Ray Emery still drives a Lamborghini, still plays hockey with an edge and attitude.

But the Flyers' controversial new goalie, whose past includes fistfights with teammates, multiple fines for being late to practices, and a driving record that defines reckless, says he has changed.

For the better.

No longer does he take playing in the NHL - or living in America or Canada - for granted.

A year in Russia, playing for Atlant Moscow Oblast of the Kontinental Hockey League, made him more humble and more mature.

The surroundings, food, and people were drab, he said. It was difficult to find many who spoke his language, and difficult to make friends. Emery felt like a loner, and felt out of place.

But it put him in his place, put him on the right path.

"I liked it there," he said before a recent exhibition game. "It was a good break for myself. I just kind of lived life. There was no media, no nothing. I didn't have my mom calling me about some [negative] article she saw in the paper."

Still, he missed the lifestyle he was accustomed to, and missed his friends.

"It made me kind of realize how much I appreciate being back here," he said, "so it was a good experience."

Not all of it. Emery put up good numbers - a 22-8 record with a 2.12 goals-against average in the wider Russian rinks - but his temper became a YouTube sensation when he attacked the trainer of his own team after he was pulled from a game.

Often quiet and soft-spoken, Emery, who turned 27 on Monday, is a laid-back sort off the ice, friends say.

On the ice, the player known as "Razor" and "Sugar Ray" transforms into attack mode if things don't go his way.

"I hate to lose . . . maybe more than I like to win," he conceded.

He also hates to be embarrassed, which is what happened after he allowed his fifth goal and was removed from a game in Russia in January. After skating to the bench, the trainer tried to put a baseball cap on Emery for a team promotion.

Emery, an avid boxing fan who now has likenesses of Joe Frazier, Bernard Hopkins, and the fictitious Rocky Balboa painted on his mask, threw several punches at the trainer and then chased him down the runway.

Over the top? Definitely. But when his anger is channeled, Emery brings an intensity usually seen in non-goalies - a Bobby Clarke, a Mark Messier, a Chris Pronger.

"He wears his emotions on his sleeve," said John Paddock, a Flyers assistant general manager who coached him in the minor leagues and in Ottawa.

"Let's not be sitting around waiting for the first time he bubbles up a little bit and whacks a guy, and say, 'Here we go again,' " Flyers coach John Stevens said. "I think that's what makes him such a good goalie - that he is fiery and he cares. . . . That's what you want in any athlete."

Charlene Emery told the Ottawa Citizen that she and Paul Emery met while working as crane operators at a steel mill in Hamilton, Ontario.

"We bumped cranes and fell in love, and that's our story," Charlene said, according to the newspaper.

Ray was the oldest of the three boys raised by Charlene and Paul, the goalie's stepfather.

The family moved to a farmhouse in nearby Cayuga when Ray was in kindergarten. He did not grow up playing hockey all the time, as some boys in Canada do. He also played soccer and baseball.

While playing in Russia last season, Emery phoned his best friend, Paul Schonfelder, several times each week to stay connected to what was happening back home.

Emery was 16 and Schonfelder 17 when they met while working as goalie instructors for a summer hockey camp in Hamilton.

When they weren't working at the camp, they were hanging out together - playing basketball, swimming at the pool of Ray's grandfather, and training at a local hockey arena. They became goalie opponents in the Ontario Hockey League, but their friendship never waned.

They lived together when Emery played for the Ottawa Senators and Schonfelder was trying to climb the minor-league ladder. Schonfelder, who made it to the American Hockey League and is now a full-time goalie instructor, has been with Emery during his highs and lows.

High: In 2005, continuing a streak that began in 2002-03, Emery established a league record by winning nine straight games to start his NHL career.

Low: He was involved in several fights and suspensions while playing for Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., and the Senators sent him to an anger-management course after the 2003-04 season.

High: Emery had a 33-16-6 record, 2.47 goals-against average, and .918 save percentage, leading Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007.

Low: He slumped badly in 2007-08, compiling a 12-13-4 record, 3.13 goals-against average, and .890 save percentage, and was released by Ottawa after several incidents.

Through it all, Emery's personality has never changed, Schonfelder said.

"From a friend's standpoint or a family's standpoint, Ray has always been one to have your back," said Schonfelder, who still lives in Emery's home near Ottawa. "He's my best friend and he would do anything for you."

