Emery is Mr. Kool

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

About 40 years after the birth of a band that has never really gone away, the Senators enter the NHL playoffs as a modern-day Kool & The Gang.

And Raymond Robert Emery has to be recognized as their leader, their Robert "Kool" Bell, for a couple of reasons:

A) On a post-season stage that tends to collapse under pressure, no Ottawa player will feel the intense heat of the spotlight like the team's No. 1 goalie.

B) And nobody, but nobody, is anywhere near as "kool". From the white Hummer he owns to the burnt orange Lamborghini he's renting for the summer, Emery rides in style and sneers in the face of danger.

"An '88 (Chevy) Corsica," he says when asked about his very first car and its ultimate demise. "I crashed it into a telephone pole."

From the country music he first learned to love while listening with his mom Sharlene, to the hard-rocking sounds of Def Leppard and Metallica introduced to him by his father Paul, to the rap he plugged in to growing up with his buddies, Emery digs his tunes.

At work and at play.

"I'll listen to a lot of music ... I like having a song in my head when I play," he says of his primary, pre-game ritual.

"You know how you get that song stuck in your head? Well, I kind of purposely stick a song in my head, just because it makes you feel a bit better in there ... it kind of makes time go by faster, too, so you're not overanalyzing things, you're just kind of singing this tune in your head. It's always something new."

What was it in, oh, last week's game against New Jersey?

"A rap tune. You wouldn't know it. Jim Jones. Emotionless."

Do any lyrics ever slip out from behind the mask?

"No, no ... well, maybe you might get a couple of mumbles in there. Like a little humming."

And then there's his threads. The Hockey Night in Canada cameras will no doubt capture Emery entering Scotiabank Place a couple of hours before Game 1's opening faceoff.

He will no doubt be wearing something worth checking out.

"I think it's great," Brian McGrattan says of his pal's flashy wardrobe, laughing at the images running before his mind's eye. "I think it's the best part about him."

"He's a beauty."

Count on Don Cherry to concur.

Emery figures he only owns 8-10 suits and that he's overdue for a visit with a tailor. The last one he bought was at Vernini Uomo in the St. Laurent Shopping Centre. His favourite is a baggy black and white striped number that has already made its TV debut.

Emery admits he likes to "loosen" the dudes in the dressing room with his duds.

That one would have done it.

"I like clothes, but I'm certainly not as extravagant as he is," says Sharlene Emery, who thinks her own father's penchant for wearing cologne and classy attire influenced Ray -- then laughs and adds that the oldest of her three boys certainly does not take after his dad with the many fashion statements.

"Paul's a farmer," she says. "If anything he gets Ray's hand-me downs."

Says Ray: "Even when I was young, I was a little different. I was rockin' in silk shirts and stuff, in like grade 7 and 8."

Did the other kids give you a hard time?

"I was the big black kid in school, buddy," he says with a laugh. "I was left alone."

The Kool-ness he brings into battle is one his greatest attributes, say his teammates.

"You can't really shake him," says McGrattan, who has been Emery's teammate for the last six seasons, back to when they were with the Soo Greyhounds. "He doesn't get up, he doesn't get down. He's really a calm guy, a level-headed guy."

Jason Spezza thinks part of that has to do with his role and its increased prominence, from Dominik Hasek's rookie understudy at the start of last season.

"He lets things roll off his back. I don't think things stick with him too much," Spezza says.

"It's the starting goalie mentality, probably. He's not really riding the highs and lows. He knows he's playing most nights. When it's two weeks before your next turn, you tend to think about things."

The fact Emery has lots on his plate helps him, says centre Chris Kelly.

"Hockey is very important to him, but I think he has other interests that keep him balanced," says Kelly, who also played with Emery in Binghamton.

"If you think about hockey non-stop, you're going to go crazy. You're going to over-think the game ...especially the goalie."

Kelly and Emery lived together in Ottawa the summer before the lockout.

"He's a very intense person," said Kelly when asked how he'd describe his former roommate to someone who had never met him. "But I think he's also one of the most loyal people you'll ever meet.

"If you're his friend, and he hears someone say a bad thing about you, he'll be the first to stick up for you. He is a genuinely great guy."

A fourth-round pick in 2001, Emery had a stellar rookie season with the Binghamton Senators and was promoted to the big club for a couple of games the following year.

