January 17, 2016

Net Detective: Jim Carey

In the mid-1990s a Canadian slapstick comedian took Hollywood by storm. With hit moves such as Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar and Batman Forever, Jim Carrey was a household name.

At the same time, an American goaltender took the NHL by storm. His name was also Jim Carey (note the slight spelling difference of the surname). In 1995-96 he won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in hockey after putting up one of the greatest seasons by a goaltender in hockey history.

While Hollywood's Jim Carrey went on to long lasting fame and success, hockey's Jim Carey saw his star fall almost as quickly as it rose. Within a couple of years he was out of hockey altogether, not wanting anything to do with his hockey past.

Carey the goalie, known to nearly everyone by the nickname "Ace," was the first goaltender in NHL history to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy in each of his first two seasons. At the age of just 22 years he won the Vezina in his second season. Thirty five wins, nine shutouts and a 2.26 goals against average dominated the league.

It was just Carey's third pro season. The 32nd overall draft pick in 1992 dropped out of the University of Wisconsin after just one season to turn pro. He reported to Washington's farm team, the Portland Pirates, and found immediate success. He was American Hockey League's rookie of the year, going 30-14-11 with a 2.76 goals-against average before being summoned to Washington. The Caps, 3-10-5 when Carey arrived March 2, went 19-8-3 the rest of the way with Carey earning all but one of those victories.

He struggled in the playoffs, but quickly made people forget about that with his Vezina winning season.

But the playoffs haunted Carey yet again.

"In the playoffs, we lost against Pittsburgh like we usually did," remembered Washington teammate Keith Jones. "Mario (Lemieux) and the Penguins lit him up high on his glove side. I don’t know if he was ever the same after that."

The Capitals decided to go forward with another young goaltender named Olaf Kolzig. "Olie the Goalie" went on to become the long time puck stopper in the nation's capital.

Carey was traded to Boston the following season. The Capitals sent Carey and forwards Jason Allison and Anson Carter to Boston for Bill Ranford and forwards Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet. Just nine months after winning the Vezina trophy, Carey was traded away and ended the year 5-13-0 with a 3.82 GAA with the Bruins.

 He bounced between Boston and AHL Providence the year after that. His final NHL stop came in 1998-99 with the St. Louis Blues. He played three games with them.

"Jim told me he had to get away from hockey, that it wasn't fun anymore,'' said Jeff Sauer, Carey's coach at Wisconsin. ``Things weren't going well, and he just decided that he had had enough.

"I think Jim left school prematurely, not so much from a hockey standpoint but from a maturity standpoint. Jim made a lot of money. Maybe things came too easy too quickly,'' speculated Sauer.

Larry Pleau, the Blues general manager, agreed.

"I've never seen a guy that young fall off so dramatically, so quickly,'' Pleau said. ``Maybe it was too much too soon. We put a lot of pressure on young people in our sport. Everyone was comparing Jim to Tom Barrasso when he got drafted, so he faced a lot of pressure coming in. But Jim lived with that and brought his game to a high level.''

Carey just upped and walked away. He returned to Wisconsin so that his wife Stephanie could finish her degree. They then relocated to Florida where Carey worked on finishing his business degree at the University of Tampa while living off of his savings and investments from his four year, $11 million dollar NHL contract.

Once Ace was out of hockey, he was out of hockey. I don’t think he wanted to interact with it anymore. I don’t think he wanted to answer questions about his career. He’s probably sick of being asked, “What happened?” said Kolzig.

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