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By Chris Middlebrook, 07/08/19, 11:30AM CDT


The pattern first emerges in the 1980s. Teams in the newly formed US bandy league are filled by hockey players. These players cover the full gamut of experience. From players who never played high school hockey across the spectrum to former Division One college players, NHL draftees and former players, and even several 1980 Olympic gold medalists. All play outdoors on the flooded big ice rinks at Lewis Park in Edina, Dred Scott in Bloomington and even Roseville. They play bandy because it is new and and fast, challenging yet fun, They play because they love to skate and this they can do on the immense sheet of ice that is a bandy rink. But this is not the pattern I am referring to. Instead, it is the pattern that hockey players of very high accomplishment do not go all in to become high level bandy players. They do not, will not, put in the time and effort necessary to become as good in bandy as they were in hockey. As a result, the US bandy teams that compete overseas do not include well known former hockey players.

There are only two qualified exceptions. In the summer of 1982 a collection of US players begins training in earnest to compete in Sweden in October. A sixteen day barnstorming tour where they will skate against Swedish elite teams, traveling from town to town to do so. Among the US payers is Eric Strobel. An NCAA national champion with the University of Minnesota and an NHL draftee of the Buffalo Sabres, Strobel also skated for the gold medal 1980 US Olympic hockey team, scoring one goal and two assist in Lake Placid. His NHL career derailed by a broken ankle,  Strobel takes up bandy. In Sweden that October he shows the skating ability that made him a gold medal Olympian. Against Villa he scores two goals in the first half as the US takes an improbable 3-2 lead. After the game Villa offers him a contract. Strobel declines and after the 1982-83 US season he stops playing bandy. For the next 27 years no former hockey player with Strobel's credentials will play for the US bandy team.

In 2010, at the World Championships in Moscow, Robb Stauber makes his debut in goal for the US team. He is a former Hobey Baker winner as the best player in college hockey. He then plays goalie for the LA Kings in the NHL. One of his teammates is a player named Wayne Gretzky. Stauber's international debut in Moscow is against Sweden. Fifteen minutes into the first half he leaps to his right, blocking a Swedish shot with his right hand. He then lands on his right shoulder, tearing the muscles and ligaments. Stauber is done for the tournament. He will never play another bandy game. Instead he becomes a hockey coach where he ultimately guides the 2018 US Women's Olympic Team to the Gold Medal.  

And the pattern continues. With the exception of Strobel and Stauber no hockey players with such powerful resumes will play for the US bandy team. Until Mike Carman.

Mike Carman grows up in the Eastview hockey program. As a fifteen year old freshman he joins private school powerhouse Holy Angels. At sixteen Carman is in Michigan skating for the US National Development Team. He will spend two years there before going the University of Minnesota as an eighteen year old freshman. In 2006 he is drafted 81st overall by the Colorado Avalanche. Carman will skate for the US in four world hockey championships, beginning in 2005 with the U17 team, with the U18 team that wins the World Championships where his linemate is Patrick Kane, and then for two US teams in the world junior championships. In 2010 Carman begins a  four year pro hockey career. But he is familiar with bandy. In 2005, at the age of seventeen, Carman debuts in the US summer rink bandy league. In 2007, just before leaving for the World Junior Championships, he is looking for extra skating. Carman plays one game in the US first division.The opponent is Dynamo Washburn, a team consisting of fifteen and sixteen year olds. He scores five goals in the first half. Dynamo Washburn then decides to play physical. Carman shows great character and restraint by refusing to respond in kind. This is the last big ice bandy game he will play for the next seven years.

On September 29, 2014, at age 26, Mike Carman ends his professional hockey career. He has continued to play rink bandy each summer since 2005 and in November 2014 he steps onto the big ice again, skating for the Mojo in the US Elite League. Carman also does something that no US hockey player of his caliber has previously done. He goes all in. To become a good bandy player. To become a great bandy player. He begins training with the US National Team. Come March of 2015 he is skating for the US in the World Championships in Khabarovsk, Russia. It is a humbling experience as Carman makes the transition from high level hockey to becoming a bandy player. At first he feels lost on the big ice. But as his training intensifies he begins to figure it out. By 2016 and the World Championships in Ulyanovsk, Russia he has crossed the threshold. Carman becomes a favorite of the Russian fans as he moves like an incredibly quick and agile bull over the giant ice surface. Come 2018 and Carman is now the Captain of the US team. A leader both on and off the ice. The US plays Norway for 5th place in the World Championships, a team they have never beaten. Carman scores the first goal, makes a perfect pass to assist on the second and then scores the game winner as the US achieves an historic victory, 3-2.

Beating Norway is as exciting and fulfilling an accomplishment for Carman as winning the World U18 hockey title. He leads the US celebration in the locker room and deep into the night. He is asked if there are any other experiences that compare to these two accomplishments. Carman thinks for a moment and answers yes. In 2016 the US bandy team has played Russia in the World Championships. The game is at an outdoor arena in the city of Dmitrovgrad. Eight thousand Russian fans surround the rink. The US plays Russia even in the second half, an extraordinary demonstration of teamwork, determination and intensity. After the game thousands of Russians engulf the US team in friendship and shared humanity. "That was something special. Something unique" Carman reveals. But then, so is Mike Carman.