John Carlson

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NHL's best have always viewed John Carlson as an All Star

NHL's best have always viewed John Carlson as an All Star

SAN JOSE – John Carlson’s picture went up on the big scoreboard at SAP Center and the crowd merely murmured. 

There were no boos, no curses, not even a light applause for one of the NHL’s best defensemen when he was announced at the All-Star game skills competition on Friday night. No, there weren’t many Caps fans in attendance in the Bay Area over 3,000 miles away from Washington. But you’d think Carlson would generate a little reaction.

You could hardly blame the crowd. Carlson has been a known commodity around the NHL for more than a decade dating back to his days as gold-medal goal-scoring hero for Team USA as a teenager at the prestigious World Juniors tournament. But he’s comically overshadowed on his own team. Alex Ovechkin takes up almost all the oxygen in a room where even stars like T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, a fellow 2019 All-Star, sometimes get lost. 

A chill, confident, do-it-all defenseman can fade into the background among that group. Backstrom should be a future Hall-of-Famer, Holtby plays the most important position, Kuznetsov exudes charm and brilliance and Oshie has his own status as an American hero thanks to the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

John Carlson doesn’t really care. He’ll just go right on being the glue that holds together the defending Stanley Cup champs. On Saturday, Carlson took to the ice as an NHL All-Star for the first time in his 10-year career. He skated with Sidney Crosby and against Steven Stamkos and John Tavares and Auston Matthews. He was, as always, in front of Holtby and defending Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov and Jack Eichel. Connor McDavid was there. Ovechkin was not after declining to participate this time. Carlson, at long last, was one of them.

“A different experience than I’m used to,” Carlson said. “But it’s cool to see some old friends, share it with a good friend.”

Maybe Ovechkin’s absence gave Carlson room for some deserved exposure. Then again a four-team tournament where each “game” is three-on-three with almost all of the planet’s best offensive players ripping pucks isn’t exactly the format for a defenseman to show off. Carlson did that on Friday night, instead, when he won the hardest shot event at the NHL skills competition. His 102.8 miles per hour shot was better than even Ovechkin did when he won it in 2018.   

But if casual fans overlook Carlson, players and coaches around the league know exactly what he does for the Capitals. He leads Washington in time on ice per game (25 minutes, 20 seconds), which is sixth most in the NHL. He runs an elite power play featuring Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Oshie. He skates 2:40 per game on the penalty kill. There is no situation he doesn’t play. Tavares knows. He and Carlson played their final year of junior together in 2008-09 for the London Knights under former Capitals coach and player Dale Hunter. 

“[Carlson] was so good that they put him as a forward on the power play,” Tavares said. “That just speaks to his ability offensively. And the minutes he was playing – 30-plus minutes a night. His all-around game and being able to handle that workload and still be as productive as he was speaks volumes.”   

Carlson led all NHL defensemen with a career-high 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists) last season. With 32 games left he has a chance to break that mark at age 29. He is fourth in points (47) and assists (39). Only Florida’s Keith Yandle has more power-play points than Carlson’s 20. He is only 59th in shot differential percentage when he’s on the ice (50.56). But Washington isn’t a strong shot differential team. 

That’s in part strategy given the Caps have so many elite forwards. They hunt quality shots, not quantity. Still, only Michal Kempny, Carlson’s primary defense partner, is above 50 percent (50.25) among the seven Washington defensemen who have appeared in 22 games or more. 

“You look at a guy like John Carlson, you don’t judge him based off zero All Star appearances,” said Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler, a Team USA teammate at the 2016 World Cup. “You know he’s one of the top defensemen in the league every single year. He does what he does maybe better than anyone else, runs that power play maybe better than anybody else could. Those are the things players look at.”

Carlson’s path was unconventional. He was born in Massachusetts and grew up playing hockey in New Jersey. That’s where fellow 2019 All-Star Kyle Palmieri, a forward with the New Jersey Devils, first encountered Carlson on the travel circuit. A year younger, Palmieri eventually became Carlson’s teammate on the legendary Team USA squad at the 2010 World Juniors. Carlson scored a power-play goal early in the championship game and his game-winning goal in overtime capped a 6-5 classic. It was only the second time the United States won gold at the event since it began in 1977.

