24 April, 2014

A Winter Tuesday Night for Washington Hockey Heroes

This has a nice ring to it: John Carlson, Canada-killer.

The atmosphere in Verizon Center Tuesday night was stupendous and surreal. And that was only partly because of the sudden announcement of Alexander Ovechkin as the Capitals’ 14th captain in team history.

My all-time favorite chant enjoyed a fresh re-birthing at the Phone Booth last night: USA! USA! USA! A Washington hockey crowd, while intently attuned to Alexander Ovechkin’s very first game as captain of the Capitals, was simultaneously closely monitoring the gold medal game proceedings between the United States and Canada at the World Junior Championships two time zones away, via their hand-helds and updates provided by the Caps on Verizon’s center-ice screens. It was stunning. In Washington these days, we multi-task our puck passion. So much for Washington being indifferent to, or unsophisticated about, pucks.

Hockey, a sport of unrivaled passion, was last night the agent for a stirring, eye-moistening uprising of patriotism with distinct Washington roots. Capitals’ hockey fans, more than fifteen hundred miles removed from the gold medal game drama, embraced and celebrated the heroic feats of the team’s 19-year-old prodigy from Natick, Massachusetts, John Carlson. On a night when Alexander Ovechkin should have had a soloist’s starring stage all to himself, he had to share it with a future teammate precisely because hockey is ice white hot in this town. John Carlson, future Washington Capital, entered into American hockey lore last night.

Capitals’ fans arrived for Tuesday night’s important game against the Habs outfitted again like an army in red. A conspicuous sampling, however, also arrived at Verizon Center in Red, White, and Blue Lake Placid throwbacks. I know this because I hugged many of them in the Irish Channel near 11:00 last night.

Meanwhile, in Saskatoon, 20 or so sudden national sports heroes wrapped their arms around one another while standing jubilant on a blueline and sang their lungs out as their country’s national song played.

The last time I saw an American hockey team react with so much emotion to a triumph, well, I was a very young hockey fan in February 1980.

Yesterday morning only diehard puckheads in Canada knew who John Carlson was. This morning, every Canadian knows who he is. A good many Washingtonians are going to be introduced to him throughout today. And for good reason:

A few weeks ago I received a most surprising and wondrously warm email from John Carlson’s mother. (She likes reading Washington’s hockey blogs, incidentally.) I’d written something about her son that she appreciated, so she dropped me the note. I was in the Irish Channel late last night following the gold medal game and its hair-greying third period and overtime, along with about 50 other very patriotic Caps’ fans, and with a bar viewing’s limitations none of us at first realized that JC had been the one to thrust the sudden-death dagger into Canada’s hockey heart. We simply knew that our guys had won, and that the hero was buried in a jubilation mob on the ice. Then we saw the mob settle a bit around no. 11, and we knew. In that initial moment of awareness I instantly thought of Mama Carlson. Mom, if you’re reading OFB again this morning, all I have to say is, Wow!, I can’t fathom your pride and joy. And if Natick throws your son a parade, please send us a few pics.

I’m not big into attaching over-arching significance to a victory like last night’s, except to suggest that its meaning is supremely significant precisely because of the brick and mortar wall of champion’s will the Americans surmounted in the five-time champ. When it was 5-3 U.S. with four minutes to play I figured odds were decent that there’d be OT. This tournament means that much to the Canadians who skate in it and consume it as fans. Truly a team that wants to take those guys out in this tourney have to better than them for fully 60 minutes. Anything short of that just won’t cut it.

This morning in our John Carlson hero’s parading let us recall two important player personnel moments for the Caps, one seized upon and one rejected. The first originated on the Entry Draft floor on June 20, 2008, between the Caps and Philadelphia. The Caps sent Steve Eminger and the 84th pick in that draft to the Flyers for the 27th overall selection, with which they chose Carlson. A pretty nifty swap, wouldn’t you say? The next was one that most fortuitously never transpired, one discussed between the Caps and Anaheim last season: Chris Pronger for a trio of bluechip Washington talent, Carlson among them. We do well to remember not just the deft Capitals’ scouting of Carlson but management’s steadfast recognition of what he will mean to this organization in the years ahead. Championship teams are assembled not just by the players acquired but by the retention of key pieces over some years.

