Tyler Sloan's NHL Playoff Debut
"Congratulations," Karl Alzner said to Tyler Sloan's dad late Monday night. "He played awesome. That was awesome. I'm so happy for him."
"So am I," said Sloan's father, Fred. "He was a little nervous in the first period."
"I was nervous, too, for him," Alzner said with a laugh. "He settled right in."
"He settled in," Fred Sloan agreed.
"And he enjoyed it," Alzner concluded.
Then they both smiled, and made dinner plans. So yeah, there was plenty written about Sloan's playoff debut on Monday night, with the 28-year old contributing both solid defense and an assist on David Steckel's goal. (See the nice Wash Times story, for example.) There was somewhat less written about Fred Sloan, who was on a pre-planned trip from his home in Calgary to Hershey to watch his son in the AHL playoffs. Father and son had already been to a Caps playoff game together, driving down from Hershey to watch Game 7 against the Rangers along with Alexandre Giroux, Quintin Laing and Laing's family, then leaving anonymously.
"He wanted to see it, but he wouldn't come down to the dressing room when it was done," Fred Sloan told me outside the family lounge. "He just up and left. Nobody knew he was here except Donald [Brashear] and the guy who got him the tickets."
Two games later, Sloan was back, this time as a player. Which in itself was somewhat remarkable for a kid who was never drafted, and who was playing in places like Las Vegas and Dayton just a few years ago.
"He was kind of mired in the East Coast League, and Bruce [Boudreau] and [Hershey Coach Bob Woods] gave him a chance the year they won the Calder," the elder Sloan said. "I really admire the whole organization in Washington. You can tell, they're all winning teams, right?...It tells you a lot about George [McPhee] and the whole organization. I'm just so impressed. I've been around hockey all my life, I've taught skating for 37 years, and this is really impressive to me, the way they take a kid like Tyler. They saw some potential, didn't give up on him, saw his weaknesses and worked with him and helped him and developed him to the player he's at today."
Which is what?
"A heck of a player," said Brian Pothier, who skated with Sloan in Game 2. "He's a really good skater, he's a big body, real physical guy, and he's just smooth. And he just makes great decisions....I don't think he made a mistake [in Game 2]."
So yeah, the game. The first time Fred Sloan came to Hershey, back in the fall, Tyler was called up the next day; instead of staying for a week, Fred had to rearrange his flights, spend a night in O'Hare and arrive the morning of his NHL debut back in Calgary. This time around, he had been in Hershey for around two weeks when Tyler again got recalled. He watched the morning skate in Ballston, left Tyler at his apartment, toured D.C., spent a couple hours in the Spy Museum, and then went toward the Verizon Center.
"Just sort of got caught up in the excitement around the arena," he said. "It's amazing. I mean, I go to some games in Calgary, but this is amazing. I mean, the fans are even louder."
Loudest he's ever heard?
"Oh yeah," he said, "for sure, no question."
Fred said he got about 50 texts from family members during Monday's game. That night, he planned to drive back to Hershey; he's scheduled to go home to Calgary today, and he'll watch the rest of the playoffs on TV. As of this writing (Tuesday night), Tyler's status for today's game is unclear, but he was keeping it pretty chill.
"Bruce told me before the game keep it simple," Sloan said. "That's my game. You know, I'm not a fancy player. I mean, it's them believing in me and giving me an opportunity. When they show that, then I feel confident in my game."
"I felt nervous for myself just watching the game, but yeah, definitely for him," Alzner said. "Because he's my D partner, I want him to play well and I want him to do well for the team. But talking to him after the game, it's just like everybody [says], as soon as you get your first couple shifts in it just becomes easy. So he played great his first game, first point. I'm really happy for him. Can't wait to talk about it more."
(Alzner, who had never been to an NHL playoff game, switched viewing locations throughout the night, from gym to training room to family lounge to zamboni tunnel, where he went late in the third "just to see how loud it actually was." How loud was it?
"Very," he reported. "Incredibly loud. That Unleash the Fury, I timed it perfectly so I could come out and see that, and it was good. Yeah, it hurts, it hurts.")
(Alzner is already sporting a pretty massive playoff beard, but he said he's only Top Four in Hershey. "There's a couple guys that started growing a week before, which I don't agree with," he noted. "That was a little bit breaking the rules, but that's the way they like to do it.")
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