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.