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This is the start of hockey season. And for rookies it's a moment of truth. They're going to find out if they made the cut in the National Hockey League. NPR's Gemma Hooley had a look at preseason training camp with the Washington Capitals and met up with one young hopeful, Karl Alzner.
GEMMA HOOLEY: At 11:11 each morning and 11:11 each evening, Karl Alzner makes a good luck wish. He also carries a fake mustache that once belonged to the rap artist Snoop Dogg in his pocket. But for all the superstitions he brings to training camp, Alzner's luck is the kind that only comes with hard work. A prodigy in the Canadian junior league at 15, Alzner was drafted by the Washington Capitals last season. He's now 20 and looking to compete at the National Hockey League level.
Mr. KARL ALZNER (Hockey Player): There are lots of guys, not only they're strong in the gym, but they've got what I like to call man strength, because their full body is strong. They can just anchor themselves into the ice. And if you're not strong enough to push them over, then you just got to wait for them to turn around.
HOOLEY: To get strong enough, Alzner set some ambitious training goals this summer.
Mr. ALZNER: I tried sprinting for the first time in a year. I don't usually sprint all that often, I just jog. But I tried sprinting with parachutes and bungee cords and weighted vests on all at once. And I tweaked my hip flexor, both my groins, my hamstrings.
HOOLEY: These tweaks, as he calls them, were soon lost in the general pain of training camp. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau drilled his rookies until some of them lay spread-eagled on the ice at the end of practice. Alzner vowed to stay upright.
Mr. ALZNER: If I'm tired, I like to hide it. I don't like to bend over. I don't like to, if I don't have to, go down on one knee. I never usually like to show any sort of weakness.
Mr. BROOKS LAICH (Hockey Player, Washington Capitals): Karl's very smooth. In young guys, one of the big things you look for is poise. It's called poise. It means they have ice running through their veins kind of thing. And Karl on the ice is very calm. And I think he'll get a long look this year at the stars making the team. And hopefully if he does well, he's going to be a solid player for us in the future.
HOOLEY: Washington Capital's fourth year veteran Brook Laich says training camp is not just a proving ground for rookies like Alzner. Rookies must prove their ability, but veterans must also prove their worth.
Mr. LAICH: I was just signed this summer to a new three-year contract. So I want to come in and prove that management hasn't made a mistake. Now I'm battling to try and improve my position on the team, whereas before I was battling to just get on the team. So there's a lot of different things that go on in camp.
HOOLEY: Camp always ends with tough decisions. On Monday, Karl Alzner played ping-pong waiting for news. It was disappointing. His coach called him in. Alzner won't be starting the season in the NHL. For now, he'll develop his skills with the AHL Hershey Bears. The 20-year-old rookie had 24 hours to get himself to Pennsylvania and find a place to live. Everything's changing for Alzner except the goal he wrote down as a kid and tacked to his bedroom wall.
Mr. ALZNER: It's just a regular 8-by-11 piece of paper. Blue paper, black sharpie, underlined. "Will" is underlined two or three times. Yeah, that's my favorite.
HOOLEY: Karl Alzner's sign says "I will make the NHL." Gemma Hooley, NPR News.
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