In homage to Washington Capital rookie goaltender Jim Carey,
the USAir Arena scoreboard often shows movie clips during TV
timeouts. For 70 seconds Jim Carrey, the comedian, the one who
starred in The Mask, does his high-tech hipster routine from
that movie, while 20-year-old Jim Carey, the goaltender, the one
with the stars on his hockey sweater and not on his
dressing-room door, steals a glance at the giant screen. ``I
love him,'' the Capital netminder says. ``The man is so talented
and definitely not normal. He makes a fool out of himself better
Carey is working on his own movie: Film at 11. Flip on the
sports highlights most nights, and there, on TV, smaller than
life, is Jim Carey. There isn't much of a plot (kick save, glove
save, stick save) and no special effects (his style in goal is
mostly unobtrusive), but after just five weeks in the NHL, the
theme of Carey's flick is obvious: It's easy being green.
Carey, a kid with ice water in his glass--he is two months shy
of being legally able to drink a beer--had a 13-3-2 record, a
microscopic NHL-best 1.89 goals-against average and a .923 save
percentage through Sunday. He was the NHL player of the month in
March, the first rookie to be a solo winner of that award. This
does not exactly make him bigger than Newt around the Beltway,
but hardy Capital loyalists finally have a marquee name to
cheer. They have waved oversized aces of hearts for ace carey,
net detective; former teammate Randy Burridge dipped into the
Carrey oeuvre to give Carey the nickname Ace in training camp
last September. Some fans have taken to wearing Jim Carrey's
mask from Mask to games. The green rubber masks look
uncomfortable but no doubt are preferable to the paper bags that
would have been the headgear of choice if Washington hadn't
summoned Carey from the minors.
The Capitals--the disciplined, persistent and singularly dull
Capitals--have been described as colorless and odorless. This is
only partially true. Their record on March 1 was 3-10-5, which
stank. ``Desperate times call for desperate measures,'' coach
Jim Schoenfeld said the day the Capitals promoted Carey from
Portland of the American Hockey League. But the Capitals' last-
gasp move has breathed life into the team. Carey helped turn the
team around by eliminating most soft goals and giving the
forwards some confidence, which has translated into actual,
albeit occasional, spurts of offense.
``I had three goalies [Byron Dafoe, Olaf Kolzig and Rick
Tabaracci], and each of them had one win,'' Schoenfeld says.
``At the time we called up Jim we had the lowest shooting
percentage in the league and the lowest save percentage. Maybe
you can have one [and be successful], but you can't have both.''
Carey, who last September bolted the University of Wisconsin
before his junior year and was scheduled to spend a full season
in the minors, stopped 21 shots in his NHL debut, a 4-3 win
against the New York Islanders on March 2. After the game he was
lathering his face for a shave when teammate Jason Allison
interceded. Don't do that, Allison pleaded, we're on a winning
``I'm thinking, Yeah, right, one in a row, ha-ha-ha,'' Carey
says. ``But you know, he was serious.''
``During my tenure, goaltending has been our Achilles' heel,''
says David Poile, who is in his 13th season as Capital general
manager. ``When it came to crunch time, the playoffs, it wasn't
there. You could say the Capitals lost. Or the Capitals choked.
But nine times out of 10, it was the other team's goalie
outshining our goalie. It was always the other goalie who would
steal a win. Now maybe Jim can do that for us.''
The NHL has been littered with goalies who have had sensational
rookie starts. The cantankerous Ron Hextall put the fight back
into neophyte when he won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies
for Philadelphia in 1986-87, one season after
you've-never-heard-of-him Darren Jensen of the Flyers started
13- 3-1 and shared the Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against
average. Some, like Ross Brooks (11-1-3 for Boston in 1972-73),
fall off the face of the earth. Others, like Ken Dryden (6-0
before leading the upstart 1971 Montreal Canadiens to the
Stanley Cup), Rogie Vachon (11-3-4, 2.48 goals-against average
with Montreal in 1966-67) and Grant Fuhr (28-5-14 in Edmonton in
1981- 82), stay on the path to greatness. Philadelphia's Pete
Peeters went 22-0-5 in 1979-80 after playing five games the
previous season, but the best start belonged to Hall of Famer
Frank Brimsek. Brimsek, who had six shutouts in his first eight
games with the 1938-39 Boston Bruins, was nicknamed Mr. Zero,
which sounds like it could be the title of Jim Carrey's next
Carey is not a Patrick Roy clone, as is the vogue among young
goalies, though he sometimes uses a variation of Roy's trademark
butterfly style. Carey drops to his knees a little too early and
a little too often to be characterized as a stand-up goalie, but
when he does go down, the 6 2", 190- pounder is able to cover
most of the net. He is not a reflex goalie, though his glove
hand is quick and his feet are surprisingly nimble. He has no
Hextallian tics or mannerisms.
``The kid's been making all the routine saves, and they weren't
getting that before,'' says Buffalo defenseman Garry Galley.
``Judging by his record, he's made some big saves, too.''
``Jim will go a long way because of his demeanor, his attitude,
his composure,'' says Capital center Dave Poulin, a 12-year
veteran. ``He's controlled in the way that he plays.''
Carey has a square jaw, light-blue eyes and the vague, gentle
expression of someone who just woke up. And he plays that way--
with minimal motion and emotion. His is a practiced calm.