With a taste of the NHL, he wanted more. In the summer of 2004 he identified Eli Wilson as his goalie guru.

Wilson, the president of World Pro Goaltending in Calgary, works with Emery in the summer and talks to him about once a week during the season.

Near the end of March he visited Ottawa for eight days, taking the ice to help Emery before, after and once even during practice.

Developing his "God-given" talents and the technical aspect of the job, Wilson has more recently focused on Emery's tactical game. Not what to do, but when to do it.

"He's always been a good goalie," says Wilson.

"But right now, I'd say for sure he's one of the Top 10 in the world. His mental game is probably most responsible for getting him to where he is. His improvements in one year, both technically and tactically, are off the charts."

Emery did a remarkable job his first season as a Senator, stepping in after the Olympics for a lame Dominik Hasek and taking the Senators into the playoffs on a high.

He was neither the reason they beat Tampa Bay or lost to Buffalo, but management decided an improvement was needed at the position.

Signed Gerber

Still standing as the biggest mistake the team made in the last year is the failure to have faith Emery would continue to progress.

Signing Martin Gerber to an $11.1-million US, three-year deal prevented the Senators from adding or keeping more necessary pieces of the puzzle, and unless they find a way to get rid of him the contract will have further ramifications, as Emery is set to become a restricted free agent and collect a hefty raise on his $900,000 US salary this summer.

It's going to be tough to justify paying him less than Gerber.

When Gerber struggled through the first month of the season, Emery came off the bench to lead the team's turnaround. His final numbers were unspectacular.

Of all league goalies, he wound up 12th in wins, tied for 12th in save percentage, tied for 20th in goals-against average and sixth in shutouts.

But more important than any of that, teammates who were counting on Hasek's return last spring now truly believe Emery can do the job.

"There's no doubt," says coach Bryan Murray. "The fact he's won consistently for us, and he's gone through that exercise of two playoff rounds ... he still has to stop the puck and we still have to play well, but I think confidence among the players, toward him is much higher, much different."

Emery still has the tattoos.

He still has the earrings.

He still likes to get into hockey fights.

He still dances to his own drummer.

And the club still has concerns that he's projecting what it has decided is the proper image.

For this feature, Sun photographer Blair Gable wanted to take a shot of "Rayzer", minus a shirt, shaving with a straight razor, looking into the camera as if it was his bathroom mirror. The Senators squashed the idea.

"He's getting the attention now for being a good player, there's no question," says Murray, who would not have been involved in the decision.

"He's not getting attention for other things, and I guess we all like that."

From a backup who was rarely heard to one of the most-often requested interviews, Emery's patience can be short as he is now more liable to shake his head at a ridiculous query.

"If he feels somebody is asking him a stupid question, he's not going to give an answer," says Spezza. "That's just his personality. He's not scared to be who he is."

And that's a 24-year-old bachelor with a bright future.

A guy on the go.

Last summer Emery bought a west-end house along a golf course from Randy Robitaille, an Ottawa native who plays for the New York Islanders. He's still not completely unpacked.

Emery's days off are mostly spent on the phone, "chillin'," picking up dry cleaning and running errands.

And adjusting to his fame.

Generally, he eats dinner around 9:30 p.m., when restaurants aren't busy and he can enjoy his meal in peace.

But a couple of weeks back, with his parents in town, the Emerys went to an East Side Mario's at 6:30 p.m. With both young and old kids continually approaching the table for an autograph or to chat, they finally had to get up and leave without eating. Emery's not exactly complaining, however.

"The pros outweigh the cons," he says of his new public profile. "You can always hide."

Yet there's no hiding from the fact he carries the largest burden as the Senators enter another post-season with tremendous hopes.

That's Kool with Emery.

He believes "knowing what to expect a bit more" from the NHL playoffs should help him this time around.

But there will be no change in his confidence level. He had it then, just as he has it now.

"I kinda took some heat, and they went out and got a goalie and whatever, but we lost a five-game series to that team, and I thought it was a good team," he says of the Sabres.

"Every game was a one-goal game, three games in overtime. It's not like we were that far off, or I was that far off. Still, there needs to be some improvement.

"Last year, I was just kind of excited about a chance to play. This year I'm excited to go far ... I'm excited to kind of correct the mistakes from last year."

And that would be Kool with The Gang.


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