Karl Alzner Deserves a Thank-You

About the only nice thing a Caps fan could say after Tuesday’s game against the Islanders was that the postgame weather was unusually pleasant— almost 60 degrees (heck, even January didn’t show up for the game).

Losses like the Capitals suffered Tuesday—roughly 60 minutes of missed assignments and wandering aimlessly around the ice, everyone playing their own game instead of as a team—are difficult to report on.  The guys on the team are tired and know they played poorly. A few unlucky ones have to talk to the media about it; meanwhile, journalists are trying to figure out a polite but honest way to publicly ask about a humiliating job performance.

That’s why guys like Karl Alzner should be copied and placed in every NHL locker room.  While Alzner may be just as upset privately as the rest of the room about embarrassing losses, he’s willing to stand there patiently afterwards  and answer as many questions as the media can throw at him.  He will break down the game—even the unpleasant parts—and provide the same quality analysis that comes so much easier after a 3-0 win.

I write about this, rather than all of the things that went wrong in the 3-0 loss (let’s face it, just about everything went wrong), because I think it shows a strength of character that guys rarely get commended for. It’s kind of a thankless responsibility—being the mouthpiece of a team after a loss.  Those guys who are willing to give their best effort postgame to an interview even when they don’t feel like it should know that effort is appreciated.

Yes, I know it’s part of their job, and they’re getting paid a lot to do it. In the end, though, it’s really about both players and journalists serving the fans, because they’re going to be the ones looking for quotes from the players explaining things after a game.  And Karl Alzner makes everyone’s life a little easier this way.

By no means, of course, is Alzner the only guy who does this. Another player who often steps up to the plate that way—though he wasn’t out in the locker room last night after a loss—is Mike Knuble. It’s a talent to be able to stay polite while a whole bunch of people ask you why you were so bad at your job that evening or your coworkers were so bad at theirs. Knuble knows how to do this. If one had to construct a top line or top pairing for postgame interviews after blowouts, Knuble and Alzner would be right in the mix.

Overall, this may seem like a small thing to blog about. I’d agree the Capitals’ poor decisions on passing Tuesday and their even poorer special teams performance  (they gave up two power play goals and couldn’t capitalize on three man-advantages of their own) might warrant more concern. But with so much of today’s sports structure comprised of what happens off the ice or court or field, it’s become an aspect of an athlete’s job that can’t be overlooked. And in many ways, it’s a thankless role. But to the journalists who are desperately trying to do their job, it’s a blessing, and hopefully for the readers as well.

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