The initial surprise of being one of the 47 players invited to Canada’s Olympic orientation camp may have worn off slightly, but Karl Alzner still catches himself imagining the possibility of fulfilling one of his childhood dreams.
“There are times when I’m at home and I’m like, ‘Holy smokes, this is such a big opportunity’,” Alzner said earlier this week. “This is something that is so cool it makes you feel like a little kid.”
Alzner is looking forward to Canada’s camp, which runs for four days in Calgary beginning Sunday, and soaking up as much information as possible on what team officials are looking for in assembling the squad for Sochi. (Canada, like the United States, will not hold on-ice practices during their orientation camp because of the high cost of insuring players’ NHL contracts.)
As excited as he is to learn what to expect should he be named to the team and participate in the various team-building activities, Alzner readily acknowledges he’s a realist.
Alzner, 24, knows that of the 17 defensemen invited to camp he is one of three who have never represented Canada in international competition at the senior level. Then there’s the consideration that several spots on the blueline will likely be filled by players who were part of the gold-medal winning team from 2010 in Vancouver – Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith for example – making competition fierce for the remaining positions.
Alzner is determined to make the most of his chance, though, and demonstrate why he deserves to be on the final roster.
“From what I’ve heard at least, they’re looking for a left-handed shut down defenseman that can skate. That is usually the way I like to view myself,” Alzner said. “When you’re going up against the best players in the NHL you’re always kind of looking [at other defensemen] and thinking ‘Oh that guy can skate better than me, that guy’s got a better stick than me.’ You’re always kind of picking things apart, but realistically I think that I have an opportunity. It’s going to come down to how I’m playing at the time and also injuries, which we all know can happen so randomly.”
It’s no secret that when assembling Olympic rosters most countries put significant weight on how players perform during the first few months of the NHL season, especially when choosing how to fill the final few openings in the lineup. Excelling in the first 30 or so games of the year can boost a player from long shot to serious contender for a position.
That fact isn’t lost on players, many of whom will have the Olympics in the back of their mind whether they admit it or not. Alzner admits he won’t be able to ignore it, but wants to ensure his Olympic aspirations don’t negatively impact or overshadow his NHL performance.
“I’ve gotta know that the only thing I can control is how I’m playing. I can’t go into a game thinking if I make one mistake my chances are done of making that team,” Alzner said. “If I try and make that bigger than what it is, then that’s when it’s going to be a problem. I feel one of the things I’ve gotten better at over the years is being able to put things behind me a lot quicker and not taking things so seriously. Although it is a very serious thing to make the Olympics, I can’t have that taking over what I normally focus on. The main thing has to be playing in the NHL, this is a little bit of gravy.”
>> For those looking to attend the public day of the U.S. Olympic orientation camp on Tuesday Aug. 27 at KCI in Arlington, tickets ($40 for adults, $30 for children 14 and under) went on sale earlier this week. The events will be open only to ticket holders, who will be able to get autographs, skate and see the unveiling of the U.S. Olympic jersey. A friendly reminder, though, that there will be no on-ice practices for the players themselves.