Goaltender Adam Carlson was twice cut from hockey tryouts at Edina High School.
And he wants to say thank you.
Carlson, who put aside those setbacks and just finished an improbable first season playing for Division I Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., has grabbed the next rung up the hockey ladder by signing a two-year tryout deal Monday with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. He reports immediately to the organization’s top minor league team, the Hershey (Pa.) Bears of the American Hockey League.
Carlson signed a two-way agreement, meaning the undrafted prospect is paid based on which level he plays while in the Capitals’ organization. His deal mirrors those being reached in recent days by many more highly pursued hockey players, such as Wayzata’s Mario Lucia. The son of Gophers coach Don Lucia signed this week with the Minnesota Wild. Lucia, a Notre Dame forward, was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft.
As a sophomore at Edina, Carlson failed to land a spot on the junior varsity roster. He skipped tryouts as a junior, dedicated his offseason to making varsity but was cut again as a senior. He spent his last year in high school on Edina’s Junior Gold A youth team, helping the senior-dominated squad win a state title.
Carlson said he holds no animosity toward Edina head coach Curt Giles and the rest of the Hornets’ staff for cutting him a few years back. Also on the Edina staff was Don Beaupre, who spent part of his NHL career as a Giles teammate with the North Stars and defending the net for the same organization Carlson signed with, the Capitals. Edging out Carlson for one of the two Edina varsity goalie spots during that last tryout was Beaupre’s son.
“They’ve given me the best gift in the world by cutting me,” Carlson said Tuesday as he tidied up his mid-semester departure from Mercyhurst ahead of joining his new team in the same state later this week. “It was the right way to do it; just let me play with a chip on my shoulder.”
There were times, Carlson acknowledged, when his disappointments in Edina — as a bantam and in high school — had him thinking about quitting hockey and focusing more on school and another sport he loved, baseball.
“Now, who thought I’d be sitting here with a pro contract in my hands?” he said. “I never really thought I could do what I am doing. … I worked hard and had an absolute blast doing it.”
Capitals goalie coach Mitch Korn said Carlson’s stick-with-it background reinforces his belief in “late bloomers who don’t have silver spoons in their mouth.”
Korn said Carlson impressed the franchise’s scouts with his character, along with his skills as a goaltender. “He has a real good chance down the road to find where his ceiling is,” Korn said. “He’ll tell us with his work ethic.”
Mercyhurst head coach Rich Gotkin said Carlson received a signing bonus from the Capitals, “who made it clear he has NHL potential. [For an NHL team] to take a freshman goalie out of college, that just doesn’t happen often.”
The Capitals first spotted Carlson in November, when a scout was “just making the rounds” and watched Carlson make 33 saves in an early season victory over Army, Gotkin said. After that, “we pretty much saw a Washington scout every time,” the coach added.
Carlson posted a 7-7-3 record for Mercyhurst, with a 2.85 goals-against average and a more than respectable .919 save percentage.
Mercyhurst assistant coach Greg Gardner, a former netminder who recruited Carlson, said the Capitals “marveled at Adam’s athelticisim. They liked his height [6-foot-3] and the fact that he competed hard.”
The 22-year-old Carlson said the Capitals staff has “told me I have a very high ceiling with what I can do, but at the same time they said it’s all in my hands. They have a phenomenal goalie coaching staff. They’ve been a goalie factory, with what they’ve been producing.”
With no college ready to commit to him after high school, Carlson spent three seasons playing junior hockey, two with the Coulee Region Chill of the North American Hockey League and a year before that with two teams in two lower leagues.
While with the Chill in the La Crosse, Wis., area, he registered a 38-27-10 record with seven shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 81 games, good enough to catch the attention of the Mercyhurst coaching staff.
Mercyhurst’s Gotkin said he was never concerned about Carlson’s inability to crack a high school lineup, explaining, “They have a lot of guys try out for that hockey team in Edina.”