No goaltender in NHL history began his career with as much success as Ottawa's Ray Emery.
In this edition of Facing Off, we go behind the mask as the player known as "Razor" tells us why he is tougher than Senators enforcer Brian McGrattan, how much racism there is on the ice and why former teammate Dominik Hasek is misunderstood.
Question from David Amber: What did you do for fun during the offseason?
Answer from Ray Emery: I traveled around with my buddies. This summer, I went to Los Angeles, Barbados, Las Vegas and I popped into Montreal just to shop and hang out. I also worked out in Calgary for a month. My agent set me up to train with a goalie coach who runs World Pro Goaltending.
Q: So you had a busy summer. What was the highlight for you?
A: Nothing beats Vegas for me, man (laughs). I love the social scene there. Also, I played in the Bad Boys Charity Hockey Tournament that Jerry Bruckheimer runs there. That was really cool.
Q: That tournament attracts some big Hollywood types. What was it like rubbing elbows with those famous actors?
A: A lot of the guys were pretty down-to-earth. I'm never going to be starstruck, but it was fun hanging out with those guys. I didn't know who half the celebrities were until we were at the bar and girls started flying up to them, going crazy, especially for all of those "Desperate Housewives" guys. I only recognized a few of the actors, like Cuba Gooding Jr. … he is a big hockey fan. We were having a group dinner and I wasn't going to go bug him, but it was really cool because Cuba came up to me and said, "Rayman, I've been watching you, brother." That was cool for me that Cuba Gooding Jr. knew who I was; you just don't think people like that follow hockey. That was highlight of my trip.
Q: What do you remember most about your first NHL start?
A: The real shock was the first game I got into, in Vancouver, I didn't realize how much faster the game was and how different the atmosphere was with all the fans until I got out there. My first start was in Atlanta, and in the first minute, Dany Heatley came down the wing for my first shot and I was thinking, "What am I going to do?" It was great to just stop that shot. We actually had a rookie party the night before my first start, so I wasn't in the best shape. In the morning skate, [coach Jacques Martin] came over and told me I would be starting, so I had to replenish my fluids and get ready for the game (laughs).
Q: You won that game 5-1. In fact, you won your first nine decisions in the NHL.
A: It was pretty cool. The streak went over three years. It was a lot of luck, but it just goes to show you that when you want something so bad and you have such incredible adrenaline going, it makes it easier. Usually good things happen for me when I have the juices flowing.
Q: What was it like last season when Dominik Hasek goes down with an injury, and there you are, a 23-year-old kid in the NHL, suddenly holding down the No. 1 job in Ottawa?
A: That was great. I didn't want to see Dom get hurt, but I think it is easier to play as a No. 1 and stay familiar with game situations. It was good we were battling for first place and had a good team, and it was a good chance for me to get some experience. Then, to play in the playoffs was a bonus. Not that many young goalies get that chance.
Q: By all accounts, Dominik Hasek is a different goalie and a different guy. What was it like to try to get to know him?
A: I didn't know what to expect. You hear all sorts of things about how quirky he is, but he was great with me. I just watched him work. He just brought me along; I could ask him anything. Dom was really open with me. It was great to see a legend at work. He's a different guy, but a lot of the way he is different is how intense he is when he needs to be. So he was really good with me, which was surprising to me because of the reputation he has.
Q: How is Ray Emery a different goalie now than a year ago?
A: I'm a bit more relaxed. I know what to expect, I have learned how to prepare for games. I now understand how the teams play. Basically, there are a handful of stars in the league that get the majority of the scoring chances, so if I'm going into Toronto, I know how [Mats] Sundin works and whether he's looking to shoot or pass. I study players' tendencies, which helps me be more prepared and more confident.
Q: Which goalie in the NHL reminds you most of you?
A: (Long pause.) That's a tough one. I'm kind of different. I'm a little old school and a little new school. I kind of play more like an old guy, like Sean Burke, because of my style and my size. Maybe a little like Cam Ward, too. That's tough to say.
Q: With Hasek now out of Ottawa, the battle for the No. 1 job is between you and Martin Gerber. What's that like?
A: Marty, coming off the season he had, it's really his job to lose. He's an established No. 1 goalie. Last year, I had a chance to play because of the injury to Dom, I played pretty well, but at the same time, I still need to earn the No. 1 job. I want to battle with Marty, to play a little more than people may think and do better than people expect me to.
Q: Emotionally, what was it like for you to be involved in four one-goal losses against Buffalo in the conference semifinals last season?
A: It was frustrating, especially the first loss, when we blew a lead and lost 7-6. That was a game I really got pissed about because that was a chance for us to continue to roll, and after we lost that game, the boys maybe didn't have as much confidence in me as they did before. So, then we started playing more defensive, and we played well, but we lost 2-1, 3-2, and in an overtime game. We weren't getting the scoring chances we usually do because the boys were playing more defensively and that wasn't the way we had been playing all year. We had been running and gunning and lighting other teams up. So, that first loss really hurt us and changed the way our team played.
