John Carlson is kind of a big deal in the U.S. hockey world. Anyone who scores the game-winning overtime goal in the World Junior Championship to beat Canada will get kid-glove treatment and Carlson is no exception.
Yes, Carlson is that guy in U.S.A. Hockey. In fact, you can just call him “Captain America” like everyone else does. Carlson is about nine months removed from his heroic tally, but anyone with a sense of national pride and a love for the game hasn’t forgotten how sweet that goal was.
This year, Carlson will be taking his talents to the NHL full-time after excelling in a stint with the Capitals last season. Carlson played defense in 22 regular season games, notching a goal and five assists. Carlson was solid throughout those 22 games, but it was the postseason where he really made his mark.
Carlson played in every game of the Capitals seven game series against Montreal. Despite the Caps failure to advance, Carlson was a bright spot, scoring the tying goal in Game Two of the series late in the third period. Washington would go on to win the game in overtime.
Carlson has developed a knack for being a clutch player, and in light of his impressive showing last season, the Capitals will reward him with a full-time gig in 2010-11. Carlson is only 20 years old, but lack of experience hasn’t stopped him yet. I was able to catch up with Captain America at Capitals training camp this past Tuesday and here’s what he had to say.
How was your offseason?
“It was good. You know a little short, but I knew that coming into camp I had to be ready to go so that was the focus of the summer really. I didn’t do anything crazy. I just went [on] a few trips to visit my family.”
This will be your first year with the Caps full-time. Who are you talking with to get acclimated to an 82 game season?
“I’m talking to anyone. I’m just trying to come here everyday, do my job the best I can and just do whatever I can to make the team.”
Last year you stepped up in the playoffs with a big goal. What do you need to do to keep having success in the NHL?
“Just keep your confidence up. I mean for me, I’m playing my best when I’m the most confident, so if I can get over that little hump and just play my game, that’s really good.”
Over the last couple of years, the Caps have struggled with consistency in certain areas, especially in the postseason. What do you guys have to do this year to make sure that doesn’t happen?
“I’m not a coach so I can’t answer all those questions, but you know I think that everyone is getting older every year; everyone is getting more mature as a player and as a person, so I think that you take the past experiences and you think about them and you keep it in your mind, but at the same time you go out there and you still got to worry about winning every night.”
Is there a sense of urgency in the locker room this year?
“Definitely. I think that we’ve got some of the best players in the world here by far. I think that we should be able to be a winning caliber team. We won the President’s Trophy last year so we should be right there every year and we won’t settle for anything less.”
Karl Alzner will be joining you this year as full-time NHL’er. What are his strengths on the ice?
“Well he’s a great player. Actually, I’ve played with him for a while now and I think I just know what he’s going to do and that really helps me out. He’s a good defensman.”
Carlson and Alzner are expected to be paired together on defense with the Capitals. This comes as no surprise since Carlzner anchored a line up in Hershey. Both are tremendous prospects who have already shown an ability to compete at the highest level. Carlson and Alzner both helped the Bears bring home the Calder Cup this past year after each spent quality time with the Caps for parts of the 2009-10 season.
Needless to say, the hype has been much deserved when it comes to this young pair of defenders. Carlson can’t even buy a beer unless he’s playing north of the border, but this could be the most intriguing storyline going into the season. Both these guys have the potential to be elite players in the NHL.
Bruce Boudreau isn’t worried about their inexperience at the NHL level, and expects them to be key contributors to what is shaping up to be another run at the Stanley Cup.
“They’ve played together for three years so I think they know each other pretty well,” Boudreau said. “They feel comfortable with each other. They were our best defensemen in Game Seven last year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’re not first-year guys. They’ve won two Calder Cups, one’s won a world junior championship; Hell, they’ve got more experience than half the players on our team.”
Strong words from the head coach. Boudreau clearly has zamboni-loads of confidence in “Carlzner,” which certainly increases expectation from the media and fans. There will be pressure on this duo, but thus far, pressure has seemingly been welcomed with open arms. I asked Mike Green for his thoughts on Carlson in particular and he couldn’t say enough about him.
“I think this is the year for him to break through and be a player,” Green said after the morning skate on Tuesday. “He’s shown tremendous talent and now it’s a matter of taking it to the next level and becoming a pro. So we’ll help him along the way here, but I hope he plays well. He could be a big part of our hockey club down the road.”