John Carlson was an offensive ace on defense for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League at the age of 17 and 18. His second season there, he put up 43 points in 59 games and the Massachusetts native looked to be on track to go to college.
That’s where Dale and Mark Hunter of the London Knights found him, selecting him 33rd overall in the 2008 draft.
“They spotted Johnny, invited him up. We all thought Johnny was gong to go to university,” said London’s “Godfather of Sports,” Pete James, a longtime radio and TV personality. “We thought he was going to go to school in Boston or whatever, but he said, ‘This is where I want to be, because it’s going to be the fast track to where I really want to be and that’s in the NHL.’ ”
Carlson is quick to admit he didn’t have a choice where to go if he wanted to play junior hockey; the Knights owned his rights, but it was still college vs. major junior, and the young defenseman seemed to make the perfect call.
“It was a great decision for me; it was a great situation there,” Carlson said. “We had a great team; I learned a lot. It turned out to be the right one, I think.”
Carlson spent just one season in London but put up 16 goals and 60 assists in 59 games. It was the fast track; he was in Hershey for the Bears’ playoff run that spring and spent really one season there before graduating to the Washington Capitals.
Teammate Dennis Wideman referred to London as a “mini NHL,” and Carlson agreed it was good preparation for the pros.
“It’s different but also when you’re that age you’re so happy to be there in that situation and be in a town that a lot of people care about you and a lot of people are rooting for you,” he said. “I played in the USHL before and the media attention that you got in London was different. When you were walking around the town, you had little kids coming up to you excited about your upcoming game on Friday night.”
Scott Tooke, who has hosted Knights players for 10 years now along with his wife, Gale, recalled Carlson fondly. He told a story of the Caps defenseman returning to London and playing ball hockey with a neighborhood kid, making his day.
Carlson no doubt appreciated his time with the Knights, and the response from the city.
“I thought that it was probably one of the biggest years of my career so far. It certainly got me to where I was in the NHL,” he said. “It’s always good to give back wherever you are. I was able to connect with some people in London that I was put in contact with and got a chance to really know and like. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with those people.”