“It’s crazy to think about. Playing against him in youth hockey in Jersey all the way up to World Juniors and obviously him scoring that goal in the gold-medal game,” Palmieri said. “He’s a guy that was a couple of levels older than me coming up through New Jersey youth hockey, but definitely one of the guys that helped pave the way to get us on to the next level.” 

Before that memorable experience, Carlson spent a full year at age 16-17 with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League. The Capitals were intrigued enough to trade up into the first round to take him at No. 27 overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. It didn’t take long to see they’d swindled their rivals. 

Carlson quickly passed up a college scholarship he’d previously accepted to the University of Massachusetts to play for Hunter – and with Tavares – in London. He was 18 and playing on a glaring stage alongside one of Canada’s generational talents. NHL teams were openly tanking at the time to get Tavares, a prodigy who was chosen No. 1 overall by the New York Islanders in the following draft. 

In 59 games with London that year, under the notoriously hard Hunter, scouts noticed Carlson, who had 76 points (16 goals, 60 assists) in 59 games, and the ones who’d passed on him the year before winced. After London’s season ended, Carlson played in 16 Calder Cup playoff games with the Hershey Bears. He was 19. 

By Nov. 20, 2009 he’d made his NHL debut, stuck for good in March of the Caps’ brilliant 2009-2010 season and played heavy minutes in all seven Stanley Cup playoff games that spring against the Montreal Canadiens. 

Now he is the fourth-longest tenured D.C. athlete, behind only Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Ovechkin and Backstrom and just ahead of Redskins Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan and Holtby. Now, like all of them, he is an All Star, too.   

“It’s about time because John’s been so good for us,” Holtby said. “It’s so hard when you have Ovi and Nick and Kuzy. There’s just not a lot of room. But it’s great he’s finally getting here because he’s been an All Star. He’s been at an All-Star level for a long time.”

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'That’s what we need to move forward': John Carlson proud of youth hockey players for defending teammate from racist comments

'That’s what we need to move forward': John Carlson proud of youth hockey players for defending teammate from racist comments

WASHINGTON – Divyne Apollon II entered the Capitals locker room and a smile instantly creased his face. 
 
A hockey dressing room is no strange place to Divyne, a 13-year-old who plays travel hockey for the Metro Maple Leafs. He’s played the sport since he was eight. But this was different for the eighth grader from Maryland.  
 
Two weeks after one of the lowest moments of his life, when an opposing team from the Philadelphia area made repeated racial taunts at Divyne, the only African-American player on the Maple Leafs, during a Jan. 3 game, he was suddenly among his heroes. 
 
Washington defenseman John Carlson read about what Divyne endured and he and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly invited the Maple Leafs to Monday’s game against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena.  
 
It was a small gesture to a group of young teens forced to deal with a world that can be cruel, unwelcoming. The Maple Leafs were so outraged by the derisive words hurled at Divyne during that game that they fought back physically. It led to his suspension from the tournament before the adults figured out what had sparked the fight. 
 
“By doing what you did, you were standing up for each other, standing up for yourselves. That’s what we need to move forward,” Carlson told the Maple Leafs in the locker room after the game. “That’s important. That’s a good message to send everyone. And you guys are just kids, but you made things right.”
 
For Smith-Pelly, the incident comes as no surprise. Just last February during a Capitals game in Chicago a fan yelled at him to go back to playing basketball. There is no escape from racism even at the NHL level. It is something African American and African Canadian players learn to deal with playing hockey growing up.  
 
“I don’t want to say move on from it,” Carlson said. “But just keep being yourselves because I know me and [Smith-Pelly] and everyone around the city was not very happy to hear what happened, felt terrible about it. We just wanted to show our appreciation to you guys and thank you.”
  
