Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alt-Ctrl-Delete 4/9

Newly signed defenseman Mark Alt participated in his first professional hockey practice Tuesday morning, when he joined the Adirondack Phantoms on the ice at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

But it was hardly his first time around a professional locker room.

Alt is the son of former National Football League offensive tackle John Alt, a two-time Pro Bowl nominee who played his entire 13-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs. The younger Alt had a life many could only dream about, growing up around the Chiefs training facility and meeting players like Derrick Thomas. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana once stayed at his house.

The coolness of that last sentence did not really hit Alt until several years after his father retired, and the family moved to Minnesota, where his father lived before beginning his football career.

“You don’t really notice until you get into middle school,” Alt said Tuesday. “People start saying ‘Oh, your dad played in the NFL?’ ‘Yeah.’ You realize how cool it is the older you get. For me, it’s even cooler now.”

Apart from the stories the younger Alt can share about meeting famous football players and visiting his father at work – and there are literally hundreds of them – there are some practical reasons why the defenseman is fortunate his father had a lengthy career as a professional athlete.

That is exactly what the younger Alt is trying to do, and he has never had to go very far for advice.

“I was young when he was playing, but as I’ve gotten older it’s what I’ve taken from him,” Alt said. “Being a professional athlete, going through my career and from him, I’ve just gained the knowledge of preparation, what I have to do to get ready for games, for practices, off-season and he’s been a big help with that sort of thing. I’ve taken a lot from him in that aspect.”

Most of the advice he got, however, was catered toward him pursing a career on the gridiron.

His father is an offensive line coach at Cretin-Derham Hall, and Alt in 2009 quarterbacked that school to a state championship while taking home Minnesota’s football player of the year honors.

A few months later, however, the defenseman was named a finalist for the state’s Mr. Hockey award, which is presented annually to the top senior high school hockey player in Minnesota.

Suddenly, Alt had a decision to make. He had very good prospects of going pro in either sport.

“My dad kind of bred me to be a football player,” Alt said. “That was kind of the plan. I had offers going through high school, and when it came down to it, it was hockey or football. My senior year, I got drafted (into the NHL). I had scholarship offers for football. I chose hockey. I’m glad I did.”

His father, however, was not exactly thrilled.

“We had probably 100 in the course of a couple months, trying to figure out what I was going to do,” the younger Alt said. “He was an unhappy man for a while, which I understand, but the more I’ve progressed and moved on in my career of hockey, he’s understood and become a big fan.”

Alt signed his first professional contract with the Philadelphia Flyers late last week, and inked an amateur try-out with the Phantoms Tuesday. He will spend the last two weeks of this season with Adirondack, and is a candidate to return to the Phantoms’ blue line for the 2013-14 campaign.

By signing those contracts, he opted to forgo his senior season at the University of Minnesota.

“I felt that the time was right for me to take the next step, move on to a smaller sheet,” Alt said. “Obviously, we’re used to playing on a big rink (at Minnesota). Playing a lot more games, whereas college it’s two a weekend. You’re only playing 40 games. It’s time to step up for me.”

A few months ago, however, Alt was not even discussing joining the Flyers’ organization.

That is because he was actually a member of the Carolina organization, having been drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft. The Flyers acquired him and Phantoms goalie Brian Boucher in the trade that sent former Phantom Luke Pither to Carolina in January.

Alt said talks to sign with Philadelphia really intensified in the past week, after Yale eliminated his Golden Gophers nine seconds into overtime in a regional semifinal of the NCAA tournament.

Alt did not accomplish everything he wanted to at Minnesota, but still felt the time was right for him to turn pro. He wanted win a national title and put up more points from the blue line than the 39 he scored in 117 collegiate games, but said his game is really more of the stay-at-home variety.

“I’m more of a defensive defenseman,” Alt said. “That’s where I feel comfortable, but when I do get confident, I can be productive too.”

Alt struggled with his confidence this season, and scored just seven assists in 39 games after producing 5-17-22 in 43 games a year ago. But Nate Schmidt, who recently signed with the Washington Capitals, Ben Marshall, a Red Wings draft pick, and freshman Mike Reilly, a Blue Jackets prospect, stepped up and handled the point-producing roles, while the 6-foot-3 Alt was used in more of a defensive capacity. His plus-18 rating was second on the Golden Gophers.

“He’s got excellent mobility,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “Really good feet. As we go through the practices over the next couple of days, (we will) get a better opinion of him. But I think that his college career was good, and now he’s looking forward to becoming a good pro.”

Alt is not the only one excited about that prospect.

His father, as apprehensive as he may have been three years ago, is now about as thrilled as Alt is.

“I always felt that I had more potential, and that’s kind of where my heart was when I was younger,”  said the younger Alt, who got his start in hockey when a neighbor brought some sticks by his driveway. “When I played football, I loved it, but deep down I knew that hockey was what I was going to do.”

Until next time,


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