Carson works on physical play with Hitmen

By Aaron Vickers

When Brett Carson failed to hear his name announced in Raleigh, North
Carolina on June 26th, 2004, it may well have provided for the most
uncomfortable night in his life. Carson, ranked 31st among
North American skaters heading into the 2004 National Hockey League
Entry Draft, waited patiently as 65 names were called on day one,
including Hitmen teammates Andrew
Ladd, Andy Rogers
and Jeff
Schultz.

But not his.

“It was tough,” described Carson Thursday when his Calgary Hitmen took on the Prince Albert Raiders. “(But) I figured that I’ve got to be happy with where I am, and there’s lots of kids that would love to be in my situation, where I am. I guess I can’t put any bad feelings towards it, so, I was happy to go in the fourth round, and to Carolina, it was great.”

On day two, it wasn’t long before Carson felt relief, when the Hurricanes, the same team that had drafted teammate Andrew Ladd fourth overall, selected the Whitewood, Saskatchewan native 109th overall.

“It was really good. It was a great honor just to have the fan support there. I was just happy to go!” explained Carson, who struggled to put into words the emotions involved with being drafted, by the host team, no less.


With the experience now a distant memory for Carson, he can look back
at not only the Entry Draft, but at his 2003-04 season as well, as he battled the nerves of playing in front of
scouts night in and night out in Calgary. The Hitmen, who boasted four
players ranked in the top 31 according to Central Scouting, were a
routine stop for scouts representing every team in the National Hockey
League.

“I remember going through it last year, so much pressure, thinking you’ve got to impress everyone that’s watching,” recalled Carson, who registered 32 points in 71 games in his draft year, only three behind Jeff Schultz for the team lead among defensemen.

Perhaps the pressures of playing daily in front of various
Organizations’ scouts and personnel helped Carson prepare for the
2004-05 season. With the NHL/NHLPA currently involved in the lockout,
the fans and media in Calgary have turned their full focus on the
Hitmen, the top hockey ticket in town. In fact, the Calgary Hitmen are
routinely drawing crowds in excess of 8000 a night, an increase of
nearly 25 percent, or roughly 1500 more bodies in the stands. More
importantly, however, is the fact that the press box seems to be much
fuller, as NHL clubs are taking the opportunity to watch their
prospects a lot more closely.

“We get lots of fans out there and lots of media,” Carson noted. “It’s really good for us all, but especially the young kids this year
that are in the draft. There’s been a lot of guys coming to watch us, and even for us guys that haven’t signed or anything yet, and there’s always some of the General
Managers coming to watch us.”

Carson was quick to point out that the fans have been great to have
around, too.

“The fan support has been great,” added the 6’5, 218lb defender.

One person that may have benefited most from the exposure that has
resulted as the Calgary Flames have halted operations is 2005 draft
eligible Dustin Kohn, a
close friend of Carson. In fact, he conceded that Kohn has turned to
the experiences of Carson last season in dealing with the pressures
that come with playing in front of scouts, evaluating talent
for the upcoming draft.

“Me and Kohnner are pretty tight and he’s worried about it a lot, as a kid. I just tell him to keep working hard and everything
will turn out well.”

It was the same advice that Carson himself admitted he received from
former Hitmen Mike Egener in
an interview with Hockey’s Future last February. While Egener has moved
on to the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, Carson has
attempted to fill some of the leadership void that has come with his
departure. Carson is also trying to fill another void left by the
departing Egener, and that is of a physical force on the blueline.

“It’s been one of my biggest knocks against me, my physical play, so this year I’m trying to step it up a little,” conceded Carson. “I’ve got to get more physical. As a big guy, that’s what’s expected of you.”

Carson also noted that while he was making strides at becoming more
physical, he wasn’t planning on doing it at the expense of his
offensive game. In fact, through 20 games with the Hitmen this
season, Carson has had steady production, registering 7 points, including a five-game point scoring streak, with five points in his last five games, extended Thursday night with a goal in a 6-0 rout of the Prince Albert Raiders.

“(The Hurricanes) said to keep playing offensively and try to play good every night – consistency is big.”

The more mature Carson has certainly improved in that area of his play
in comparison to last year. He appears to be putting in much more
of a frequent effort on the ice, as his level of play steadily
increases. In the very least, it has the coaching staff pleased, who are now utilizing the former Moose Jaw Warrior in all aspects of the
game, including both special teams, the penalty kill and power play.

“At the start of the year the main thing the coaches were telling me was to compete hard every night and that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” said Carson, who also has 12 minutes in penalties this season, which includes one fighting major. “They’ve been putting me out in more key situations this year so I think they’re happy with what they’ve seen so far.”

Certainly with 2004 first round selection Andy Rogers out indefinitely
with an ankle injury, Carson has been asked to step up and provide at
both ends for the Calgary Hitmen. He has done just that so far, and
done so with flair. In fact, Carson has played so well, it’s beginning
to look like some should be questioning why no one heard the name Carson until day two.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.