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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Exceeding Expectations, Carlsson on Top of His Game

Author: David Lindholm

As the netminder for the Panther hockey program, Christian Carlsson '02 has owned opposing offenses for the past two seasons. By posting the best goals-against average (GAA) in college hockey during his junior year, he attracted attention and recognition for both himself and the Panthers' stingy defense. And in this, his senior year, the six-foot, four-inch Carlsson is continuing his dominance, and surpassing expectations set after last year's breakthrough season.

However, Carlsson's prominence has come from rather humble beginnings. A soccer player growing up in his native Sweden, Carlsson got a late start on hockey and continued with both sports before deciding to fully committ to hockey at age fifteen. And though he came to Middlebury his freshman year, the last of Middlebury's five-year National Championship winning streak, he did not see significant playing time in either his first-year or sophomore seasons. It has been an interesting road for Carlsson.

At 10 years old, Carlsson got his first taste of hockey when he attended one of his friend's hockey practices. When the coach asked if he would like to play, Carlsson decided to give it a try.

"I became a goalie because I couldn't skate," Carlsson says. "It was the only position I could play."

After playing both hockey and soccer until age 15, Carlsson decided to dedicate himself to hockey. His love of the sport was behind the decision, and when he finished high school he knew that hockey was a passion that he needed to persue.

"I knew that I wanted to continue to play hockey and get an education. That is a hard thing to combine in Sweden, so I figured the States were a good place for hockey and an education."

Through friends of his at the University of Vermont, Carlsson was scouted by that team, whose coach ultimately recommended him to Panthers Head Coach Bill Beaney. Carlsson decided to come to Middlebury, a decision that he soon found himself regretting.

"It was a total culture shock. I was ready to leave by Christmas," says Carlsson of that first year. He was playing mostly on the junior varsity hockey team, having a hard time acclimating to the social life, academics and athletics. However, Beaney's support on the ice gave Carlsson confidence, and "at the end of freshman year I loved it. All the pieces started to fit; the language, the social life, everything."

Despite the turn for the better, Carlsson still found himself sitting behind Jon Marsh '00, waiting for a chance to prove himself. Despite Carlsson's lack of playing time, Beaney had seen enough to put his faith in him for the '00-'01 season. However, the rest of the team had not seen Carlsson in games, and as is the case with any new goalie, were not able to immediately put full confidence in him.

"I was supposed to be the goalie my junior year," Carlsson recalls. "I felt nobody trusted me," which drove him to succeed. After work hard on fitness in the offseason, he came in with a new mindset for his third season in the program. He had earned this spot, and Carlsson, confident in his abilities, was ready to prove this to his teammates.

Beaney also noticed a change in Carlsson. He had a "great summer between his sophomore and junior year," said the coach, and became an "instrumental" part of last year's team.

"I think he's playing better than even last year, and I thought he played well enough to earn All-American last year," says Beaney, who also considers his netminder to be the best overall athlete on the team. Carlsson finished the '00-'01 season with the best goals against average (GAA) of any goalie in the country, at 1.43, also earned seven shutouts with a 13-0-0 record in the Eastern College Athletic Conference.

Carlsson has picked up right where he left off, once again building walls in front of his own net, leading the nation with an incredible 1.16 GAA. Another milestone for Carlsson came in a 4-0 win over Colby on January 11, when he set Middlebury's modern day shutout record, with 12. The netminder's stellar play has been noticed by many players and coaches, and has been voted New England Small College Athletic Conference Player of the Week twice already this season.

The first Player of the Week nomination came after a 3-2 win against another highly ranked team, Plattsburgh. The win was especially sweet for Carlsson and the Panthers, who have fallen to the Cardinals in the playoffs in past years. The Panthers were outshot 31-15 but still pulled out the victory, with Carlsson outdueling fellow goalie and Swede, Niklas Sundberg.

Carlsson was again voted Player of the Week after three stellar performances, allowing only one goal in three games, against Hobart, Colby and Bowdoin. Carlsson attributes his success to the strong defense that plays in front of him. Beaney's defense and goaltender tandem has been stifling opponents in the last two years. "His GAA led the country, as did the team's, and we were the number one penalty killing team in the country. That reflects well on Christian."

The road ahead is exciting for the Panthers and their goalie, as they head into the home strech of the season. Beaney expects much from Carlsson, who he says was "instrumental in leading us to the NESCAC Championship last year." All parties are hoping for a repeat performance, and more, as the huge Swede continues to fill the net for the Panthers.