Which Ray Emery are the Ducks getting?
That’s the million-dollar question – rather, the prorated $500,000 question so long as he’s in the NHL, or the prorated $105,000 question as long as he’s in Syracuse. And from a physical standpoint, it’s a question no one – not even Emery himself – will be able to answer until he is playing a live hockey game.
He hasn’t done that in more than a year.
From an emotional standpoint, the club is getting a more mature Emery than the one whose attitude soured when he was relegated to backup duties three years ago in Ottawa. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, the goalie said he was “just excited to be back playing again” after clearing waivers and being assigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
“I made a few mistakes, had a few setbacks, but I wouldn’t take it back because after going through something you know exactly how to take that,” Emery said. “You can build on all those missteps. I’d say I’m really excited to be back again. I definitely appreciate things more. I appreciate my body knowing it’s not always going to be there for me, having that scare of thinking I’d be playing my last game.”
Emery took almost as many questions about his mental approach as his physical condition Tuesday. If and when he reports to Syracuse (Emery’s arrival is expected to be delayed a couple of days as the club awaits immigration paperwork), the task will be taller than staying late at practice to face an NHL backup’s share of shots. He will become the number one goalie for a team that ranks 24th in the AHL at 3.22 goals against per game. Offensive support? The Crunch rank 28th in the league in goals per game (2.46).
So what happens if things don’t always go well – which they assuredly won’t?
“I get fiery and I don’t mind mixing it up, whatever you want to call it,” Emery said. “I’ve had that passion and that mentality for a while, that I realize when it’s a good thing and when it’s not now. In no way shape or form am I going to try to stop trying to win games, or stop trying to be the most intense guy on the ice.
“At the same time, I know when it’s not in my best interest to be overly competitive. I think I have a better balance of it right now. I’m still a sore loser. I still go out there to win every game, and I won’t apologize for being that way. I won’t let it get in my way either in the way of distractions.”
Back to the physical question.
Emery said he’s already proved a trainer and a doctor wrong by getting this far along in his comeback. He shed his crutches, his limp, and the poor mechanics that led to his career-threatening hip condition in the first place.
“Over the years, your body adapts to different injuries,” Emery said. “I had an ankle injury when I was younger. You compensate for that by shifting your weight, or using a muscle pattern you’re not supposed to. I had a knee injury … You end up having little setbacks and your body ends up not firing properly.”
Since having a bone transplant from his lower leg to his right hip, Emery said he’s been on the ice at least three times a week for the last six months, and “pretty much every day” for the last month.
“At the same time,” he said, “I feel I need professional shooters … to get in a game situation.”
When that situation arrives, perhaps this weekend, the Ducks will have their answer.