John Carlson hadn’t taken more than two steps onto the ice Thursday morning before his Washington Capitals gathered at center ice, raised their sticks and paid tribute to the defenseman.
Carlson was named to the United States’ 25-man roster for the Sochi Olympics the night before, marking the first time he’d represent his country in the most prestigious international competition.
He also became the first Capitals player to represent the United States in the Olympics since the competition began allowing NHL players to take part in 1998. Overall, 15 players have represented the Capitals in the Olympics, including former goaltender Olie Kolzig and right wing Alex Ovechkin, who has done so twice.
The United States was the first of the 12 nations to announce their team. Roster decisions must be finalized by Tuesday; the NHL will begin its break on Feb. 9, games will start Feb. 12 and then the season will resume Feb. 26.
“It’s huge,” Ovechkin said. “You know, it’s situation where you get a lottery ticket and you won, you know?”
Ovechkin, who represented Russia in 2006 and in 2010, is a foregone conclusion to be selected to the team. He was the first to carry the Olympic torch in Greece in September and has often expressed his excitement to play in the competition in his home country.
Two other current Capitals players have played in the Olympics: center Nicklas Backstrom, who represented Sweden in 2010, and right wing Martin Erat, who played for his native Czech Republic in 2006 and 2010.
“Oh, it’s unbelievable experience,” said Erat, who won a bronze medal in Turin in 2006. “You’re probably never gonna get an experience like that anywhere in hockey. It’s something special and, you know, it’s one of those few moments where you just enjoy it. When you’re there, you enjoy it. It’s great for a colleague to make it and see how it goes and just the experience to be there.”
Carlson earned the selection based on a season in which he leads the Capitals with 24:41 of ice time per game, including 4 minutes of shorthanded time and 2:40 on the second-ranked power play unit.
He last played for the United States in the 2010 world championships, where he scored the game-winning goal against Canada in the gold medal game.
“I’m sure, like, he’s gonna be fine out there,” Ovechkin said. “Because you going there to play hockey. You’re not going there to look at the city and all that kind of stuff. I’m sure – he’s had experience to play in the NHL,.so I think he’s going to play well.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who attended Canada’s orientation camp during the summer, could also be selected to play for his home country. He may be just 24, but he’s already played in 21 career NHL playoff games and has a 2.04 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in the postseason.
Backstrom said he’s not thinking about earning a second invitation to play for Sweden, but he figures to get one. Erat’s selection isn’t a sure thing, especially as he’s played a minimal role since being traded to the Capitals late last season.
“It’s a fun experience,” Backstrom said. “Olympics are something that you’re looking forward to as a kid, to get a chance to play that, so now, I mean, it’s just a fun experience. All the best are there, so you’re just going to compete against the best. That’s what you want to do, right?”