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In life as well as in the crease, Ray Emery has learned that less can definitely be more.
Wayne Scanlan, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, January 07, 2007

Funny, how it goes.

When Ray Emery first joined the Ottawa Senators, he was known for everything but his goaltending.

He was a man of colour with wild body tattoos. His manner of dress ranged from white or pink leisure suits to something better suited for mushing dogs in the Alaskan Iditarod.

"Razor" was the goalie who dropped his gloves to fight in the AHL; the boxing afficionado who caused a stir by having the image of convicted felon Mike Tyson painted on his mask. For a rookie NHL backup to the great Dominik Hasek in 2005-06, Emery was rather flamboyant, a little too flamboyant for old school men like general manager John Muckler and head coach Bryan Murray.

Tyson gave way to a safer mask choice in George Chuvalo. Emery, though, hasn't changed in his remarkable surge to become a front line NHL goaltender.

"Me being who I am got me to where I am right now," says Emery, the dressing room light flashing off his glass earrings. "Maybe I'm a bit off or whatever, but it's worked for me this far, and I think I've learned what I need to tone down in certain situations."

These days you don't hear much about Emery's clothes, his earrings, his body art, or even his pet snake. The talk, instead, is about Emery, the Eastern all-star candidate ... the guy who stepped ahead of newcomer Martin Gerber and his $11.1-million U.S. contract to be the undisputed starting goaltender in Ottawa ... the Hamilton native who spent the summer of his 24th birthday rebuilding his technical game under the guidance of Calgary goaltending guru Eli Wilson.

That's the biggest difference between this season and last, Emery says. The technical adjustments. Wilson shrunk his game, showed him where he needed to position himself, and made him slightly less reliant on his undeniable athletic gifts.

"When you have a good system to go by, it's kind of up to the shooters," Emery says. "The way that I've been taught, and have been practising, the guy is going to have make a hell of a shot to beat me, you know what I mean? That's kind of where I get my confidence from. That's my mindset when I go in there, now. I don't want to try to do it all myself, but I want to put myself in that good position and not give anything bad up."

That's a vital trait of this new Emery, the one who stared down King Martin Brodeur in the New Jersey Devils net yesterday afternoon. He rarely gives up a soft early goal -- the nemesis of Gerber in his early weeks as a Senator.

Though the Devils systematically defended a lead, a spectacular sprawling save by Emery -- stretching with his stick to rob Scott Gomez --kept the Senators in a one-goal game despite long, flat stretches by Emery's teammates in the second period.

The student saw the master, Brodeur, on top of his game. Afterward, King Marty gave a tip of the cap to his emerging rival.

"I like him," Brodeur says. "He's an athletic goalie, and you don't see a lot of that these days. Guys just drop down in the butterfly all the time.

"From what I know of him, he's a competitor, he loves to battle. When you have a horse like that, you have to run with him."

Murray plans to do just that.

Emery has been the reliable fix during his team's periodic lulls. In the first period on Wednesday, the first place Buffalo Sabres rained shots on Emery, 19 in all, and yet there was this growing sense that they weren't going to beat him. Not yet. Not until Ottawa got its game going, which it did in a 6-3 laugher. It was 4-0 for the Senators before Emery let the Sabres have a sniff.

How's that for a turn of events? Emery is now in the Sabres' heads. This same goaltender who was on the losing end of a five-game series to Buffalo while filling in for the injured Hasek, Emery has come back to beat Buffalo all four times he has faced the Sabres this season.

There are multiple life lessons in Emery's story. Parents tell their children to be themselves and to believe in themselves, to work hard and trust instincts. Things will work out. Emery didn't flinch when Gerber arrived from the Carolina Hurricanes to replace Hasek, compliments of a big three-year contract.

Knowing he'd have at least a shot at competing for the starting job, Emery continued his long-range plan of becoming a reliable NHL starter. The plan, he admits, "has come a bit faster than I expected."

Little things express how far Emery has come, how the Senators know they have a good thing going. On Friday, when he was asked if his goalies would split these afternoon matinee games with New Jersey and Philadelphia, a smiling coach Murray told reporters, "yes, but don't tell Ray Emery (that Gerber starts tomorrow). We want to keep him playing."

Talk about lucking out with Plan B. Where would the Senators be today without Emery's saving grace? Murray believes the experience of losing to the Sabres in round two, after beating Tampa Bay in the opener, played a huge role in Emery's maturity and motivation this season. To Emery, though, the Buffalo lessons were subtle.

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