Karl Alzner was on the golf course Sunday, embroiled in a friendly but apparently competitive game with a buddy, when a missed call went to his voicemail.
Alzner, the Washington Capitals defenceman who hails from Burnaby, had finished up his round of golf – he says he won, by the way – when he decided to check his voicemail. Doug Armstrong, the general manager of the St. Louis Blues, had called.
“I thought at first that I got traded,” said Alzner during a phone interview on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old blue liner quickly remembered that Armstrong is also part of the management group for Canada’s Olympic men’s ice hockey team.
“My jaw dropped. I was thinking ‘is he seriously calling me?’” said Alzner. “It was a pinch-me moment.”
The call from Armstrong was actually an invitation to Hockey Canada’s Olympic orientation camp, which is scheduled to take place in Calgary from Aug. 25 to 28.
He was among 47 players invited to the camp, which will be one of the stops in the road to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Canada is looking to defend its gold medal, earned in a thrilling overtime victory over the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
That year, Alzner, in the infancy of his professional career, was playing for the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.
His Bears, in fact, played the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on the same day as Sidney Crosby’s gold-medal winning goal.
Thankfully, for Alzner and the rest of the Canadian contingent on the Bears, there was a schedule adjustment, allowing for players and fans to catch the remainder of the gold medal game.
Members of the Bears piled onto the team bus, equipped with satellite television – for obvious reasons, it was “American guys in the back and Canadian guys up front,” said Alzner – to watch the game.
Almost four years later, Alzner, the Capitals’ first-round pick, fifth overall, in the 2007 NHL Draft, has made the jump from developing his game in the minors in to a full-time shutdown role in Washington.
It took a while to translate his game from the junior ranks with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, to the Bears in the AHL, to the Capitals.
But after three full seasons – he’s played every single regular season game for Washington since the start of the 2010-11 campaign, and has a combined plus-20 rating in that span – Alzner has at least planted himself on Hockey Canada’s radar for the upcoming Olympics.
He’ll be in tough to be named to the team. Of the 17 defenceman on the camp roster, five of them played in the 2010 Games.
But Alzner likens the excitement that came with Sunday’s phone call from Doug Armstrong to his days representing Canada on gold-medal winning teams at back-to-back World Junior Championships.
“There’s no better feeling,” he said.
“And I’m not even on the (Olympic) team. I’m just on their radar.”
Soon, it will be off to Calgary and the orientation camp.
Alzner knows he’ll be in good company.
Not only will some of the nation’s best current hockey players be assembled, but one of the best to ever play the game, Steve Yzerman, happens to be the team’s executive director and an Olympic gold medalist in 2002.
Alzner once went through the Capitals public relations staff to get an autographed Yzerman jersey, although this time he’ll get to meet him in person.
“Some guys say I still kind of act like a kid,” said Alzner. “But I’m still just a big fan of the game and the players.”
“I will be awe-struck but (when on the ice) I have the ability to turn that off,” he said.
Of the 47 players invited to camp, eight, including Alzner, are from British Columbia.
Alzner grew up playing his minor hockey with the Burnaby Winter Club, which has produced a number of NHL players, from Paul Kariya to Brendan Gallagher, and a cast of many others.
Alzner’s experience at BWC can best be described by the old adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
He thanked his parents for the opportunity they provided him to play at BWC, where he developed his skills under Jon Calvano and watched his peers like Mark Santorelli and Brock Bradford, who both moved on to professional careers of their own.
Alzner’s invite to Canada’s orientation camp didn’t come as a surprise to Calvano, who was the director of hockey at BWC.
“I knew Karl from the time he was about nine or 10 years old…he always loved being at the rink,” said Calvano.
“He was always a smart player. He always played like a true defenceman.
“Every step he’s taken, he’s won and been able to succeed.”