Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson found out that he would represent the United States in the 2014 Sochi Olympics just like everybody else.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings trudged off the ice on Wednesday afternoon following a picturesque Winter Classic in snowy Ann Arbor, Mich., one of several area youth hockey players donning USA sweaters skated forward and turned his back to the camera, exposing Carlson's name.
"I was watching the game trying to wait patiently," Carlson said as he stood outside the gates of the White House. "But it seemed like the game was five hours long."
The long (and perhaps excruciating) wait was worth it as Carlson will join 24 other NHLers -- selected from what USA GM David Poile described as "the deepest talent pool we've ever had in our country" -- as the United States strives for gold in Russia next month.
“It’s obviously an honor to play for your country,” said Carlson, who was born in Massachusetts but raised in New Jersey. “Getting a chance to play for my country — I’ve only done it twice before. It’s just a whole other level.”
Since last season, Carlson, who last represented the U.S. as a member of the 2010 World Junior Championship team that clinched gold on his game-winning goal in overtime, has taken on an increased role -- partially percipitated by injuries to Mike Green -- with aplomb. In 40 games this season, the 23-year-old, who has recorded seven goals and 15 points, has become coach Adam Oates' most relied-upon defenseman.
Carlson leads the Capitals with a career-high and team-high 24:41 of total ice time per game (which includes 4:00 of shorthanded ice time and 2:40 of power-play ice time), all while regularly facing some of the toughest competition among all NHL defensemen every night in just his fourth full season.
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“I’ve always played a decent amount and against top players but I feel like a little more onus is upon me now and I like it," Carlson said. "I think I’ve done a good job but I know I can certainly get better too.”
Carlson's unique ability to serve both as part of a shutdown pairing and offensive threat surely made him enticing to USA Hockey brass, and his ongoing maturation process will carry him back to the international stage.
“You mature, you get better," Oates said. "Some guys plateau, some guys get better. He has gotten better and better, more responsibility he’s been able to handle it and he’s done a great job with it. It’s another feather in your cap that you’ve moved up a notch maybe from being a regular player to being regarded as a little more special of a player.”
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