0, improving his unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1) with a 1.41 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.

When coach Jim Schoenfeld and general manager David Poile decided to call up Carey with the team at 3-10-5 on March 2, they ran the risk of being tagged with the name of a movie featuring another Jim Carrey -- "Dumb and Dumber." After all, they had tried four other goalies since the start of training camp. But as Carey has spurred a team performance that has the Caps in the playoff picture, they are looking smart and smarter.

Behind the goalie's mask is a cool goaltender. And it is his calmness under pressure that has given the Caps greater confidence.

Schoenfeld said "sometimes an outside catalyst" can make a difference. No one can explain it.

But Schoenfeld is convinced Carey didn't just arrive here and become Mr. Cool. "I think that kid was probably that way when he was 7," Schoenfeld said. Perhaps at 7, but not two years earlier than that.

When he was 5 and the only player who could skate backward on the Weymouth mite team, the coaches insisted Carey play defense.

"I hated it," he said. "I'd come home crying every day. I wanted to play forward, and they wouldn't let me play forward because I could skate backward. Finally, my mom couldn't stand it anymore and she said I wasn't going back to hockey unless I played goalie. I said OK, and she took me to a game and had me put in net and then she left the building because she felt so terrible having put me there.

"I've done pretty well. I don't think she feels bad anymore."

Jim Carey's mom, Bev, feels great. So does his dad, Paul.

They have one son, Paul, 26, playing in the Orioles' system; a daughter, Ellen, 24, teaching special needs children in Cohasset, Mass.; and Jim, starting in the NHL.

"Raising Paul and Ellen, in so many words, was a piece of cake, compared with Jim," said Bev Carey. "Jim went outside the lines. He wasn't bad, but you always had to keep tabs on him. You kept your eye on him because he'd take the foot if given an inch."

He was the youngest of a very competitive trio. "They'd eat chocolate cake just to see who could beat who," said Bev. And Jim couldn't beat his older rivals.

"When I was about 8, I'd get so angry after losing I'd throw a fit, hit things and even bite myself," said Jim. "Finally, my mom took me to a doctor. He told her to make Paul and Ellen let me win once in a while."

Ellen remembers it this way: "He was making these little sounds in his throat, and the doctor said it was stress. For a month we let him win everything -- cards, board games, sports. But he was still making those sounds, so Mom took him back to the doctor and we found out he had strep throat not stress -- and that was the end of his winning.

"He was so competitive and excited when we played those little games, but whenever he played hockey he was just the calmest, coolest kid you ever saw. I think he has his head on straight."

Said his mom: "I think he's calm when he plays hockey because he knows he's good at it. It's his game."

Everyone else is finding that out, though Schoenfeld warns that the team should not get carried away by a six-game performance. Yet, Schoenfeld does say the rookie has made the big saves.

"But he's not your typical goalie," said Capitals assistant coach Keith Allain. "He does nothing to set himself apart from his teammates."

And there is a reason for that.

"Some guys are goalies and they're a different breed," Carey said. "They think they're different.

"But that's not me. I just see me as an athlete who plays goalie. I see myself like a quarterback on a football team. You want to be part of the team. You don't want to be on a different page, because they're feeding off you and you're feeding off them."

At the moment, the Capitals are experiencing a feeding frenzy, and no one is complaining about that.

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