John Carlson trying to make Team USA
Capitals defenseman and U.S. Olympic hopeful John Carlson remembers being a pint-sized player in New Jersey and wobbling onto the ice alongside Devils legends Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko.
“As a kid your eyes just light up and you think it’s the coolest thing ever,” Carlson said Monday after skating around the Kettler Capitals Iceplex with members of USA Hockey’s American Developmental Model U-8 team.
“It’s cool to see the kids out there. They were loving it. It brought me back to when I was a kid, just skating around on the ice.”
After sharing the ice with a group of toddlers, Carlson, 23, shared a dressing room with 47 other U.S. Olympic hopefuls, including defensemen Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, Danny Dekeyser, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, John Gibson, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba and Keith Yandle.
Of those 19 blue liners, eight or nine are expected to be invited to Sochi. Where does Carlson fit into the Olympic selection process, which will take place over the first two-plus months of the NHL season?
“A kid like John Carlson has a tremendous shot,” Team USA general manager and former Caps GM David Poile said. “He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t.
“A lot of these kids will be a part of USA Hockey in the future. John Carlson is right there. He’s a guy we need to watch a lot over the next few months. I think he has an excellent chance to make it.”
Because of insurance issues, Team USA’s three-day orientation has been limited to off-ice activities. On Sunday night the team met for introductions, a video tribute highlighting USA Hockey’s greatest moments and pep talks from former Olympians Bill Guerin and Chris Drury, who lost to Team Canada in the 2010 gold medal game in a shootout.
“It’s good to hear from someone who was just there,” Carlson said. “It’s good to hear those stories.”
And the lasting message from those pep talks?
“Second place is good, but it’s not good enough,” Carlson said. “That’s our mentality.”
Carlson said it’s already been an eye-opening experience.
“You play against guys and you think you hate them until you meet them off the ice,” he said.
One of those players is Rangers forward Derek Stepan, who was teammates with Carlson on the U.S. team that won gold in the 2010 World Junior Championships on Carlson’s medal-clinching overtime goal. In fact, Stepan was with Carlson on the 2-on-1 that led to Carlson’s game-winner.
Carlson said it would be “awesome” to have the chance to represent his country again.
“A lifetime memory, for sure,” he said. “Normal people don’t get to do that. I’ve been playing hockey since I was 3 and that would be real special.”
The fact that the 2014 Olympics will be played on a wider ice surface in Sochi, Russia could benefit Carlson, who is one of the better skating defenseman on the camp roster.
“Certain plays tend to happen when you’re on a bigger sheet than when you’re not,” Carlson said. “When you’re on a smaller sheet you feel more secure, whereas in the Olympics it’s bigger sheet and a lot more to worry about.”
Carlson skates with young hockey players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. (Photos by Chuck Gormley)