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Trade a Blessing in Disguise for Carle

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers

Few professional athletes like being traded. It means quickly adjusting to new teammates and management. If the player has a family, someone has to take care of moving household belongings and finding a new home plus school for the children.

Matt Carle, the Flyers' newest defenseman, is only 23, but already he has been traded twice. The first trade, from San Jose to Tampa, surprised Carle. The second deal, from Tampa to the Flyers for Steve Downie and Steve Eminger in early November, blindsided him.
“I was shocked,” Carle said, seated in the vacant Flyers locker room at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone following practice. “When the trade went down during the summer to go (to Tampa), they were excited to have me. I thought that’s a place I’d be for some time as a part of their new movement.”

Once Carle recovered from the shock, he realized he’s in a great situation in Philadelphia. While Tampa tries to rebuild under former Flyers winger Rick Tocchet, the Flyers are looking like the formidable team everyone expected, a team capable of plunging deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“(The trade) was almost a blessing in disguise,” Carle said. “I’ve fit in really well here and have taken on a new role that I didn’t have in Tampa (power play duty). The age group of the core here is very young. The team is built for now and the future. It’s similar to what we had in San Jose.”

Carle was traded to the Flyers the day before the Lightning played at the Wachovia Center.
Matt Carle was acquired by the Flyers on November 8 from Tampa Bay. (Getty Images)

“We had played in New York the night before and had bused to Philly,” he recalled. “I got a phone call (from Lightning general manager Brian Lawton) about 6 o’clock. I had just woken up from a nap. I thought I was still dreaming. Then (Flyers GM) Paul Holmgren called and expressed his excitement about having me. When you’re traded, you feel a team is rejecting you. But at the same time, you’re going to a team that really wants you.

“The Flyers organization has been first class. The trade went down on a Friday. We had movers at my place in Tampa on Monday. My girlfriend was a huge help, making sure all of our stuff got up here.”

Carle wasn’t in Tampa long enough to get a keen sense of the hockey atmosphere there. But he likes what he’s seen in Philadelphia where the fans embrace the Flyers and also challenge them to live up to expectations.

“Philadelphia, as a sports town, is unique,” Carle said. “I’ve never played in a sports market like it where you have one team from every major category all in the same area. As an athlete, you thrive on being in a city like this. Watching the playoffs last year (on television) you had all the fans wearing orange. It was really cool. As a player, it’s fun to be a part of it.”

During the Flyers surge, the 6-foot, 205-pound Carle has been paired with Braydon Coburn. They are two talented young defensemen.

“Early on, it was a little bit of an adjustment,” Carle said. “I started playing on the right side full time. That’s not something I’ve been used to. I could do it in college (University of Denver) and get away with a few things, but in the NHL things happen so much quicker.

“Coming to a new team, early on there’s going to be a communication issue. ‘Coby’ and I have been doing pretty well. If there’s a breakdown, we address it.”

In the Flyers overtime loss to Carolina on November 28, Carle was the defender attempting to prevent Sergei Samsonov from scoring on Martin Biron. Samsonov managed to get the shot off though for the game-winning goal. Carle said that defensemen must be like defensive backs in football: if you are beaten on a play, you need to forget it and move on.
As an athlete, you thrive on being in a city like this." - Matt Carle

“We played the next night in Toronto, so you get the opportunity to get right back on the ice,” Carle said. “There’s going to be ups and downs throughout the season. You can either learn from those things or dwell on them. On that play, I think I could’ve turned a little quicker. The puck came off the boards and I watched it to see what would happen. I reacted a little too late.”

Carle seems like a fast learner. As a teenager, he had to be. When he was 15, he packed his bags at home in Anchorage, Alaska and joined the U.S. national development team, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan After two seasons with the U.S. team, he played one season (his senior year of high school) with the River City Lancers in the U.S. Hockey League. River City represented Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Then it was on to the University of Denver for three seasons where he was a major scorer. In his second season at Denver he collected 13 goals and 31 assists in 43 games. In his final season with the Pioneers, he scored 11 goals and 42 assists in 39 games.

“I was fortunate to be on some pretty good hockey teams there,” Carle said. “We won two national championships. You develop a different kind of bond playing in college. It’s not like juniors, where the teams are always changing. In college you have 25-30 players (and) that’s your team. (Plus) Denver has a really good business school: that was a big part of why I went to Denver.”
Carle gets tangled up with Carolina's Ryan Bayda during a game at the RBC Center on November 26. (Getty Images)

Carle says playing in the NHL was always in the back of his mind. As he progressed up the hockey ladder he continued to think about the NHL, but it wasn’t until he was drafted by San Jose that an NHL career seemed definite. He was the Sharks second-round choice in the 2003 Entry Draft.

There’s still a Carle involved with Denver hockey. Unfortunately for brother David, 19, he’s been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal heart condition that prevents him from continuing as a hockey player. He’s staying with the team as a student assistant coach. Matt said the university has honored David’s scholarship. Another brother, Alex, 14, also is a promising hockey player.

“David’s been mature beyond his years handling it,” Matt said. “It’s a tough time for him, being told your dreams are done. Our family is very proud of him. David was kind of a spitting image of me (as a player). The Denver coaches swore they were watching me on the ice.”

The brothers’ parents are Bob and Karen. Bob owned and operated seven KFC franchises in the Anchorage area until he sold them a few years ago. He’s now a real estate investor.

- - -
When you’re from Alaska, you’re inevitably asked about Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate. Since hockey has kept Carle on the move, he hasn’t been close to the Alaska political scene.

“I think people have been happy with her,” he said. “She seems like a take-charge politician.”

Flyers fans will be happy with Carle if he continues to be a take-charge defenseman on the ice.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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