Known for his flashy clothes, exotic cars, and extravagant lifestyle, Emery - who has many tattoos on his chiseled body, including one that says, "Anger is a Gift" - has conceded that he was a heavy partyer earlier in his career. During his time with Ottawa, he was involved in well-publicized confrontations with his teammates and showed up on the police blotter.

His white Hummer was impounded in Ottawa in May - after he returned from Russia - for going at least 30 m.p.h. over the speed limit, and he was charged with "stunt driving."

Emery said he was stopped by the police 30 times in two years - and said he believed he was sometimes targeted. In 2007, he was involved in an accident in Ottawa, and, a few months later, in an alleged road-rage incident with a 65-year-old man. The next year, he was charged with cutting off a police car.

In starting with the Flyers, Emery settled in tree-lined Haddonfield - instead of living closer to the nightlife of Center City, where some Flyers reside - and his coaches are overjoyed with his work ethic.

"He's done everything we've asked," Stevens said.

"A total professional," said Jeff Reese, the team's new goalie coach.

"Everyone knows the situation with Ray," Reese said. "One of my concerns is that he puts too much pressure on himself. He can play in this league. He's a terrific goaltender. He just has to take it one game at a time - relax and play and not overthink that he has something to prove."

Before the Flyers signed Emery to a one-year deal for what could be a bargain - $1.5 million - they consulted with Paddock, the assistant general manager who had coached him in Ottawa.

Paddock has been connected to the highly athletic, 6-foot-2, 202-pound Emery since the goalie turned pro. He coached him for three years with Binghamton and was a Senators assistant and head coach.

During Emery's rocky final season in Ottawa, in 2007-08, the two butted heads twice. Paddock told Emery to leave the rink because he showed up late for practice. There were other indiscretions and fines as Emery's game deteriorated.

So it seemed surprising that Paddock recommended Emery to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.

"When Paul asked me if I would want him on my team, the answer was yes, but there were some qualifications," Paddock said. "I said, 'You need to get to know him a bit and see if you believe he wants to pay the price, on and off the ice, that it takes to be one of the top goalies in the NHL. And if you believe that, I think he can be a very good goalie and you should go for it.' "

Holmgren and Stevens spent time with Emery and decided that his intentions were genuine.

Holmgren, who overcame a drinking problem and was given a second chance himself many years ago, developed a soft spot for Emery. So did Stevens.

At the time the Flyers were talking with Emery's agent, they were also thinking of re-signing free agent Marty Biron. But Biron was seeking a deal worth $3.5 million to $4 million - he ended up signing with the New York Islanders for $1.4 million - and the Flyers decided to roll the dice with Emery.

"I feel like I've been given a second chance," Emery said, mindful that he was playing for another contract.

Paddock said the year in Russia made Emery more serious about his future.

"The lights had to click on for him - and I think they did over there," Paddock said. "I think he should feel fortunate about his situation. He's not coming back with any team, but a team that has aspirations of playing in June. There are a lot of big pieces here and he's one of them.

"Besides getting a second chance, he's getting it with one of the great organizations. He should take the ball and run with it."

So far, he seems to be doing that. Emery has been extremely sharp in the preseason. He finished with a 1.78 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six exhibition games.

Those numbers, which would thrill the Flyers in the regular season, are much better than those of Emery's final campaign in Ottawa. He had wrist surgery before that season.

Paddock downplayed the surgery's effects, saying Emery's problems were caused by poor work habits.

"He's not unlike a lot of young athletes in sports," Paddock said. "He didn't prepare, mentally or physically, the way he did before, when he was trying to show he was No. 1. It's all about preparation, attitude, and work."

As the Flyers get ready to begin the season and start a quest for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1975, Emery looms as their No. 1 question mark.

Will he return to be Shutdown Goalie or Meltdown Goalie?

In the preseason, he's looked more like the former.

"When you have a goalie who's confident in the net and makes the saves he's supposed to and [also] makes saves on effort - which you see a lot of in Ray - it really exudes confidence to your team because of his demeanor," Stevens said.

Stevens is excited about the competitive nature Emery brings to the team, but has issued a warning to the goalie, telling him that his "personal situation and the emotion he's feeling for himself can't take priority over what's best for the team."

In other words, there's a fine line between being intense and being out of control.

The Flyers hope Emery can walk that line.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-313-3315 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.