|Former Tampa Bay prospect David Carle, the younger brother of Lightning defenseman Matt
Carle, was forced to retire from playing hockey due to a potentially fatal heart condition.
In June, Carle was prematurely forced from the game he began playing as a 4-year-old after receiving word he was suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a thickening of the heart that results in sudden cardiac death with overexertion.
"It's only been a few months since I learned about the condition and I really haven't formulated any sort of plan on what I'm going to do, but I do know I want to educate other athletes and the importance of getting checked out," Carle told NHL.com.
Despite the condition, diagnosed one day before the 2008 Entry Draft in Ottawa, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Carle in the seventh round (No. 203 overall) of the 210-player draft. He had no indication he would be selected, particularly when his family advisor notified all 30 teams of his condition on the eve of the draft.
"(Tampa Bay co-owner) Oren (Koules) called and told me I worked too hard in my life to not get drafted and he just said to worry about staying healthy," Carle recalled. "He told me he drafted me more for the person I am."
Additionally, University of Denver ice hockey coach George Gwozdecky informed the Carle family the school would still honor his scholarship and make him part of the team.
"He'll be a student assistant coach, a position that is still evolving here at the university," Gwozdecky told NHL.com. "He'll have sessions with fellow student-athletes during and after practices and, on occasion, attend coaches meetings and plan and coordinate practices. I will not put him in a position to critique fellow players, but I do want him to listen in and learn the process and, maybe, a few years down the road, he'll be able to offer opinion."
In addition to assisting the coaching staff, Carle will also be a contributing writer for the university's web site and ESPN.com. He'll use that platform to enlighten all athletes of his condition and its consequences.
According to Gwozdecky, the team's head coach for 15 seasons, Carle's situation is unique in that the university has never had a scholar-athlete forced into retirement before even stepping foot on campus.
"I've seen situations where, during an athlete's tenure at the school, he was injured and sidelined and we still honored the scholarship, but this marks the first time I can recall when a young man was forced to retire before the start of his freshman year," Gwozdecky said. "There was never any question about us honoring his scholarship. This is something we all know David could handle since he has that type of personality and courage."
According to Carle's 23-year-old brother Matt, who, as a junior at the University of Denver, won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player in 2006 and now plays for the Lightning, his little brother personifies courage.
"I think over the last three years the transformation he had made in his game was unbelievable," Matt told NHL.com. "Once he figured out what it took to improve his game, he really began dedicating so much time to it. He worked out with me every day, went on a good nutritional program and turned himself into an elite athlete. That's why having everything come to an end was so unfair.
"It's great knowing that he will be using his time to educate others about HCM since not too many people know about it," Matt said. "If you can catch it early enough, perhaps it'll make a difference as it did with Dave."
"I first saw David play five years ago, when he was a sophomore at Shattuck-St. Mary's," Gwozdecky said. "The thing that popped out in my mind and what I marveled at was that fact that if you didn't know it was David Carle on the ice, his skating style and movements were so very close to his older brother. He matured and progressed so well."
Carle went from No. 74 to No. 60 on Central Scouting's final report for North American skaters as word spread how eerily similar his style of play was to Matt's. As such, he was invited to participate in the NHL's Scouting Combine in Toronto last June.
It was there that Carle, like all other invitees to the Combine, underwent a series of medical and fitness evaluations during which an abnormal EKG indicated undiscovered problems. The medical staff encouraged Carle to be checked out further, which ultimately revealed his heart condition while at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"There's a 50-percent chance of inheriting the condition genetically, but since no other person in my family suffers from it (after being checked), it appears it's not genetic in my case," Carle said. "Basically, this is a thickening of the heart wall, in the apex where the chambers meet, that limits the volume of blood my heart can pump and hold. The risk of sudden death is caused from an adrenaline rush and fluctuating heart rate. While my heart cannot get any thicker than it is now, the risk is just too great.
"The symptoms are overlapping from other things and are fairly minor and, oftentimes, the first symptom you show is your last. It's very hard to detect so you need to be proactive about it."
Gwozdecky is glad that Carle, who'll leave for the University of Denver later this month, is determined to get his message across.
"I think it's great he's willing to come out and want to help others who might have this malady, but who aren't aware of it," he said. "If his message could help someone else, then that's the greatest gift."
Former athletes who have died as a result of HCM include basketball stars Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount (1990) and Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics (1993), figure skater Sergei Grinkov (1995) and University of Massachusetts swimmer Greg Menton (1996).
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.