Carlson gets second chance

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

John Carlson started this hockey season chasing the Memorial Cup. It might end tonight with the London Knights defenceman hoisting the Calder Cup as a member of the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears.

The same evening the Stanley Cup could be handed out in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals' farm team takes a 3-1 series lead on Manitoba into Game 5 at home at Hershey's Giant Center.

Carlson, a Caps first rounder last year, drew an assist in Sunday's 2-1, Game 4 win over the Moose, whose roster includes Vancouver Canucks top prospect and Canadian Hockey League MVP Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion.

"There are guys who play forever in the AHL and never get this chance," the 19-year-old Carlson said, "so I know how fortunate I am to have this opportunity now. To win at home would be unbelievable."

The six-foot-three, 210-pounder from Colonia, N.J., joined Hershey's playoff run right after the Windsor Spitfires dashed London's title hopes. He's playing a two-hour drive from his home and had lunch with his mom Angela yesterday.

"That's been a nice part," Carlson said. "The atmosphere's been great for the final. The last five home games here have been sellouts so it's really picked up and it was packed in Winnipeg, too.

"But I can't say enough about our fans in London. We were sold out every night."

Carlson believes that single year of junior experience -- the massive crowds, the workhorse minutes, the pressure to win -- prepared him for this AHL stint. Playing mostly with 28-year-old veteran Dean Arsene, the Knights MVP has a goal and an assist and is plus-two in 14 games.

"You never want to be known as a loser," Carlson said. "You want people to remember you as a winner. That's the attitude in Hershey. And in London, you have a coach and GM (Dale and Mark Hunter) who aren't just waiting around to win. They bring in great players every year and when you do that and expect to win, you usually do.

"We felt we had a championship team this year in London. It's nice to see the OHL win (the Memorial Cup), but I'm still bitter about it. If we got a couple of bounces, it could've been us."

At one point this summer, Carlson may get to speak to London first-rounder Scott Harrington about choosing the Knights. They are both represented by the Bobby Orr Group.

"I'll tell him it's an unbelievable experience to play in the OHL," he said of his 76-point campaign. "It's a great league and I don't think there's any better place to play than London."

Carlson isn't paying homage to his Knights blue-line partner and New York Rangers signee Michael Del Zotto by wearing No. 4 for the Bears.

"There are a lot of guys here and there weren't many numbers left," he said.

His fellow d-men include Strathroy native Patrick McNeill and former Calgary Hitmen star Karl Alzner. The goalies are ex-Plymouth Whaler Michal Neuvirth and Lambeth native Daren Machesney.

"At first, you gravitate towards the younger guys you know from training camp and you have something in common with the guys from the London area," Carlson said. "In some situations, players could shy away from a new player, but this is a tight team. They make you feel welcome and you're invited to their houses for dinner."

Carlson has stated it's his intention to crack the Washington lineup this fall. There's little chance of him being back in London next year.

Capitals GM George McPhee and head coach Bruce Boudreau are watching him closely this series.

"They haven't said anything to me," Carlson said. "The coaches (Hershey's head bench boss is Bob Woods) have been great. They told me to play my game. Part of that is jumping into the rush and that's how I got my goal."

Originally, Carlson's plan was to head to the NHL draft at the end of this month to cheer on his Knights buddies.

"But this season will have gone on too long to go to Montreal so that's a bit of a disappointment," Carlson said. "I'll be rooting for guys like Phil Varone, Nazem Kadri and Johnny (Tavares). These are some of my best friends and I'll always remember my year in London.

"When you're drafted (27th overall), you always think you could've gone higher somewhere else, but sometimes things work out and you end up where you're supposed to be."

Right on the verge of a championship.


Videos

Photos