Karl Alzner knows it’s not proper golf etiquette to take a cell phone call when playing a round with a friend. So when he hit the links on Monday morning he tucked his phone inside his golf bag.
Little did he know he’d miss one of the most important calls of his hockey career.
When the Capitals’ defenseman returned to his car he noticed a missed call and voice message.
The voice identified himself as Doug Armstrong, general manager of the St. Louis Blues.
“I thought I got traded,” Alzner said in a phone conversation. “I didn’t really know what was going on at first. I was kind of wondering, ‘Why is he calling me?’
“I was thinking, ‘Can we be making trades right now? How can we just re-sign [a four-year contract extension with the Caps] and then get traded? There was a whirlwind of thoughts going through my head, all in a matter of seconds. It was pretty funny.”
At the end of that fateful voicemail came an invitation from Armstrong to attend the Canadian Olympic orientation camp from Aug. 25-28 in Calgary.
“For me, this is big time,” said Alzner, a 24-year-old defenseman from Burnaby, British Columbia. “It was a really, really cool feeling and I’m extremely happy.”
Alzner says his first memories of the Olympics are the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano when he was 10 years old. That was the first year NHL players participated in the Games. However, Canada’s Dream Team headed by Eric Lindros, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Scott Stevens failed to medal.
Alzner’s most vivid Olympic memory came in 2010 when Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal gave Canada a gold-medal victory over the U.S. Alzner was a defenseman with the AHL Hershey Bears on that fateful day and the team watched the game on the bus ride back from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where they played the AHL Penguins.
“All the Canadian guys were in the front of the bus; all the Americans in the back,” Alzner said.
American Zach Parise sent the game into overtime just before the team bus pulled into the Giant Center parking lot in Hershey.
“I’ve never seen guys unpack the bus so fast,” Alzner recalled.
When they got into the Giant Center, the Canadian players watched the overtime period from the players’ lounge; the Americans from the trainers’ room.
And when Crosby scored the game-winner 7:40 into overtime …
“It was similar to when we won the Calder Cup, that celebration we had,” Alzner said. “It was pretty nuts.”
Alzner’s Canadian pride runs deep. He was captain of the Team Canada team that won gold in the 2008 World Junior Championships and he’s always held the dream of someday representing his country in the Olympics.
But he also realizes that with 16 other NHL defensemen invited to the orientation camp, including Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Kris Letang and Caps teammate Mike Green, it won’t be easy.
“I look up and down that list and I know how good they are and I’m pretty realistic,” Alzner said. “Obviously, I’m trying to make this team and I'll do everything possible. But I’m realistic about what’s going to happen.
“I’m still a fairly young guy and I still have lots of time. Maybe they see me having an opportunity in the future and want to give me some experience. But I’m going to have to really, really step up my game if I want to beat out some of these guys.”
The Canadians are expected to carry eight or nine defensemen and Alzner says his biggest competition for a roster spot might be stay-at-home defensemen Mark Methot of the Ottawa Senators, Marc Staal of the Rangers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks. Alzner say all three defensemen play “exactly the same as me, if not a step better.”
“I have my work cut out for me if I want to be one of the better shut-down guys on that list,” he said, “but I’m definitely willing to try.”