Divyne and his teammates got to sit in section 225 to watch the Capitals’ 4-1 loss to St. Louis and were on the glass for an up close view of warm-ups before the game. Afterward they were ushered into the locker room and chatted with Carlson and Smith-Pelly, but also Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby, among others. 
 
The Maple Leafs stared in wonder at the familiar nameplates above the lockers most fans never get to see. There was Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie’s stalls. Brooks Orpik stopped by to say hello and so did Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey, another African Canadian who grew up in Winnipeg and dealt with the same taunts.  
 
The kids who tried to hurt Divyne with racist insults, who tried to make it clear that he didn’t belong on the ice, didn’t have the effect they intended. They galvanized a team and a community instead.  
 
“Well I guess they’re probably crying at home right now because they didn’t get to meet Ovechkin,” Divyne said.
 
Ovechkin handed Divyne one of his personal sticks. So did Smith-Pelly and Carlson. Braden Holtby gave him a goalie stick, but Divyne gave that one to Maple Leafs goalie Alex Auchincloss. He’s a goalie, too, and Holtby is his favorite player. Auchincloss wouldn’t let anyone touch that keepsake. The rest of the team got to take pictures with players, including selfies, and had them sign autographs. 
 
“At first it was really bad, but then it turned into some big movement, so people realize that it’s not OK to make fun of people and to treat everybody the way you wanted to be treated,” Maple Leafs forward Sam Abramson, 13, said. “Because he’s my teammate and you’ve got to stand up for your teammates.”
 
Divyne admitted the media coverage was becoming overwhelming. But the support he and his family have received from the Maple Leafs and the travel hockey community in Odenton, Md., where the team is based at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, has been overwhelming, too. 
 
One of the team moms, Tammi Lynch, created a logo in the aftermath of the incident: The word ‘racism” in a circle with a hockey stick serving as the slash mark through it. Divyne Apollon I, Divyne’s father, wore a t-shirt with the logo in the Caps locker room after the game. The players wore a version of the logo taped to their equipment in the aftermath of the Jan. 3 game. 
 
“You’d think that you wouldn’t have to deal with that these days, but it’s obviously still present,” Carlson said. “Hopefully this great story about the team standing up for each other - and how Divyne stood up for himself - is a good step forward and shows some people the real way to act and how to love each other.”

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Capitals think larger than hockey with game invite to youth team fighting racism

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Capitals think larger than hockey with game invite to youth team fighting racism

When Capitals stars John Carlson, Devante Smith-Pelly heard about one youth hockey player's story of being harassed with racial taunts and slurs during a game against another youth team from Pennsylvania, they wanted to do something to help.

"It's terrible first off, I think you feel for Divyne and what he has to go through and as a hockey player I think we all stand up for each other," Carlson told the team's website. "I just think it's a good thing to do to show him we're all with him."

Divyne Apollon, a black 13-year-old who plays for the Maryland-based Metro Maple Leafs youth hockey team and his team heard monkey sounds, namecalling and other chants directed at him throughout much of an early-January game, according to reports.

Then, the end of the third period came. From the Washington Post:

At the end of the third period, the fed-up teammates started yelling at the other team and a fight began. Divyne said he got punched in the face, and he fought back.

After the kids were pulled apart, Divyne was suspended from the rest of the tournament and he finally told the adults what the other team had been saying. His teammates backed him up, telling the parents and team manager what happened.

“It happened in Hagerstown earlier in the season, too,” Apollon said. “The n-word. The basketball chants. We had a team chat and he explained the history of how it happened before.”

That was far from the only show of support: According to the Post, one of Apollon's teammates' moms designed and helped spread stickers with the word "Racism" crossed out. Teams across the tournament wore them in support. PK Subban reached out to the team earlier this week.

And on Wednesday, the Capitals' stars personally recorded a video to invite Apollon and his entire team to Capital One Arena for the St. Louis Blues game on Jan. 14.

They plan to meet with the group afterward.

"For me to meet him [Divyne] and look him in the face as someone who's gone through it and can talk to him and share my experience is important to me," Smith-Pelly told the team's website. "It's a pretty gross thing to be happening."

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