Chat wrap: Hershey’s Karl Alzner

Defenseman Karl Alzner of the Eastern Conference champion Hershey Bears stepped into the AHL Chat Room on Tuesday, June 1 to answer fans’ questions about the 2010 Calder Cup Finals and much more. Karl’s transcript is below.

Is there any particular player who you try to model your game after, and if so, why? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Without a doubt, I’ve tried to model my game after Nick Lidstrom. He does everything really well, and he’s the type of player I’d like to be. He’s not overly physical, but he’s good with his stick, smart and solid in his own zone and with the puck. I’m always trying to do things just a little bit like him because even a little bit of Nick Lidstrom makes a good player, I’d say.

With all that you and the team have already accomplished this season, what has been your favorite moment thus far? – Laurel from Highspire, Penn.
It’s a tough one to say. We’ve had a lot of good things happen to us with a few of the records we’ve set this year. It’s been kind of nice, but you don’t get overly excited about setting records. You get excited about winning, so up until this point, I’d say some of the most exciting games have been the ones we’ve won in overtime in the playoffs. You know, against Bridgeport, against Manchester, we’ve had a few, so all of our overtime games have been awesome. And finally closing out Game 6 in the third round, that was certainly memorable for me.

(Game 5 in Manchester) was a major, major turning point. It’s never nice to lose to a team when you come from behind or in overtime, so it’s tough to be the opposing team there. It was nice to see because we were struggling there. We won the first round in five, the second round in four, and then we were up two and (Manchester) started coming back on us. We hadn’t really faced that yet in the playoffs, and I’m not gonna lie, we were panicking a little bit there. It was nice that we finally pulled together and showed that we can face that adversity, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. It was nice to see.

How has your game changed or improved between this year and when you played in the Calder Cup Finals last year? – Jess from Monrovia, Maryland
My game personally has changed quite a bit, I think. Last year, I was very one-dimensional. I was trying to stick with straight defense, make simple plays, just get the puck out of my zone. There have been times this year where I’ve been called upon to do more than that – and that’s play on the power play, jumping up into the rush, and be that fourth attacker for us, and I think it’s been a good year for me. I’ve transitioned into more of a two-dimensional player, and that’s huge for me.

I’ve learned a lot from my defensive partner in John Carlson, and I think we’ve been a good fit together. Hopefully he’s learned a little from me, but I’ve definitely learned a lot from him.

Were you at all surprised that Texas turned out to be your opponent in the Calder Cup Finals, and does the fact that you guys did not play one another during the regular season change your preparation for them at all heading into the Calder Cup Finals? – J.D. from Georgetown, Tex.
I think it changes a little bit, yeah, just because we have to rely on watching video of them and watching how other teams played them, and not all teams play the same system. So it’s kind of hard to judge just how they would react to what we do. In that sense, it is a little different, but at the same time our coaches watch a ton of video and they’re really good at breaking down clips. Hopefully we’ll all get it in our heads and know what we’re supposed to be doing out there.

As far as me being surprised, not really. They have a lot of good players – a solid, solid back end, a lot of good players up front, and they have a hot goalie… a hot two goalies, really. I know their starter (Brent Krahn) was hurt, but when you can have a back-up (Matt Climie) come in and play the way he’s been playing, that’s always nice. And a goalie can win you a series and can win you a championship. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised at all. It was nice to see a good battle between them and Hamilton, and hopefully that took a little but out of them, but the 10-day break is enough time to recover.

Jamie Benn is the AHL’s leading playoff scorer with 14 goals and 24 points in 18 games… How do you and the other defensemen plan to reduce Benn’s impact during the Calder Cup Finals? – David from Chicago, Ill.
The things is, we gotta watch what he does in the offensive zone. Obviously, he’s been a big, big part of their offense. So, I’ve just been talking to the coaches a little bit about what he does and his tendencies, that sort of thing. For us, we need to make sure we take away his time and space. We can’t give him enough time to release that puck. We know he’s good at finding those soft areas, so for us, we just have to have our eye on him, and make sure that when we go into battles with him, we’re going in strong and not taking him too lightly. There’s a reason why he played in the NHL all season – he’s definitely doing what he’s supposed to do, and it’ll be a good challenge for us.

