January 31, 2012

Tyler Who? Everybody Knows Carlson Now

Undrafted goalie makes most of chance in first start

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Undrafted in 2010, Tyler Carlson was invited to Swarm camp in 2011 and made the team, but started the season as the No. 3 goaltender. Saturday, he got the chance to start Minnesota's home opener against Buffalo and earned the win.
© Tae Photography

Tyler Carlson wasn't selected by any National Lacrosse League team when he was eligible for the 2010 entry draft and the amateur club he played for in Canada last summer went 3-17.

So, Minnesota Swarm fans were asking an obvious question when he took his position in the crease for the home opener in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center as the starting goaltender last Saturday night.

''Who is this guy?''

Well, let's go back 15 years.

Carlson grew up in the lacrosse hotbed of Brampton, a bustling city just northwest of Toronto, and one day he pulled on the pads and took a turn in goal with his youth team. He was eight years old.

''We needed a goalie so I jumped in there,'' he recalls.

Then came what still ranks as his most embarrassing moment: he broke an arm tossing around a Frisbee.

His dad made a foam cover for the cast and he kept stopping shots.

''I played with a broken arm,'' he says. ''I stuck with it.''

As Carlson advanced through the ranks, he'd go watch the local senior amateur club's games. Bob Watson of the NLL's Toronto Rock kept himself in top shape during summers stopping shots for the Brampton Excelsiors and Carlson watched closely.

''When I started playing goal, he was one of the guys I looked up to and I tried to fashion my style after him. Who better to look up to than Bob Watson?'' Carlson says.

Nobody. Watson helped the Rock win six NLL championships before retiring last spring, and he was automatically inducted in the NLL Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Carlson advanced through the junior ranks and, while still in his teens, he was called up by the Excelsiors as their third goalie for their national championship series for the Mann Cup. He was behind Anthony Cosmo, the goalie who declined to join the Swarm after they picked him in a dispersal draft last year, and Brandon Miller, who now tends goal for the Philadelphia Wings. He was a bystander but he got a ring, which remains his most prized possession.

But every NLL team gave him a pass at the 2010 draft.

That could have been the end of the Carlson lacrosse story. But wait.

Carlson was playing for that 3-17 side in Ajax to the east of Toronto -- Swarm rookie Jordan MacIntosh was a teammate -- when he got a visit after a game one night last year from Swarm executive John Arlotta and assistant coach-associate general manager Joe Sullivan. They wanted to let him know they were interested in him coming to their NLL training camp.

''At the end of the summer, they made it happen and I signed,'' Carlson says.

In Minnesota's opening game Jan. 14, veteran Nick Patterson started in the Swarm nets in Denver with first-round 2011 draft pick Evan Kirk dressed as the backup. Carlson was No. 3 on the depth chart and not in the lineup. The Colorado Mammoth won 20-14. The Swarm outshot them 55-50.

Last Friday night, the coaches informed Carlson of a bold decision they'd made: Carlson would start the home opener Saturday against the Buffalo Bandits. Kirk would be the backup.

''I worked super hard during camp and I guess the coaches noticed,'' Carlson says. ''They told me they had noticed everything I was doing and I guess they wanted to give me a shot.''

He stood in the crease looking around before the opening faceoff.

''It was surreal," he says. "It was a dream come true, one of those things you wish for as a kid -- to be standing there in front of all those people knowing you're playing what you believe to be the best game in the world against the best players in the world.

''I worked super hard during camp and I guess the coaches noticed."

-- Tyler Carlson on getting the chance to start Saturday against Buffalo

''What a sense of fulfillment. It was just amazing.''

His teammates helped the nervous rookie out immensely by taking a quick lead and pulling away to win by a lopsided 19-11 score.

''After I got that first save in, the butterflies went away and I settled in.''

Buffalo had a 50-48 edge in shots on goal.

Carlson not only blocked the best shots Bandits shooters had to offer, he assisted on five Swarm goals.

''Moving the ball is a big part of my game,'' he says. ''Getting that ball up the floor helps set up transition goals and our team is counting on four or five transition goals a game.''

He's hoping to get the start against the Knighthawks in Rochester, N.Y., this Saturday with a team he says has been underrated and will shock some of the pre-season prognosticators who had them getting trounced all winter.

''It's been amazing,'' he says of his overall Swarm experience so far. ''The veteran guys have been amazing to us rookies in showing us the ropes and how to be a professional and how to deal with the big-time situations that come with being a professional athlete.''

So now we all know who Tyler Carlson is.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.


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