TRURO – Lyle Carter couldn’t believe it.
The Brookfield resident and retired professional goaltender had only played one season for the Clinton Comets of the Eastern Hockey League in 1968-69. Although he posted a career high 13 shutouts on the road to a league title, never did he imagine he would be sitting at a computer more than 40 years later reading an e-mail from a Clinton fan saying he was named in Carter’s honour.
“It really surprised me,” the 67-year-old Carter said. “I thought it was nice for them to do that. I was always taught never to blow your own horn or brag but I really appreciated it.”
Lyle Fulton, a 43-year-old resident of Trenton, NJ., contacted Carter after reading a recent article about him in The Hockey News. In the email message, Fulton informed Carter his parents, John (and first wife Molly) Fulton, had been huge fans of Carter’s when he manned the Comets’ crease.
The Comets played half their home games that season at the 1,700-seat Clinton Arena in Clinton, NY., and the other half in the 4,000-seat Utica Memorial Auditorium in the neighbouring city of Utica. Both were filled to capacity during Comets games.
“The fans there loved hockey,” Carter said. “They gave us a lot of support.”
The Fultons regularly attended Comets games on Saturday nights and quickly noticed when a baby-faced, 23-year-old goaltender nicknamed ‘Cat’ showed up on the scene. It was hard not to see Carter in the crease. At six-foot-one and 188 pounds, he was a large netminder in those days.
“It was a rough and tough league,” John, a 72-year-old pastor who now lives in Syracuse, NY., and holds season tickets to the AHL’s Crunch, said. “There was a lot of fighting and nasty stuff but he didn’t get involved in any of that. He just wanted to hone his skills. Anybody who got in and out of that league and moved up was pretty good and Lyle was one of them.”
John was just starting his career in the church and could barely afford to get into Comets games in Carter’s season with team. So his daughter Julie, then just three years old, would sit on his lap to avoid paying for an extra seat. She instantly became enamoured with Carter and begged her father to take her to practices so she could pass Carter notes as he came off the ice. Once, she event made a Valentine’s Day card for the goaltender. He often stopped to talk and thanked her for her letters.
“She had a bit of a crush on him,” John said. “He never said he had to go. He always took time to come talk to her. He was all the world to her. If I called tonight and told her I was talking to you about him she would be just enthralled.”
The unflappable Carter was a big part of that Comets championship squad, which nipped the Nashville Dixie Flyers in seven games in the final. Aside from the inflated number of shutouts, Carter posted a 2.35 goals-against average over 72 regular season games and was 2.67 in 15 playoff contests. The Comets dominated the 11-team circuit with a 44-18-10-0 regular-season record.
“He was different,” John said. “Most of the players in that league, that was their pinnacle but you knew Lyle had a chance to go somewhere…and he did.”
The next season Carter was called upon by Montreal Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock to join the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Montreal Voyageurs, who also played out of Montreal Forum. Then, two seasons later, Carter made his NHL debut with the California Golden Seals.
Little Julie must have made an impact on Carter, because not long after joining the Voyageurs, he sent her a miniature goalie stick graced with his signature.
“She kept that for a long, long time,” John said.
The family lost track of Carter a short time later. The lack of national hockey television coverage in the United States and none of today’s high tech gadgets made it almost impossible to continue to follow the goaltender’s career path.
Nevertheless, the family often thought of Carter and when their son was born a few years after the goaltender departed Clinton, they decided to name him Lyle. After all, their daughter Julie had been named after actress Julie Andrews, so why not have a son named after a hockey player?
“We were both thinking the same thing,” John said, recalling he and his wife discussing the name.
Although he never saw Carter play in person, Lyle Fulton, a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, learned about Carter through his father’s stories. It’s made him proud of his moniker and he doesn’t hesitate to tell people just where it comes from.
“It's a name that’s not that common and there have been people who have asked if there is a story behind it. I always respond ‘I was named after a hockey player my father knew’ and that leads into more conversation. Learning how well respected Lyle (Carter) is makes me take more pride in where my name came from.”
After contacting Carter, Lyle Fulton quickly got a response from the former goaltender. Not only was Fulton surprised with his prompt reply, the kind response only solidified the character his father had portrayed to him growing up.
“His nice response sums up how good of a person he is,” Fulton said. “I had no idea what to expect, but it was awesome getting a response.”
It’s all served as a lesson to Carter even minor league players can make a major impact on people’s lives.
“You never know who is paying attention,” he said.
Updated April 16, 2013 to correct information pertaining to the name of Lyle Fulton's mother.
Following are statistics and highlights from Lyle Carter’s 1968-69 season with the Clinton Comets of the Eastern Hockey League:
Born: Apr. 29, 1945
GP Mins W L T GA GAA SO
72 4,320 44 18 10 169 2.35 13
GP Mins W L T GA GAA SO
15 900 8 7 0 40 2.67 0
– Led the EHL in wins, shutouts, goals-against average and playoff goals-against average.
– Named to the EHL North All-Star team.
– Winner of the George L. Davis Jr. Trophy (EHL lowest GAA).
– Won the EHL championship 4-3 over the Nashville Dixie Flyers in a best-of-seven series.