You guys have come back on numerous occasions this postseason to win games in which you were trailing heading into the third period… What has the atmosphere and mindset been like in the locker room during the second intermissions of those games where you’ve been trailing? – Bruce from Halifax, Penn.
Guys get pumped up real easily there. We don’t like to lose games, we don’t like to be down, and it’s been a common trend for us to have pretty decent third periods and pretty good third periods. We always want to make sure that we’re a force there and make sure teams know that we’re not going to give up there, especially when we’re down like that. It’s also a good sign, it shows that we’re willing to battle through it. We wouldn’t really like to get ourselves into that position if we don’t have to, but sometimes there’s not too much you can do, and it’ll happen.

We’re a team that doesn’t give up, and in the dressing room we have a lot of older guys, a lot of leaders, a lot of guys that’ll speak up, and it really helps us get going. And obviously our coaches – they seem to have some good speeches, they know what to say at the right time, and they get us fired up.

What has the team tried to do in order to stay focused during the couple of unusually long layoffs that you guys have had during these playoffs?– Kevin from Boston, Mass.
This might sound a little bit opposite of what people would think, but we’re staying focused by getting our minds completely off the game. What I mean by that is, guys will go out golfing, if they live close enough they might go home, New York City, something like that. For instance, my girlfriend and I went to Florida after the Albany series. It’s nice to recharge because it’s a lot of hockey. It’s a long, long season, and a very long playoffs, so it’s nice at this point, it’s like a fresh start when you come back.

Our coaches gave us, I think, four days off, and then a couple practices and another day off. It’s a good way to do things I think, because guys come back raring to go. You don’t like dealing with a break like that, but if you do, you really have to make the best of it.

How much do you think winning the Calder Cup once – let alone twice if you’re able to do it again this year – will help prepare you to eventually go on a Stanley Cup run in the NHL? – Zach from Annville, Penn.
It doesn’t matter where you win a championship, it always helps. Knowing what it takes to get through a playoffs – four series, it’s a long time – so just knowing the feeling you have after you win one series, two series, three series… You definitely have a different feeling, a different mindset, because it’s difficult to battle through the good weather, and your buddies calling you saying, “Oh, I’m starting to work out now,” or “Summer break is so nice.”

It’s just getting over the mental block that you can sometimes get, and at the same time knowing what it takes to win. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of playing with injuries, and you have to be able to get your head right and make sure you can stick with it for that long of a run.

The Bears have obviously enjoyed a tremendous record at the Giant Center all season long… How much of an impact do the fans in Hershey have on the level of enthusiasm that the team plays with at home? – Tyler from Lancaster, Penn.
They have a big impact. We always seem to have a lot of energy, and it’s always nice to come out for warm-ups and see fans there as well as the beginning of the game, because you want to have a good start. If you can back the (opponent) up into a corner right away, it’s usually a good sign for your team.

There’s been times where they’ve been on the other team so hard that it’s actually kind of funny to watch because the referee has to come over and stop the game. At times it’s really good, and at times you just have to sit back and laugh and say, “Oh man, I wonder what it would be like to play against these fans.” It’s definitely something different than what I’ve seen. They love their team, and we’re happy about that.

From your perspective as a player, how impressive is it that a small town like Hershey consistently leads the AHL in attendance and continues to pack the arena in the playoffs? – Jeremy from Lebanon, Penn.
Yeah, it’s nice. It’s nice to see all the other surrounding towns come out and supporting us as well. It’s lot like where I come from, Burnaby (British Columbia), we have a lot of cities that are right beside it, and when you can draw from all those cities, it really helps.

It’s nice to see that they keep coming in game in and game out, even though sometimes we don’t play our best game. They’re still there the next game, and that’s really huge for us. It’s funny, usually those small towns have some of the best fans. They’re so diehard – it’s one of the main attractions. I know there are other important things going on here in Hershey – Hershey Park and other stuff – but it’s nice to see that they come out and support us.

As the long hockey season wears on, do you find yourself needing to make any adjustments in terms of conditioning or keeping mental focus? – Josh from Richland, Penn.
Yeah, for sure. Towards the end of the year, your body is starting to wear down a little bit. You try to get in the gym as much as you can and do whatever possible to keep your body in shape, because it’s easy to see that as the season wears on, you tend to get a little soft in the midsection or wherever. When you don’t get in the gym that often, it’s tough to keep it up.