This morning, though, all focus in HockeyWashington should be on an international stage statement by the Red, White, and Blue, and most particularly its hero, who looks very much like he skates with a champion’s heart. We shouldn’t just celebrate John Carlson’s two-goal, gold-medal-winning performance in the biggest hockey game of his life, but how he heroed: leading a high-octane motoring up the ice in lethal counter-attack, then blue-chipper-ing it once in the Canadian zone, by shifting gears and freezing his opponents, availing himself of all his odd-man rush advantages, and in an instant unleashing a howitzer past Martin Jones.

There’s no sight quite like a national team title-game victory mob, is there, and it ain’t such a bad thing when the hero soon will call your city home.


  1. J.P. wrote:

    “John Carlson, Canada-killer” does have a nice ring to it… but I can’t wait for “John Carlson, Penguin-drowner,” “John Carlson, Devil-exorciser,” “John Carlson, Flyer-grounder,” etc. All in due time, I suppose.

    6 January, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  2. Chubbs wrote:

    Bah humbug.

    But still a great game.

    6 January, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  3. Heather J. wrote:

    yes, Yes, and YES!!!

    6 January, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  4. 4capitals wrote:

    What a disappointment this morning when I anxiously picked up the Washington Post to see their writeup on John Carlson’s winning goal. Nada, nothing, not one word. I couldn’t believe it. Sad to say, Washington is still not a hockey town or if it is you would never know it from reading the Post.

    6 January, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    If it’s any consolation, as a media horde easily numbering more than 50 squeezed into the hall leading to the Caps’ post-game locker room last night, Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis greeted them all there with “Look at what the blogosphere has created.”

    6 January, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  6. Laura wrote:

    Spectacular post, Pucks! I must admit, it was so great to see all the Facebook statuses last night paying homage to TEAM USA and Johnny. After watching him play in his first Calder Cup playoff game last year, I knew he was destined for greatness, and he’s definitely NOT disappointing! Congrats, Johnny! Hershey could not be more proud! Now get back to Chocolatetown! We’ll need you in Manitoba this weekend! :)

    6 January, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  7. Megan wrote:

    I feel like such a proud mama for this boy, having watched him in Hershey for quite a few months now. I didn’t get to see the game but I’ve spent most of my morning watching the highlights over and over. It was quite the game and well played on both sides.

    6 January, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Junior wrote:

    Still kind of hurting up here in the Great White North over the end of the five-straight-gold streak, but the truth of the matter is that the better team won. I believe the Canadian team had the more talented players, but the U.S. team played a stronger team game and beat our boys at their own game. The forecheck that the Yank lads had going prior to the charging penalty on Palmieri was something else; had things continued along in that vein, no way does Jordan Eberle add to his legend.

    Anyway, full value to the U.S. for the win, the better team got the trophy at the end of the day. Enjoy it, ’cause we’re taking it back next year!

    6 January, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  9. One of the most satisfying aspects to a triumph over Canada, besides knowing you’ve taken down the sport’s giant, is the savvy humility so many Canuck fans bring to the discussion, as with Junior’s above. Such is their passion, so full on is their committed consumption of the game, that their diagnostics, even in the still-smoldering embers of harrowing defeat, most often shine through. I also believe that the U.S. performance at this WJC has elevated a nascent and thoroughly one-sided rivalry into one of the most appealing in all of sports today.

    6 January, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  10. Icersman wrote:

    I agree 100% with Junior — it hurts that my team lost, but full credit to a very good USA team for the win. And thanks to coach Dean Blais for saying how they got it done:

    “We played Canadian hockey,” Blais stated. “We played gritty.”

    ‘Nuff said!

    I also agree with you pucks — this is one of the most appealing rivalries in sports. Too bad more Americans don’t know diddly about it, and wouldn’t care if it was in the WaPo sports pages.

    Even though I’m Canadian, that makes me sad.

    6 January, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  11. OvechKING wrote:

    great game last night and chanting USA USA USA got fun and it pissed off the GO HABS GO idiots

    6 January, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  12. Sue wrote:

    Congrats John and Team USA, I too feel like a mother watching her son in Hershey. I saw most of the games in Canada what a treat to watch the youngsters play so well.

    6 January, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  13. Junior wrote:

    @pucksandbooks: Thanks for the kind words, but dude if you keep buttering me up like this I’m going to start to believe I’m a bucket of popcorn!

    7 January, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  14. FPSAwesomeness wrote:

    Thanks for the video post, great blog you got. – FPSAwesomeness

    8 January, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink