Last week Capitals defenseman John Carlson became one of 48 players – 18 of them defensemen – invited to participate in the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team orientation camp Aug. 26-27 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.
The team, which will be selected sometime around Christmas, will be managed by Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and coached by Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Eight or nine defensemen are expected to receive invitations to play in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
On Monday, Carlson, 23, sat down for an exclusive phone interview with CSNWashington’s Chuck Gormley. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Congratulations, John. Can you walk me through your day last week. How did you here the news?
Well, I was talking with my agent [Paul Krepelka], hoping I would be on that list and sure enough I found out and was pretty excited. But at the end of the day there’s still a lot more time and a lot more things that could happen, so it’s only the beginning.
Who gave you the call from USA Hockey?
Jim Johannson [assistant executive director of USA Hockey]. I was at home when I took the call, so I didn’t know what to think right away. But I think I’m good enough to be there. From that standpoint, it’s a true honor to be just invited. But there’s a lot more stuff I need to do to make it. It’s real nice right now, but I’ve got to get to work.
When you got that phone call from USA Hockey, who was the first person you told?
My parents [Richard and Angela]. They were really excited. My mom acted like I already made the team, which is pretty far-fetched at this point, but I’m hoping that I can.
Do you train any differently knowing you’ll be getting together next month for orientation camp?
Not really. I take every summer pretty seriously and this one’s the same as usual. I’ve been working hard and doing what I can, getting ready for the season and looking forward to our training camp. Hopefully I’ll have a great one.
Are you thinking that if you have a fast start it could go a long way in determining if you make the Olympic team?
Absolutely, but you’ve got to try not to do too much of that because at the end of the day you’re probably not going to play as well individually if you’re not putting the team first.
David Poile said he wanted players that have had success at the international level. Do you think winning gold in those 2010 World Juniors helped your chances?
I’m sure it didn’t hurt me. I think this is a real preliminary stage with this team and they’ll be tracking everything. At the end of the day it’s going to come down to who’s playing best.
What was that gold medal game against Canada [a 6-5 overtime victory] like for you?
Yeah, it was pretty crazy, actually. We had a good game with them earlier [in the tournament] as well and I was lucky enough to score the goal to win. I was just overjoyed that we won in the first place. One team would go up, the other would come back, and we scored in overtime. It was a thrill, that’s for sure.
Do you remember the play?
Absolutely. It was kind of an odd-man rush against us, I believe. Our goalie made a big save, kicked out the rebound into the slot. They had their defenseman join in [the rush] and it just so happened that the puck kind of bounced right to me. I had a headstart on everyone because I was going north. It worked out that we had a 2-on-1.
Now, was Canada’s odd-man rush your fault? Or were you the defenseman back?
No, I think I was back. See if for yourself here.
So what was that feeling like to score a gold medal-clinching goal? Can you put it into words?
Honestly, you don’t even think about it at first. You’re just so happy to win and to be put in that situation. Then you start to think about it after, how cool it was and what it meant for our country. It’s a pretty cool experience and to do something like that – a year earlier I only wanted to make the team.
When you look at the roster of players invited to this orientation camp, do you think there are three or four defensemen you need to be better than before the selection process?
Honestly, I don’t have that mentality like I did when I was trying to make the Capitals. I just want to play my game, do whatever I can, and at the end of the day if it’s good enough that would be unreal. But I don’t try to look too much into other things because you can get caught up in that stuff. It’ still an honor just to be invited and to give myself a chance.
It looks like it will be a very young American team – 16 of the players on the invitation list were born in the 90s.. Are you excited by the names you see on that list?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a bunch of great players, which is good for the country for years to come. It’s a credit to USA Hockey.
Do you think the U.S. still has something to prove to the Canadians, Russians and Swedes?
Yeah, the U.S. has had tremendous success over the past five or six years now. I don’t think we need to show people anything. We have the tools to do it and we just need to go out there and keep doing what we do.
We’re told that you won’t be skating at Kettler, but do you know what you will be doing for those couple days at camp?
They gave us kind of a rough schedule, so I’m just going in like it’s any other camp. I think it’s more of an introductory meeting to meet the staff and interact with the coaches and your teammates.
What are your thoughts on it taking place at Kettler?
I think it’s cool. It’s nice for me because this is where I live in the summer, so I don’t have to go anywhere. It’s the nation’s capital and I think Kettler is a great place and I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have to travel, so it’s great.”