Rapid City Rush goaltender Adam Carlson can summarize his hockey career in moments. The moment when he signed a Division I scholarship to play at Mercyhurst University, also the moment he signed an NHL contract with the Washington Capitals, and telling his parents the news.
Those moments almost never happened because Carlson contemplated quitting the sport during high school.
Carlson grew up in Edina, Minnesota, a high school hockey powerhouse. After the bantam level (under 15-years-old), he said he thought about quitting the sport to spend more time with youth activities in his church. It was his coaches that told him it would be a mistake and he would regret it.
So Carlson stuck with the sport, and at first he didn't experience much benefit from it. He was cut from his high school team his sophomore season, didn't try out his junior year and was one of the last cuts during his senior year tryout.
"It wasn’t fun at all. There were definitely a lot of moments spent at home questioning if I even wanted to play the game anymore," he said. "Everyone goes through that, but it was tough."
Before his senior year he worked with a coach on changing from a skater to a goaltender. He found his way on the coach's radar, but was still cut. He was picked up by Edina's Junior Gold 'A' youth team for his final high school season, and helped lead the team to a state championship.
That was another moment in his career that made him grateful he had stuck with the sport, despite the challenges.
"It made me realize how important hockey was in my life," he said. "The camaraderie it brings among all the players; like coming into this team I didn’t know anyone, and I’ve had an absolute blast in the (time) I’ve been here. I wouldn’t have had that if it weren’t for the coaches who talked me off the ledge."
Carlson's career continued to the junior level, where the battle to find ice time was just beginning. In his first stint with the North American Tier III Hockey League's North Iowa Bulls he was the third string goalie. Junior players are still amateurs, and often have to pay their own way to play on the team. After weighing his options, he decided to ask the Bulls for a trade.
For the remainder of the 2012-2013 season he played for the Minnesota Junior Hockey League's Steele County Blades where he broke through. He appeared in 34 games, posted a 3.14 goals against average and had a .914 save percentage. He was named the league's goalie of the year and was runner up for the league's most valuable player award.
Throughout his time on the grind of the junior circuit, he had a vision of being able to call his parents and tell them that he had gotten a scholarship to play college hockey. During his next season with the North American Hockey League's Coulee Region Chill, he started to get noticed by recruiters.
One game into the 2013-14 season, Providence College called. A year and a half later the moment came when he was able to call his parents and tell them the news he had waited years to tell them: he had signed a Division I scholarship to play for Mercyhurst.
He moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, and then his mind focused to the next big moment in his young goaltending career, signing a pro contract.
It didn't take long.
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He played 17 games in the 2015-16 college season where he registered a 2.85 gaa and a .919 save percentage, and the Capitals decided to take a chance on the freshman.
It was Easter Sunday when he signed his deal. He was with a friend's family in Ontario, and although he had dreamed of signing the contract with his parents by his side, skyping with them after the moment was just fine with him.
"There were tears rolling down our faces," he said with a smile.
Since signing the contract he hasn't tasted life in the NHL. He spent time with the AHL's Hershey Bears and ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays for the rest of the 2015-16 season. The next season he played for South Carolina before spending time with the ECHL's Indy Fuel and Kansas City Mavericks to end the season.
In the offseason he made the move to come to Rapid City, where his fight continues. The next moment he visualizes in his career is a call-up to the AHL, but there was a hitch in the plan to start the season.
An upper-body injury sidelined him for training camp and the first five games of this season. He finally got his chance Saturday, relieving Michael Bitzer in the first period in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Allen Americans.
Sunday, he started and was dominant. Shutting out the Americans with 40 saves as the Rush won 2-0.
"One thing with Adam is he is a competitor. He works hard in practice, he wants to be the number one guy, he relishes that role," Rush coach Daniel Tetrault said following Sunday's win. "You could tell he was really focused today and he made some unbelievable saves. He’s quick and focused."
While it was frustrating to sit and watch the first part of the season, Carlson has seen that kind of frustration before. He's chosen to take a different approach when his career appears to throw him a curve-ball.
"The one thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that you have to stick with the moments you’re given," Carlson said. "You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low, you have to play with the cards you’re dealt. You can’t sit there and cry of sulk about it because when the next opportunity comes, you’re not going to be ready to go."
As far as that time he almost quit in high school, he said throughout the struggles of climbing into the professional ranks, the camaraderie with his teammates is proof enough that he made the right decision.
"There’s guys that play this game just because of that, because you don’t find it anywhere else. You can’t compare that with anything," he said. "If you go in the business world, you’ll have your teams but everyone is on different wavelengths. You come into a hockey locker room, we’re all here doing the same thing every single day, going through the grind together, having fun. You can’t get that anywhere else."
Rapid City is next in action Thursday on the road against the Tulsa Oilers.