There are Sharpie scribbles on Carsen Musser's blade.
Compared to his 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame, the letters are almost missable.
What do those neatly printed words say?
Don't let success get to your head, (and) don't let failure get to your heart.
"My mom actually sent me that quote," Musser said in a recent phone conversation.
"It was a long time ago, probably in Squirts or Peewees, and I think I had a game where I was a bit frustrated with myself and the team," Musser continued. "A couple days later, she sent me a text with that quote in it, and it just stuck with me ever since. I've always, from that point on, I've written it on my stick."
Play hard, win big.
"My dad also, growing up, he always wrote on my stick," Musser explained. "Those two things for my parents have been big for me, and I've written (them) on my stick to give myself reminders to stay calm and don't let yourself get too high, but don't let yourself get too low and just keep an even keel."
Those reminders have helped Musser go from a goaltending curiosity living 20 miles from the Iowa border to one of the best goaltenders in North America and a legitimate National Hockey League prospect.
Carsen Musser during his youth days in southern Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Carsen Musser.
Musser hails from Sherburn, Minnesota, a town that counts just over 1,000 individuals as residents.
"There's just one street downtown with maybe one restaurant. There's a movie theater. There's a nursing home, couple gas stations, but otherwise, it's very small," Musser said, describing Sherburn.
Despite growing up in a town with a single stoplight, Musser doesn't consider himself "country."
Barely old enough to buy a lottery ticket, Musser has already seen too much of the world to be put in a box like that.
"I'm more of a city guy now, but I like country things," Musser said with a chuckle. "My grandparents lived in the country, and I grew up around some of that, but I wouldn't consider myself fully country."
Thanks to his talent in the crease, Musser's travels have taken him from southern Minnesota, to the Motor City, to playing on the International stage in just a few short years.
After posting a 5-16 record with a .901 save percentage as the starting goaltender for Fairmont High School during the 2019-2020 season, he packed his pads and moved to Detroit in time for his 15U campaign and toured the country with the Victory Honda AAA program.
"(Leaving) was definitely a challenge for me. Probably the biggest adversity I've ever faced in my life, just moving away from my parents and my friends and everything I've had back home," Musser said. "It was definitely tough, but I look at it as it's the best thing I've ever done."
The move to Victory Honda provided Musser with more games in a season and a chance to attend Total Package Hockey Academy's Detroit location, where academics and athletics are woven into the daily schedule.
"I feel like it helped me a lot and helped me get on the ice more too, and like I said, see the puck more and play more games," Musser said. "Being in that environment each and every day, working with Jeff Lerg, my goalie coach at TPH, really helped me."
In his lone season playing Minnesota high school hockey for Fairmont, Musser faced 1,046 shots in 21 games. Photo courtesy of Carsen Musser.
From Victory Honda, Musser was selected as one of three goaltenders in the country to suit up for the National Team Development Program's Under-17 team in nearby Plymouth, Michigan. Fellow 2005-born Minnesota products Oliver Moore, Austin Burnevik, Beckett Hendrickson, and Gracyn Sawchyn joined Musser on that season's NTDP team.
Musser recorded eight wins in his first season with the program, totaling nearly 1,100 minutes played while rotating evenly with Michael Chambre and Trey Augustine. This past season, he nearly doubled his win total with the Under-18s, winning 14 times while appearing in 29 games.
To crown his career with the NTDP, Musser helped Team USA to a goal medal at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship in Basel and Porrentruy, Switzerland. With the medal hanging around his neck and posing for a championship photo on European ice, Musser had come a long way from from Sherburn.
According to NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, Musser's battery mate at the NTDP, Trey Augustine, was ranked No. 4 among North American goaltenders. Musser's final ranking was No. 8.
"He's like my brother, and I want what's best for him, and he wants what's best for me," Musser said about his relationship with Augustine. "It was always a challenge whenever you go up against him, but that's what makes you better, going against the best."
Last season, Musser won exhibition contests against the likes of Division I programs Notre Dame and Michigan Tech, and stopped 29 of 32 shots in a 3-2 loss to national runner-up Minnesota. While those games don't factor into the college teams' records and are virtually meaningless to fans of the Fighting Irish, Huskies, and the rest, the competition proved to Musser that he could excel at the Division I level.
"Playing against those top teams, it was a little nervewracking at times, but it gave you a lot of confidence if you did the right things and came out of some of (games against) the big schools with a win," Musser said. "Even in the games we did lose, we still learned from those mistakes and those experiences."
Musser will spend the 2023-2024 season with the Madison Capitols of the USHL and then presumably join the Colorado College roster for the 2024-2025 season, and said that the environment and coaching staff mix helped choose the Tigers as his collegiate team.
"I took a visit out there, and their facilities are beautiful. It's a very nice campus in the mountains in Colorado Springs," Musser said. "They have two goalie coaches on staff, (head coach) Kris Mayotte and (assistant coach) Peter Mannino. Just that goalie background that they have, I think it'll be big for me in my development in the upcoming years."
Based on the staff's coaching backgrounds, there may not be a better program to polish Musser's athletic ability.
Mayotte, himself a four-year goaltender for Union in the early 2000s, coached goalies at St. Lawrence, Providence, and Michigan before taking the big job at Colorado College. Under this tutelage, Michigan's Strauss Mann was named Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and a Mike Richter Award finalist during the 2020-2021 season.
Mannino was named 1999 Frozen Four MVP after leading Denver to the national championship, and spent time on the bench as head coach of the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers.
After some time with the USHL's Madison Capitols, Musser will join Colorado College, following in the footsteps of fellow NTDP alum Kaidan Mbereko.
Before he heads to Madison, and eventually the Rocky Mountains, Musser will wait patiently over the course of Wednesday night and from late morning Thursday until the end of the draft, hoping to hear his name called or see it roll across the ticker.
If an NHL team is willing to take a chance on him, Musser will bring everything he learned in his hometown with him.
"It goes for both Sherburn and Fairmont, just being a small-town kid, you always dream of things like these, and I honestly would've never realized that it would've happened," Musser said.
"I take pride in doing it for the community back home and everyone that's helped me get to where I am now."
The back of Musser's NTDP helmet features the names of the teams and programs that made him.