Senators Alphabet: R is for Ray

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 14: Ray Emery #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks takes a water break in the third period during his game against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on February 14, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Predators defeated the Blackhawks 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

R is for Ray, as in Ray Emery, the mercurial goaltender who was drafted by the Senators in the 4th round, 99th overall, of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Emery made his debut for the Sens during the 2002-03 campaign, playing in 3 games and going 1-0 as a 20-year-old. He would play in 3 games the following season, this time going 2-0. Ray's breakthrough would come following the lockout, during the 2005-06 season. Emery began the season in the backup role, adding 6 more wins to his total and setting an NHL record for most wins to start a career with 9. When the legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek was injured at the 2006 Olympics, Emery was pressed into the starter's role and exceeded expectations. He won 12 games in March of 2006, tying Bernie Parent's record for most wins in a month, set in 1974.

Following a second round exit, the Sens decided to bring in Martin Gerber to replace Dominic Hasek as the team's starting goalie. Emery didn't stay relegated for long, as Gerber's dismal play to start the season meant that Emery was once again in possession of the starter's job by mid-November. Ray would go 33-16-6 in 58 games in 2006-07 with a 2.47 GAA, a .918 SV%, and 5 shutouts. Emery's play earned him the honour of Molson Cup season winner and led to him being between the pipes when the playoffs started. Emery went 13-7 in the playoffs, with a 2.26 GAA, .907 SV%, and 3 shutouts. In the process he beat Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin Brodeur, and Ryan Miller. Rewarded with a new 3 year contract by new GM Bryan Murray, Emery would be waived and bought out less than a year later following the 2007-08 season.

Emery was a passionate and physical player during his time with the Ottawa Senators. This should have come as no surprise to anyone in Ottawa, as Emery had 11 fighting majors during his time in the OHL and AHL. This tendency continued in the NHL against Buffalo on February 22, 2007. In what has now become part of Senators lore, Emery skated the length of the ice and fought Buffalo goalie Martin Biron. When Emery finished with Biron, Andrew Peters, Buffalo's resident enforcer, was anxious to get a piece of Emery and found Ray a willing partner. "Sugar Ray" as he was dubbed following the game, racked up 22 minutes of penalties on the play (2 fighting majors, a 2 minute minor for leaving the crease, and a 10 minute game misconduct). It is both Robin Lehner's animated play and tag as goalie of the future that remind so many of Ray Emery (this comparison might temper some of the excitement surrounding Lehner).

Ray dominated the off-ice headlines during his time in Ottawa as well. When a cockroach scurried across the Sens dressing room floor during an Ottawa visit to Raleigh in October, 2005, Emery ate it on a dare from Daniel Alfredsson, collecting $500 from the captain. He used his earnings to finance one of his many tattoos ("Anger is a Gift" on his right arm). His interest in fashion was well known, and his tendency to favour pinstripe suits was noticed by many, including fellow sartorial enthusiast Don Cherry. He owns an orange Lamborghini and a limited edition Hummer. His white Hummer was a frequent sight on Ottawa highways and Emery was involved in several traffic incidents while with the Senators. Emery displayed his love of boxing with his on-ice performances and his masks. His most controversial, a mask featuring Mike Tyson, was used for only one game before it was retired after a meeting with then-GM John Muckler. During the 2007-08 season, Emery was involved in separate incidents with Chris Neil and Brian McGrattan during practice. He missed a team flight during the second-round series with the Devils in 2007 and missed practice and was sent home by John Paddock the following season.

All of these things contributed to Emery's departure. Some actually had to do with hockey, but it's hard for fans that experience the game from outside the dressing room to understand how significant these hockey-related altercations were for team unity. It seems clear from the way the Sens continued to disintegrate the following season that there were considerable problems with the team that went beyond Emery. Emery received such negative attention in part because he was a young and a new kind of player in what is still a very conservative league, on a conservative team, with conservative coaching and management. Some things were just a problem because it was Ray Emery. Ray's bleached hair caused an uproar and lasted only a day, but it wasn't a problem when Bryan Smolinski had bleached hair before Emery, nor was it a problem when Peter Schaefer modeled a similar bleached look a couple season later.

While it might have been best for both the Senators and Emery to part company in 2008, that no other NHL team took a chance on him is a little surprising. Brian Elliott virtually played himself out of the NHL in 2010-11 and yet St. Louis still gave him an opportunity. Elliott's deal with St. Louis illustrates how valuable fitting in to the conservative hockey world can be. Some have suggested that Ray Emery's forced exile to Russia was a result of the persistent racism which still exists in the NHL (for an interesting look at this issue, check out Stacy L. Lorenz and Rod Murray's article "The Dennis Rodman of Hockey: Ray Emery and the Policing of Blackness in the Great White North" in Commodified and Criminalized:: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports).

Emery's time with Atlant Moscow wasn't without incident but his play was impressive enough (22-8, 1.86 GAA, .926 SV%) to earn another shot in the NHL. Ray suited up between the pipes for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10. In some ways it was a perfect fit, as Ray's love of boxing and physical play might endear him to the Philly faithful (and resulted in a Rocky Balboa mask). But his season was sidetracked by injury: a torn abdominal muscle required surgery and six weeks off from hockey. The prognosis worsened when it was discovered he had avascular necrosis, the disease that eventually ended two-sport threat Bo Jackson's careers. The new injury was so serious it threatened Emery's career and future mobility. However, Emery's surgery was a success. The sophisticated procedure removed 13 centimeters from his right fibula and grafted it to his femur to restore proper blood flow.

For those who questioned Emery's character earlier in his career, Emery's second return to the NHL should cause them to reflect on those opinions. Emery spent the first month of his recovery in extreme pain, watching TV from a hospital bed in his living room. Then Emery began twice daily rehab sessions with a personal trainer. By November, he made it back onto the ice and was doing butterfly drills. Finally, on February 7, 2011, Emery signed a one year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks. After a successful conditioning stint in the AHL, Emery made his Ducks debut in mid-March and went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 10 games. Emery's comeback earned him a spot as one of three finalists for the Masterton Trophy in 2011. It also earned him a tryout contract with the Chicago Blackhawks for 2011-12.

Emery's play while alternating with Corey Crawford has been solid, if unspectacular, and earned him a contract extension this weekend. Is Ray Emery the goalie many expected him to be when he first came up with the Ottawa Senators? No. But after some of the things that have happened in his career, I don't think many thought he would still be in the NHL. Emery's return to Ottawa in March received a muted response from the Scotiabank Place crowd (in part because it wasn't properly announced on the new HD scoreboard). However, I for one am still cheering for Razor.

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