By Zachary Cormier
It has been a long off season for Robin Carlson.
Last year’s Heritage Junior B Hockey League scoring champion has been sidelined since early August with Post-Concussion Syndrome, as well as a few other problems.
“It’s nice to get back with the guys again. We’ve got a lot of key injuries and we’ve been battling that throughout the year. It’s not just me that’s been hurt. But it’s been an okay start,” the 21-year-old Blackfalds Wranglers forward said.
Last season, Carlson led the league in every offensive category, putting up 43 goals and 49 assists for 92 points in 36 games.
“It’s my last year, right, so I’d love to be playing it and I’d love to be there with all the guys and try to contribute and try and have the success I did last year,” Carlson said, adding that his focus hasn’t been on individual stats since his return.
“I mean, personally, yeah that was good. But as a team I really wanted to push for that league championship and then go for the provincial title in Red Deer. I would love to knock off Red Deer,” he laughed.
But between his injuries and his classes at U of A, it’s been tough for him to be able to make it to games.
“I do my best (to make it) but it depends on what I have for school the next day or the tests that I have coming up,” he said.
His distance from the team has also made going to practice difficult, which in turn has made the road to recovery that much tougher for the third-year centreman.
“The biggest thing has been getting back up into the game speed and taking hits. I haven’t been practicing too much either, which doesn’t help, but definitely re-adjusting to the speed of the game,” he said when asked what the biggest challenge he’s faced in his return.
An Edmonton native, Carlson grew up playing hockey in Sylvan Lake, playing for the Lakers until his second year of Bantam, when he made the Red Deer Rebels Black Bantam AAA team.
Carlson played two seasons of hockey in Red Deer including a season of Minor Midget AAA before moving back to Sylvan for his final two years of minor hockey, during which he played Midget AA for the Sylvan Lake Lakers.
“Coming out of Midget, I had a few Junior A teams talking to me and I ended up going to Lloydminster and made the team,” he remembered.
Carlson spent a year with the Lloydminster Bobcats of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, during which he scored four goals and added three assists for a total of nine points in 41 games.
That off season, the then 19-year-old was traded to the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He played just 11 games with them, but said he found that he wasn’t enjoying it much. Eventually he decided to move back to Red Deer and start focusing on his schooling.
That experience in Junior A, he said, factored into his decision not to pursue a professional hockey career, though a career in the NHL was one of his goals when he was younger.
“I went to the Moose Jaw Warrior camp when I was 15, and I enjoyed that, I had a good camp,” he said.
As he continued to play, though, Carlson said he was leaning more towards heading down to the States to play NCAA hockey.
“My goal was to play Junior A and after that was done to, hopefully, go down south on a Div. 1 scholarship or something like that,” he said, adding that eventually the idea of playing hockey every single day started to wear thin.
“As I was playing every day in that kind of hockey with the Junior A lifestyle, I just wasn’t overly a big fan of it. After awhile I just kind of got hockeyed-out and I wanted to come back and just go to school and be around my friends.”
Carlson enrolled at Red Deer College with the goal of eventually becoming a teacher.
He still wanted to play hockey, though, so he decided to join the Blackfalds Wranglers, whom he had played with as an affiliate during his Midget years.
“I had a bunch of friends playing for that team and I knew guys there, so I figured when I came back for school I’d go play there,” he said.
Carlson joined the team halfway through the 2013-14 season and immediately made an impact.
In just 24 games he put up 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points. He made his presence felt in the playoffs, too, as he scored 18 points to help the Wranglers to the League final, where they lost in five games to the Okotoks Bisons.
Last season was Carlson’s first full one as a Wrangler, and it turned out to be the most productive of his career. The line he formed with Wally Samson and Garrett Glasman was one of the most dynamic in the entire league.
This year, with Glasman out with a broken leg since early September, Carlson has been playing with Samson and current team leader Bryce Boguski for the few games Carlson has made it to.
“It’s awesome. Wally does all the dirty work, it seems, and Bryce can shoot the puck. I mean, I’ve just gotta get it to them and crash the net,” he laughed.
In the five games since his return, Carlson has put up some pretty good numbers. He’s got six assists and a pair of goals for eight points to make him one of just four point-per-game players on the Wranglers’ roster.
And while only time will tell if he will produce like he did in 2014-15, the 21-year-old has definitely been a welcome addition to a roster that has been plagued by injuries all season long.