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If at first you don't succeed...

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – This year was supposed to be different.  Unfortunately for Mathieu Carle, it turned into a scene right out of the movie “Groundhog Day”.

Just a clip over five minutes into his first NHL preseason game of 2008-09, Carle was knocked unconscious on a hit by Detroit’s Tomas Kopecky.  He left Joe Louis Arena on a stretcher and would be out of commission until the end of October, when he made his season debut in Hamilton.

Mathieu Carle
In his professional debut last year, he suffered a knee injury in the first period and was held out of action until early November. 

For a guy who hadn’t missed more than a handful of games in his three-year junior career, the false starts in the pro ranks could easily shake one’s confidence.  While it wasn’t the easiest to deal with, the 21-year-old isn’t dragging his feet.

“I wanted to show what I could do as a pro so it was pretty hard to take,” Carle said of the injury. “Obviously, I thought about it for a bit but I had to quickly put it behind me. So, I moved on and set my mind on the season ahead.”

Easier said than done for most.  But, thanks to his experience and a little help from former Bulldog Joël Bouchard, the offensive-minded defenseman kept his eyes focused straight ahead.

“I had dinner with him once and we talked about a lot of things, hockey and otherwise,” Carle recalled of the veteran rearguard, who suited up for 20 games with Hamilton in 2007-08. “It was my first year as a pro and when I came back from my injury, I was a healthy scratch for the first time in my career.  He helped me see the positive side of that.”

Seeing some of himself in the young defenseman, Bouchard was more than willing to take the youngster under his wing.

“It’s overwhelming when you start your professional career,” he explained. “I let him know that it’s never as bad as it might seem [being a healthy scratch] and that he should just keep on trying to improve. Some people will be given advice and not really listen, but not him; he took it to heart.”

His desire to one day suit up for the NHL began at an early age and even back then, nothing was going to stop him.

“I started when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My dad had me take figure skating lessons first to learn how to skate, then I moved on to hockey,” said Carle. “I never missed a practice unless I was sick, and even then, I still wanted to go; I was upset that I couldn’t.”

He credits much of his success to his father, who woke up with the roosters to drive his son from their home in Gatineau well across the border into Ontario, where he played much of his minor hockey.

But it wasn’t just off the ice that he had influenced his boy.

“Raymond Bourque was my dad’s favorite player so I watched him a lot growing up and often modeled my game after his,” Carle said.

While the Hall-of-Famer had an early impact on his career, more recently the Canadiens’ third pick (53rd overall) in 2006 has looked to a certain two-time All-Star to help mould his game.

Andrei Markov is such a smart defenseman,” he said. “He’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s so slick on the power-play and just does everything well.”

Carle is learning to follow suit in Hamilton, earning regular shifts on the penalty kill, both this year and last. He’s playing with confidence and it won’t surprise many that he’s on pace to surpass his rookie point totals from last season.

And while the injuries have delayed Carle’s season debuts, it’s worth noting that Markov, too, endured his share of bumps and bruises early on in his pro career as well.

Now that’s a script worth repeating.

Heather Engel is a writer for
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