Q: Just a year after you left the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, what was your reaction when the then-coach, John Vanbiesbrouck, was forced to leave the team after directing a racial slur at one of your former teammates, Trevor Daley, who is also black?
A: Dales is my good buddy. I lived with him when I played there. When it happened, I talked to him right away and he was really upset. We were surprised it happened. There is no excuse for that. I was pissed off about it, to be honest with you. It was strange because I was up there with Vanbiesbrouck and he actually helped me out a bit, being a fellow goaltender. I'm just glad Dales got past it and is now doing well in Dallas.
Q: What kinds of racial issues did you face playing in a sport dominated by white players?
A: Hockey is a game where guys trash-talk a lot, so during the course of a game, I have had guys bring up racial stuff to try to get under my skin. I don't think that should happen, but at the same time, I don't shy away from trying to get under other guys' skin, too, so I choose the times to stick up for myself and choose times to let it slide off my back. But, really, it has only happened a handful of times in my career. It hasn't happened in the NHL, but it did happen a few times in the American Hockey League and in junior.
Q: One season in junior hockey, you were involved in four separate fights. How does that happen to a goalie?
A: That year, we had a really young team and I was one of the main players on the team, so guys were running me and doing everything to get me off my game. When you play 60 games and guys are running you every game, defending yourself four times isn't that much.
Q: You are 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds -- that's legit size. Is there a part of you that wishes you were a skater?
A: Yeah, I like playing out. My buddy Grats [Brian McGrattan], he's a fighter. That would be a pretty good job for me. I would love to go out and get the crowd pumped up and throw 'em with a guy every once in a while. I think that would be a pretty cool job.
Q: If you had to go toe-to-toe with a goalie in the league right now, who would be a good battle for you?
A: Dan Cloutier is supposed to be pretty tough and a little crazy, so maybe that is a good matchup. But he is out in L.A., so we barely play those guys. We'll see.
Q: When you got to the NHL, you received some criticism for wearing a mask with an image of Mike Tyson on it. Why did you want to honor Mike Tyson in that way?
A:s It wasn't honoring Mike Tyson. He was the fifth fighter I had put on my helmet. As a kid, I grew up watching Tyson because he was the main guy. I was a fan of his fighting, he was entertaining. It had nothing to do with his life away from the ring. I was joking with the guys that it's tough to find a fighter that doesn't have a rap sheet that I can put on my helmet.
Q: Why did you stop wearing that mask?
A: Ottawa is a pretty conservative town. At the time, people were getting on me and I wasn't playing that much. It was before Dom went down, so I didn't want to be a distraction, especially in a bad way. It wasn't a huge deal for me to take it off, but I was surprised so much was made of it in the first place.
Q: What is it like for you, a hip-hop guy in the NHL, a league that stereotypically has a more of a rock-n-roll flavor?
A: Definitely, but I like everything. I have played hockey for a long time, so I am into rock 'n' roll, too. A lot of my friends back home aren't hockey players, they can't even skate, so I have seen the other side of things, too. I like it that way. If I listen to too much hip-hop, I get sick of that; if I hang out with too many hockey players, I get sick of that. So, I get a good mix of things.
Q: Have you been able to introduce your teammates to hip-hop music?
A: They get upset when I take over the stereo in the dressing room and put on some gangsta rap. Sometimes I do get some tunes mixed in, though, and get the boys listening to Cam'ron and some other stuff (laughs). You'll find [Daniel Alfredsson] getting it stuck in his head every once in a while, he'll be flying around the ice humming hip-hop tunes.
Q: Speaking of Alfredsson, tell me about the bet you made with him last season.
A: We were in Carolina, and Grats is always trying to prove how tough he is, so there was a bug crawling across the floor and the guys on the team dared him to eat it. He said, "I'll eat it, no problem." So, Grats picked it up and it started wiggling in his hand and he got all freaked out and he ran away. So there was $500 collected by the guys for him to eat it. So I said, "Hey, I'll do it for the $500." So, I ate the cockroach.
Q: And how did it taste?
A: Not bad, it kind of tasted like vinegar.
Q: Now, you realize you could go on Fear Factor and make like $10,000 to do the same thing?
A: I know. I've got to get on that show (laughs). I should have upped the ante, but it was easy money, anyway.
Q: You are also known for your tattoos. How many do you have?
A: Seven, maybe eight. I'll get some more, but I'll do it under the radar. Last year, the media made a big deal about the tattoos and Ottawa is conservative. People were coming up to me and saying their kids wanted tattoos, so I toned it down a bit. I didn't want to portray the wrong image.
Q: If you win the Stanley Cup this season, what would you do on your day with the Cup?
A: So many people will bug you, so I'll have to bring it home for a bit. But as I said, Vegas is my city, my home away from home. So, my plan would be to get home in the morning, see everyone I need to see in Hamilton, Ontario, and then get to Vegas with Spets [Jason Spezza] and Grats for some fun.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.