WASHINGTON -- John Carlson has earned a reputation on the ice for making critical plays in important moments, whether it's scoring the gold medal-winning goal at the World Junior Championship or helping the Washington Capitals reach overtime when they were just seconds from defeat in only his second career NHL postseason game.
So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Carlson played a role in the winning goal of the Celebrity Soccer Challenge on Sunday at Kastles Stadium -- even if he hasn't played organized soccer since he was a kid.
Carlson set up former U.S. National Team stalwart John Harkes for an extra-time golden goal to help Mia Hamm's team defeat husband Nomar Garciaparra's squad 13-12 in front of a capacity crowd.
"It was awesome. It was a fun event and it got pretty competitive. I also don't think I did too bad out there," Carlson said. "I haven't played a whole lot of soccer in my life, but I'm just excited to be here to have some fun, and obviously it is for a great cause. To support it, I'll do anything."
The event, in its fourth year, is organized to help support Hamm's foundation and the Children's National Medical Center. Hamm's foundation focuses on helping families with someone who needs a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant.
Hamm's older brother, Garrett, died of a bone marrow disease in 1997. There was a "Be The Match" station at the stadium, which gets volunteers into the bone marrow registry. There were also a few families honored at halftime of the event who have members who either gave or received life-saving bone marrow transplants.
"It left me speechless," Carlson said of the ceremony. "I didn't know what to do, or whether to look around and see what everyone was doing. It was mind-blowing. For this cause, and for how courageous these people are, those are the true heroes."
The match featured athletes like NBA players Kobe Bryant and Jeff Green, former Washington Redskins star Charles Mann and current player DeAngelo Hall, FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola and several members of the U.S. Women's National Team that recently competed in the Women's World Cup.
Carlson acquitted himself pretty well, nearly scoring on a long-range shot and later putting a header on net that was saved by Mann before setting up Harkes with a pass reminiscent of a D-to-D pass for a one-timer on the power play.
"I had one good chance that I just missed," Carlson said. "I was like, 'Whoa, did I actually just do that?' I was just feeding off my teammates. We had the better team. I think they stacked it up because they knew how bad I was going to be."
Carlson said he has already begun training for the upcoming NHL season, and he recently started incorporating on-ice workouts as well. He will be looking to build on a solid rookie campaign in 2011-12.
Carlson teamed with Karl Alzner last season to make up Washington's most consistent defense pairing. Both are likely to receive some extra mentoring from veteran Roman Hamrlik, who was one of several intriguing acquisitions by the Capitals this summer.
After four consecutive seasons of making the playoffs but with only two series victories to show for it, there will be plenty of pressure on the Capitals to shake their reputation as playoff failures in 2011-12. General Manager George McPhee has earned plenty of plaudits for reshaping the roster after another early postseason exit.
"It is definitely going to be a different team and a different look," Carlson said. "It is very exciting. All those players are great players. I'm really looking forward to playing with them rather than against them. It will be a fun and interesting change for us, and I think it is for the better.
It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.
— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process