Published November 20, 2014
A long layoff between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the American Hockey League Calder Cup series afforded Hershey defenseman Karl Alzner the chance to drive to Washington, D.C., to catch some of the sights.
He planned on taking them in from a unique perspective. Alzner was going to glimpse them from the air as he enjoyed his first flying lesson. Alzner got a gift certificate for that activity for his 21st birthday in September and hadn't gotten a chance to cash it in.
"It'd be pretty neat to be a pilot. I like to try new things. You get bored doing the same things over and over," he said. "I'm a little nervous, but everything is assisted, an assisted takeoff, an assisted landing. I'm pretty much there to see what's going on inside."
Upon further thought and consultation with his agent, Alzner decided to hold off on the high-flier act for now. Considering how everything else in his career is taking off, he shouldn't have any problem finding other thrills to keep his blood racing.
"I will not be becoming a pilot yet," he said. "But maybe some day soon."
In the meantime, he's one of the top prospects for an elite NHL team, has played in a Game 7 for the Caps and is already a one-time Calder Cup champ perhaps headed for a repeat. The last altitude he has to reach consistently is a regular spot in the NHL, a climb he plans on continuing next season.
The second-year pro, the No. 5 selection in the 2007 Entry Draft, spent 30 games with the Caps last season and 21 more this year. The dropoff in NHL minutes this season wasn't exactly his original plan, though his 56 games with the Bears, plus another long playoff run, gives him a strong foundation for another push next year.
"I was very happy with last season. I wanted to make the team right away. It didn't happen," he said. "This year, (there's) so many guys, so much competition in the organization, it wasn't possible. It's really easy to let those things bother you, especially as a young guy. You want to step in and play well. You don't want it to be a burden on your mind."
Alzner has 2 goals and 4 assists in 14 playoff games for Hershey after going 3-18-21 in the regular season for the Bears. The numbers aren't overwhelming, but Alzner said they don't fully reflect his development.
"I've grown a lot as a player. I've tried out a few different things maybe I wouldn't have had the courage to try in the NHL, trying to be more offensive, taking more chances," he said. "I think I'm there now. I'm starting to round out my game a little more. It's tough to be a one-dimensional player in the NHL. I think I can do it now, it's just a matter of doing it day-in and day-out. I'm going to make the rest of the season memorable."
The Bears have only one scenario on their radar that fits that description -- back-to-back skates with the Calder Cup. The way Hershey has thrashed its competition the past two seasons, another ring would give Alzner and the rest of his team a strong argument to be included near the top of the list of the league's all-time greats.
"I wouldn't think about it too much until we win," he said. "It doesn't mean too much unless you come through and win at the end. We just want our names to go down as winning the Calder Cup. The guys are pretty focused."
The Calder Cup final between Hershey and the Texas Stars begins June 3.
Mission accomplished -- Milwaukee forward Kelsey Wilson left North America last year carrying a mandate from Nashville.
He comes back with what he believes is a completed assignment.
Wilson, 24, insists that a year playing in Austria has rounded out his skill set, per instructions from the Predators. He departed as an AHL middleweight and maintains that he returns as someone with a few more options in his toolbox.
Wilson went 16-33-49 in 70 games with EC Red Bull Salzburg, numbers that are better than anything he put up in his previous three AHL seasons (32 goals, 38 assists and 554 penalty minutes in 220 games total). He re-joined the Predators on a one-year, two-way deal signed on May 17.
"They told me that's what I need to make the next step. They want me to get a little quicker and maintain my weight," said the 6-foot-1, 214-pound Wilson. "I think they see now I can play hockey and I can score. I'll still be able to play my bump-and-grind style. Sometimes you get stereotyped in hockey. You get stereotyped as a fighter, they want you to do that all the time. If you can fight and play hockey, you should be able to do both."
Wilson was apparently still viewed through a narrow prism in Austria. He compiled a league-leading 265 PIM there, well beyond anything he totaled in the AHL. Wilson said he only got in a handful of scraps and that he piled up 10-minute misconducts for the odd cross look or extra-curricular nudge.
"Once you get the name, the refs look for you," Wilson said. "I didn't change my game. I'm extremely happy to be back. It's more my style of game over here."
Under scrutiny -- Mark Holick spent a couple days in April watching young talent as a coach at a U.S. prospects camp in Anaheim.
He had no idea he was already being evaluated himself. And the scrutinizing eyes liked what they saw.
Holick, 41, was named head coach of the Syracuse Crunch last week. Holick was something of a stealth candidate, especially to himself.
Holick spent the past three seasons coaching Kootenay of the Western Hockey League and was preparing to return for a fourth. As he went about his business at the prospects camp, someone told him Anaheim GM Bob Murray would like a word with him. The Ducks are taking over as the Crunch's parent team in 2010-11 and had some coaching spots to fill.
"I was like, 'Oh, OK,' " Holick said. "I was flattered. I thought it would be a real good experience for me to go through the process. If I got it, I got it."
After a formal interview, Holick indeed got it. Murray had him on his short list of candidates and was impressed with the job Holick did steering a young Kootenay squad to a 43-24-3-2 regular-season record and a berth in the playoffs this season. It was an effort that landed Holick the WHL's Coach of the Year award, and, eventually, his first job coaching in the pros.
"His teams play hard," Murray said. "He gets a lot out of teams without an abundance of talent. He can coach teams with or without talent. I liked his attitude. I liked the presence he carried himself with. It kept coming back to him."
Holick took Kootenay to the playoffs in each of his three seasons there and compiled a cumulative 120-75-10-11 regular-season mark.
Holick played professionally in parts of four seasons from 1989-94, appearing in 142 total games with Adirondack (AHL), Louisville (ECHL) and Dallas (CHL), recording 30 goals, 43 assists and 635 penalty minutes.
"I'm pretty humbled by the whole thing," Holick said. "This (coaching) is how I feed my family. You can't have any shortcuts. You have to have success. You have to put your best foot forward. It has to work. That's the way I approach it."
Around the AHL -- Nine of Hershey's 12 wins during the playoffs have come after the Bears trailed in the third period, including the 3-2 clincher against Manchester in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 22. That game went to OT, the Bears' seventh this postseason, an AHL record. ... Bears forward Alexandre Giroux's goal in that game was the 48th playoff tally of his AHL career, tying him with Willie Marshall and Jody Gage for third all-time. ... Hershey's Jay Beagle, Andrew Joudrey and Boyd Kane each have just one goal this postseason, but each of those markers has been an overtime game-winner. ...The Monarchs pushed seven of their 16 playoff games into overtime and skated away with four wins. Prior to this postseason the most overtime games the Monarchs played in one playoff season was three, in 2008. ... Manchester is 0-8 all-time when facing playoff elimination. ... Five series have ended on an overtime goal this postseason. ... Hamilton scored the first goal of the game in all seven contests against Texas in the Western Conference Final, though lost the series. Overall, Hamilton scored the first goal in its last eight playoff games. Texas has allowed the first goal in 10 straight outings. ... Stars goalie Matt Climie's 51 saves in the Game 6 overtime win against the Bulldogs is a playoff high this postseason. ... Texas' Jamie Benn has 14 playoff goals, tying the AHL rookie record set by Rochester's Sean McKenna in 1983.