But since we’ve had so much time off, it’s almost like we’re getting back into shape. We get to lift some weights, we get to skate, we get to run, but usually the body hurts quite a bit. It’s tougher to play those 15, 20, 25 minutes, it really wears on the body. You get in the gym when you can, and you kind of listen to your body. Hopefully everybody knows their body pretty well, and when it tells them to take a day off, you take a day off.

Who are some of your best friends on the Bears, and who has given you the most guidance? – Megan from Lebanon, Penn.
I hang out with Jay Beagle quite a bit. He’s from Calgary, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Calgary, so we can relate a little there. At one of the houses, some of the guys live above an ice cream store, King Cone. I hang out with those guys a lot – that’s Patrick Wellar, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, and Sean Collins. It’s us and also Zach Miskovic, I hang out with them quite a bit.

We’ve got a good group of guys, it’s easy to go hang out with anybody on the team. But when we go golfing or when we play board games or whatever, it’s usually those guys.

What has it been like playing on the Bears with a veteran captain like Bryan Helmer, someone who has been around awhile and won his first Calder Cup 15 years ago? – David from Newcastle, Ont.
It’s really nice to play with Helms. He’s got so many years under his belt in the league, and he’s been through pretty much everything. He’s had a lot of success here, so it’s just nice to see and nice to hear what he has to say. And when he does say something in the room, if we’re down or we’re not playing our best and he speaks up, you know it’s from the heart and you know it’s serious. You always have to take a second to listen to what he says because there aren’t too many things that come out of his mouth that aren’t going to help you. He’s a good captain to have.

Describe that atmosphere of playing in the NHL while you were up in Washington this year, and especially in Game 7 of the first-round series vs. Montreal. – Jordan from Winnipeg, Man.
Washington was awesome. It was so electric in that building, so loud, and just different. The first time I had watched a playoff game in the NHL in person was actually the year before when I got called up and watched the Caps play Pittsburgh. But to be in one is just a different feeling.

It’s tough to play because so much is on the line and everybody’s trying so hard, but at the same time they don’t take so many chances. You don’t want to take that one chance that maybe turns the game around and you could lose it. That’s one thing that I was thinking about quite a bit when I was there. But for the coaches to have the confidence to play me in that situation was really, really nice to see, and I’m happy that I had a pretty decent game.

Describe the chemistry that has existed all season between yourself and defensive partner John Carlson… How well do you think that might translate if you two are eventually paired together in Washington? – Doug from Ashburn, Virginia
Well it’s always nice to play with somebody who’s around the same age as you because it’s just a little bit more relaxing. Me and Carly have been playing together for a little bit now, and I think it’s a good match-up. He’s offensive, I’m a little bit more defensive, and we read off each other really well. It’s a nice mesh, and also like I said earlier, I’ve been learning a lot from him along the way. So I’m hoping he’s a guy I get to stick with for a few years to come here because I think it’ll work out really well.

Assuming that your number one goal for next season is to make the Capitals as a full-time player, do you have any additional goals in terms of improvements that you’d like to make to your game, either offensively or defensively? – Dale from Gainesville, Virginia
Oh yeah, I definitely want to become more of a well-rounded player. I want to be tough to play against – I don’t want to have forwards on other teams saying “Oh, we get to go against Alzner, he’s easy to play against,” because that’s definitely not a position you want to get yourself into. So I want to make sure I’m just a little bit tougher and get some good consistency going, and like I said earlier, just play a little more offensive, chip in every now and then on the scoresheet, and help the team succeed. I want to be part of a winning team, and that’s the main goal.

What are some things that you like to do in your free time or during the offseason? – Tim from Worcester, Mass.
I think it’s pretty common with every player – I like to go golfing, really like to be outside on the course, as well as working out. We have a really good group of guys who I work out with back home, and it’s a program I’ve been doing since I was about 14 years old, so it’s a nice fit for me there.

My girlfriend and I live together in Vancouver, and it’s a pretty nice area there. We get to go out on the water, hang out on the beach, and we have a couple bikes that we like to cruise around on whenever we get a chance. I’m a pretty big outdoors guy, so whenever I can be out there, I’m usually in my element.