``You'll never see me break a stick over a crossbar,'' Carey
says. ``In my experience, a goalie does that and his teammates
think, Here we go, they're going to blow six more past this guy.
This is a team sport. The goalie's almost like the quarterback
because the whole team feeds off him. If he gets beaten on a
breakaway and then acts ticked off, his teammates are going to
say, `He lets one in and he's blaming me for it? I don't want to
play for this guy.' ''
But remove the mask and replace the goalie stick with, say, a
Wiffle bat or a deck of cards or a board game, and this mature,
polite, thoughtful kid metamorphoses into a bug-eyed madman.
Take Carey off a team and put him into head-to-head competition,
and his behavior is--how would Jim Carrey put it?--stupid and
Carey had a white-picket-fence childhood in the Boston suburb of
Weymouth, except the pickets were always being replaced because
Carey kept breaking them in fits of pique. Jim was not a good
loser, which runs in the family--or at least part of it.
His father, Paul, a boiler operator for Boston Edison, is a
gentle soul. (``My dad is so laid-back that if a nuclear attack
happened while he was out cutting the grass, he'd keep cutting
because he'd figure when the fallout came, at least our lawn
would be nice,'' Jim says.)
But his mother, Beverly, a medical billing secretary, is more
cutthroat than Sweeney Todd. Paul met his wife when she was the
shortstop on a state championship CYO softball team he helped
coach. When Jim was in seventh grade, his mother was still the
best quarterback in the neighborhood.
Long before any sneaker company, Beverly knew life was one big
game. ``Competition,'' she says, ``is wonderful.''
Competition. That was how the three Carey children learned their
multiplication tables, their vocabulary words, almost
everything. Someone would shout ``Nine times nine'' at the
dinner table, and the others had better know the answer. A
10-cent bet or an ice-cream cone riding on the correct response
focused the mind wonderfully.
The children, incidentally, grew up just fine. Paul Jr., 27,
went to Stanford, played on two NCAA championship baseball teams
and now is a first baseman-designated hitter in the Baltimore
Oriole organization. He played 18 games in the majors in 1993,
batting .213. Ellen, 25, set 11 school records in basketball,
including career points and rebounds, at Westfield (Mass.)
State, and now is a preschool special-education teacher. The
success of Jim's siblings was part of his problem: He may have
been the best goaltender in the history of Boston's Catholic
Memorial High, where he led the school to three straight state
titles, but as the youngest Carey he was only the third-best
athlete in the family. Fourth, if you count Mom.
``That's why I became the most competitive of all,'' Carey says.
``I had an obsession with winning. I couldn't handle losing. I'd
get so upset, I'd bite myself.''
When Jim was seven or eight he developed a habit of constantly
clearing his throat. His mother hauled him off to the family
pediatrician, who diagnosed Jim's problem as competitive-itis.
``He called my other children in and told them they would have
to let Jim win because of his age,'' Beverly says. ``The doctor
said it was a nervous thing, but winning should make it stop.
Three weeks later Jim was still doing it. We went back, they did
a throat culture, and it turned out Jim had been walking around,
playing all his sports, while he had a strep throat. When we
found out that was the problem, we immediately stopped being
nice to him.''
The games go on. When Carey is home, he and his mother will play
killer Sorry matches or Crazy 8s at the kitchen table until 3
a.m. ``I let him win, but his mother would never let him win,''
says Stephanie Cody, Jim's girlfriend. ``She always beats him at
Sorry. Once he was beating her, and his mom made me go into the
other room because she said I was bringing Jim good luck.''
There was a legendary night of miniature golf last summer on
Cape Cod, when they drove from course to course because Beverly
and Stephanie kept losing to Jim and his father. At midnight, on
the 18th hole of the final round, Stephanie got the yips over an
18-incher that would have at last brought the women victory.
Carey, ever gallant, accused her of choking.
``There I was, right in their faces, carrying on,'' Carey says
with a shake of his head but no discernible remorse. ``But what
is it about me that made me upset when my mother beat me in
around-the-world basketball games when I was 15, but if [New
York Ranger defenseman Brian] Leetch beats me on a breakaway,
it's like, O.K., let's go, I'll stop the next one? It's like I
was bred for hockey. Like this was all meant to be.''
Actually, Carey foiled Leetch on a breakaway early in his third
game, and a ripple of ex citement creased the Capital bench,
where big plays by the goalie hadn't been seen too often. Maybe
Ace was more than a movie-inspired nickname. Carey had given the
Capitals a transfusion of sangfroid, and if this steadfast kid
was going to make it easy for them, well, the Capitals would try
to make it easy for him, too. The team has allowed an average of
25.1 shots per game and has outshot opponents in 11 of 18 games
since Carey began starting, while climbing from sixth to third
in the Atlantic Division.
His mask features four aces on his chin and the word ace
lettered in gold on the back, but last month Jim Carey had a
green Jim Carrey hockey mask molded for himself. ``I don't know
if I'll ever wear it,'' he says. ``These things can come back to
haunt you. You wear that, you're putting your foot in the
This is premature, but in the great Carey family tradition you
are encouraged to get your ice-cream bets down early: Jim Carey
wins a Stanley Cup before Jim Carrey wins an Oscar.