Welcome to NLL.com’s weekly feature, Where Are They Now? Every week we will be catching up with former NLL players to hear what they are up to. If you want to hear from any former players, send us a tweet @NLL.
This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Nick Carlson, 38, who played with the New York Saints in 2002-2003, and the Colorado Mammoth from 2003-2012, and again with the Mammoth during the second half of the 2013-2014 season.
Carlson was drafted fifth overall in the 2002 NLL Draft by the New York Saints, and was on the 2006 Colorado Mammoth team that won the NLL Cup.
Carlson was born and grew up in Nanaimo, British Columbia and now lives in Evergreen, Colorado.
NLL.com: What are you up to these days?
Carlson: I’m living in Evergreen, Colorado, which is about 30 minutes west of Denver. I’m married and I have two kids of my own and a stepdaughter, Riley, who is 11.
My other daughter who is about to turn five is named Aspen and I have a son, Harlan, who just turned three. I’ve been busy raising the family with my wife, Bresee.
I’ve been working for a company called MedTronic, a Medical Technology company, and I’m in charge of their spine robotics navigation division in one of their territories here in Colorado.
NLL.com: What does that job entail?
Carlson: I’m responsible for selling all the spinal implants for adult and pediatric spine issues. One of my hospitals is the Children’s Hospital of Colorado where I work 90% of the time. We operate on all the kids out there who have Scoliosis. We provide equipment for the surgeons to help their patients.
If someone breaks their neck or is in a serious injury, we provide the implants to help stabilize the spine. I’m in the operating room every single day as well as helping support the staff with our equipment.
NLL.com: How did you get involved with Medical Sales?
Carlson: After the 2006 season, the year we won the NLL Cup, I got to know our team physician (Dr. Phil Stull). I knew that lacrosse wasn’t going to pay all the bills and I realized I would have to start doing something else soon.
He knew a couple of these companies and I got the job through him. At first I was working a very basic form of the job, and over time the job was getting more and more demanding. Lacrosse was extremely important to me but it was a perfect segway into not being able to play anymore.
NLL.com: How are you still involved in lacrosse?
Carlson: Interestingly enough, the last two years I’ve been helping my college roommate who also played lacrosse for Calgary and San Jose (Travis Gillespie). I’ve been helping him coach the Chinese Taipei team. I helped coach in the world games in Israel last year as an assistant.
I’m going to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong lacrosse open to coach the team over Easter weekend. It’s been really fun. It’s been difficult to stay involved but it was my passion and it was everything I ever cared about growing up. I didn’t want to just say, “See you later lacrosse.”
Locally, I help out as much as I can with Matt Brown and his whole Denver Elite Box Lacrosse Program. I try to get out to some of those games and practices and help them coach. They want me to do it more, but it’s tough with juggling family.
I still bring the kids and family down to Mammoth games all the time. We are probably at five games per year.
NLL.com: What is your most fond memory of playing in the NLL?
Carlson: It’s cliche and probably what everyone has said, but it’s winning the NLL Cup in 2006.
(2006 Mammoth head coach Gary) Gait was my idol growing up. I watched him play when I was younger, and me and my friends thought he was the best thing ever. He was one of the reasons I signed with Colorado. He was still playing and he said to me, ‘You could play with me for a few seasons’ and I said Yeah I’d like to do that (laughs). He ended up coaching us in 2006. That’s the best memory. The championship was icing on the cake, but that whole season was just amazing. We had such a great run at the end of the year and I remember Steve Govett was a great GM to play for. It was a magical year.
NLL.com: Do you still keep in touch with any of your teammates and if so, which one (s)?
Carlson: The main one is Tom Effington. We started playing for the Mammoth the same year and we stopped at the same time. He lives in Denver and he was a DU kid. He’s one of my best friends.
I talk to Jamie Hanford a lot, as well as Gavin Prout and Jay Jalbert. Those are the main guys I stay in touch with. Scott Stapleford as well.
NLL.com: What was the hardest part about retiring and hanging up the cleats?
Carlson: It just took a little shot of your pride out. You go, ‘I guess I’m too old.’ I follow the NHL and NFL and I looked at it so differently when I was younger. I thought you could play forever unless you were hurt. But you get to that point of losing a step. You’re a split second slower and then there’s a nagging injury that bothers you more than you used to. You’re more sore after games.
Lacrosse is one of those things that I did my whole life. I played since I was five. It was everything I ever wanted to do as a kid and it comes to an end real quick. It’s a slap in the face.
It was super hard the first week after retiring, but at the time I had a long term girlfriend who I wanted to be my wife one day and you start looking around and you realize that life is not all about lacrosse and that there’s a lot more to this world than the game.
When you’re playing, that’s all that it is. Eat, breathe, sleep lacrosse and that’s all that’s on your mind.
NLL.com: You won the NLL championship with the Mammoth in 2006. Can you describe how tough it is, and what it takes to get through three rounds of the playoffs on your way to the championship?
Carlson: It’s a grind. It’s mentally and physically challenging. Especaily in the NLL where your team isn’t together the whole week. It’s how do you stay a close team and remain tight over those five or six days when you’re not playing so that when you come back to practice, you’re firing on all cylinders. And then of course you have to go out and perform.
In 2006, the one thing Gary and the coaching staff did was basically, we all bought in to the system and it was this is your role, don’t try and do more than that. We focused on that all season.
It’s a lot of being mentally tough and saying Okay, I gotta get through the week, eat right, sleep right and be hydrated so that when we show up for practice we’re ready to go and Saturday night is go time. It was do or die. There were no series back then.
NLL.com: What do you think the biggest difference is with today’s lacrosse game compared to when you played?
Carlson: I think there is more talent. Or the volume of talent is more. There are always the super talented lacrosse players, but now when I watch games I see there are more kids playing at a younger level and the interest in getting to the pro level is there and the competition is better which is why I think the league is expanding. Philadelphia, San Diego, New York….
When I played, an expansion team would win maybe two games, but there weren’t as many good players to make up a whole team. Now, every team is competitive every single night.
On other side of it, the younger kids – the 21 year olds coming out college – they are all bigger, stronger, faster, and more conditioned. You don’t really find the 5’9 guy anymore. They are all 6’2 or bigger.
NLL.com: Who was the toughest player you ever went up against?
Carlson: I played a transition/defense role mainly. The guy I always had a super tough time with is probably Dan Dawson. I was a lefty D guy so I’d match up with him sometimes and I’d be like ugh, here we go. He was tall, lanky and smart – which is probably why he’s still playing. That’s one that comes to mind. I think there could be a really long list there. Tracey Kelusky and Kleb Toth, both with Calgary, were tough to handle too as well.
NLL.com: Favorite sport and team to follow besides lacrosse?
Carlson: It’s hard living in the United States and not follow the NFL. It’s impossible. I was a huge hockey fan growing up but with the exposure of football it’s hard not to follow. You could say the Broncos but I also like the Patriots. I like the dynasty programs, Tom Brady of course. I love watching those guys at their highest level and watching how the hall of famers approach the game on a Sunday.
It was great watching Peyton Manning every week a couple of years ago in Denver and watching what he does differently to prepare for his game.