by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
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.
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.