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Catching up with… Karl Alzner

The veteran defenseman reflects on his first season in Montreal, the learning curve that comes with joining a new team and his expectations for the 2018-19 campaign

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - By his own admission, the 2017-18 season didn't go the way newcomer Karl Alzner hoped it would. But the 29-year-old rearguard has high expectations for himself and the Canadiens come October.

We recently caught up with the Burnaby, BC native, who is back in his home province for the summer, to find out what he learned during his first season in Montreal and how he's been preparing for Year 2 with the Habs.

How has the offseason treated you, Karl?

KARL ALZNER: It's been busy. It was our first summer living in Kelowna. We had a rental booked here for the summer, but we couldn't get it until June. We knew we had some time before we could move out here, so we actually went on a family trip to Europe and just toured around. We were there for about a month. We went to England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, and Portugal. We'd always talked about wanting to go over there. My wife, Mandy, follows this family on Instagram called @thebucketlistfamily. I think they inspired her a little bit. We just decided to go for it. We didn't really have a blueprint for it, so we just pieced it all together as we went and hopped from place to place.

What were some of your favorite stops on the trip?

KA: London was phenomenal. I thought it was great because you get a good mix of everything. You get the history, there are really nice areas and really cool trendy areas. It seemed to us like they were pretty far ahead of the curve when it comes to the food game in terms of having different kinds of options, like healthier options for us and the kids. We really loved it. I also loved Edinburgh, Scotland. I thought it was just crazy cool. We had good weather while we were there. It was a blast. I think that's where we'd like to go back, just Mandy and I. 

How did you manage to get your workouts in while seeing the sights overseas?

KA: I can do my workouts from anywhere. It's pretty sweet having that flexibility. I was still doing my program four to five days per week while we were away. Plus, it's crazy how much walking you do over there. We got those Fitbits so we could track what we were doing. I think they came programmed to try and get 10,000 steps in per day, and we were easily passing that every single day of our trip. We were very active over there. I don't know how I did it, but I ended up losing a couple of pounds on that vacation. I was pretty happy with myself. (Laughs)

Did you follow the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup run while you were out of town? And what did you think of your buddy Alex Ovechkin's Cup celebrations?

KA: I wasn't watching the games, but I was checking the scores and seeing how things were going. If you can have a year where you can see a whole group of your really good friends realize a dream that they've been trying to reach for so many years, it's cool. You have to be happy for them. I did get to watch the final game and the celebration and follow along on social media with what they were doing after winning. You go through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster of another year not winning yourself, so you get mixed emotions. The bottom line, though, is that I pretty much know everyone on that team, even the new guys. When you get to see them win, it's so darn cool. With Ovi, I wasn't surprised at all. (laughs) You kind of knew that was going to happen. I could just feel the release of the monkey off his back, just finally being able to let go and have fun. 

Why did you choose to make Kelowna home this summer?

KA: We figured it would be a good fit because it's half way between my family and Mandy's family. Shea [Weber] and Carey [Price] are both in the area, too. We figured it would kind of be a good fit for us to have them to hang out with and have the kids kind of grow up together. There are tons of other hockey players in the area as well, so we have good skates. We'd talked about staying out here for a while and finally decided to pull the trigger.

Video: Karl Alzner works on balance drills

What are you looking forward to most about the 2018-19 season?

KA: I'm looking forward to having a year under my belt there and feeling more comfortable to voice my opinions and really help out a little more. In your first year somewhere - for me and for other guys on teams I've been on - you kind of just sit back and let things happen and kind of go with the flow. But once you feel a little bit more comfortable, you can kind of try to help out a little bit more. I'm excited to have that. It's another kick at the can. Last year was so disappointing. I just want to get back out there, try to do something different and have a different result. It's not fun ending as early as we did and in the way we did. I'm happy to just try and start fresh.

You spent nine seasons in Washington before moving on to Montreal. Was it tough adapting to a new environment?

KA: Everybody always reverts back to their comfort zone when things are either not going well or are new to you. There were definitely some growing pains. It wasn't a very fun year of hockey. We just have to really, really remember the feeling and try our best to never have that again. It wasn't the way I would have liked to have started my time with Montreal, but you can't go back now. You just kind of deal with it. We have good players there. If we tweak a few things with the way we play, I think we should be good.

You mentioned that you were disappointed with the way you began your tenure with the Canadiens last season. Can trying to prove yourself to people, maybe - especially in your first year with a new team - affect performance, too?

KA: I'm not going out there to prove anybody wrong or to be like, "Hey everybody, look at me! This is what I do." I've made my entire career off of kind of staying under the radar and just doing what's been asked of me. I remember when I got to training camp and people were asking me how I was supposed to fill Andrei Markov's shoes. I was just like, "You don't know my game if you think I'm going to fill Andrei Markov's shoes. We're just completely different players." People maybe had some expectations for me that were a little bit unrealistic. I know what I can bring to this team when I'm playing well. I just need to stay under the radar and do the right things, do the little things right. That's success for me. 

Video: The CHat feat. Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner

Where are you hoping to make the biggest difference for the Canadiens come October?

KA: If I'm put in the same situations as last year, I know that I need to try to help the team be better on the penalty kill. I'll do my best to be a guy that can help sort things out and settle that down. In a lot of games that we ended up losing that were tight, the difference was special teams. Our power play was pretty decent. We had some pretty good runs, but we didn't have many good runs on the penalty kill. If we can change that around - and I pride myself on being a good penalty killer - then I think that will be a big difference. Obviously, I have high expectations, so I've got to make sure I reach those. But the top thing for me is to help with that penalty kill. I think that will make a big difference with how we feel on the ice.

Was there anything that surprised you about Montreal last season?

KA: I want to see the city and I want to see the reaction from everybody when we're playing well. That's something I'm really, really interested in seeing. I know it's there and I've heard it's there. I'm curious about that. There's clearly a desire to win. Everything's so darn competitive now and it's pretty tough to do that, but there's definitely a real drive to be successful in the city. The way everything else was, I was expecting that.

You sound excited to experience the electricity that comes with winning in Montreal.

KA: I think that's one of the main drives on the team. Maybe people don't always see it from our point of view as well that when we don't win games, it's not just fans and coaches and management that we're letting down, it's ourselves, too. We have to go home and think about it all night. I don't think people always understand the human factor that goes into it. We want to win so we not only have a successful year, but we have a fun year so we can enjoy our time at the rink, away from the rink, and with our families. When you don't win, you're grumpy, you don't have as much fun, and you're not as much fun to be around. I know the motivating factors are many and seeing the city buzz is just one of them.

That being said, what would your message to the fans be with the start of a new season on the horizon?

KA: It would be kind of the same way we're looking at it. Just come fresh. Don't let anything linger from last year and keep the faith. We need the fanbase to really be there for us and help out. The support from them and the cheering goes a lot further than I think people realize. Come in with a fresh point of view and be behind us and stay behind us. That'll help us be more successful this year. That's what I'm hoping for.

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