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Combine produced life-saving result

by John McGourty

"The echocardiogram is an advancement this year that we're proud of. The physical-fitness protocol of the York University staff is always professional and always precise and was again this year."
--E.J. McGuire, Director of Central Scouting

Few things can impact a person more than saving someone's life.

A year ago, testing at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto revealed prospect David Carle might have a potentially fatal heart disease.

The information came as a blow to Carle, an Anchorage, Alaska native who had been part of two national championship teams at Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep School in Faribault, Minn.

Further testing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., confirmed Carle, a defenseman ranked No. 60 among North American skaters by Central Scouting for the 2008 Entry Draft, had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was advised to stop playing hockey and avoid excessively strenuous activity. He will need to monitor his condition throughout his life.

Five other players were referred for further testing at the 2008 combine, but Carle was the only one with HCM, NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said. In response, an echocardiogram was added to the medical testing done at the 2009 combine in Toronto last month. The echocardiogram was the test Carle took at the Mayo Clinic after an electrocardiogram at the combine showed abnormal readings.

McGuire is an outgoing person who has a wonderful way with words, but when asked his feelings about how his group's efforts may have saved Carle's life, McGuire went silent and slowly shook his head.

"It's a good feeling and David and I have had conversations with the medical staff here," McGuire said. "I think the Carle family has been very public in their gratitude of it being caught. It's a tribute to the quality of our medical staff."

It's not unusual to see teen hockey players raise their heart rate to 190 beats per minute during the combine's physical testing. They run faster, jump higher and consume more oxygen than the general public.

"Actually, this is an abnormal group, the group of 104 players who attended this year, in that the normal population is a bell curve," McGuire said. "We are way out, probably two standard deviations away from the normal population on all of that, whether it be vertical jump … to the physiological, the heart rate. But these doctors know it and they know it coming in that (the players are) way out on the spectrum as far as fitness. But any abnormality that could cause future problems were highlighted and red-flagged. Last year, that's where David Carle's initial indication of some ensuing problem was discovered.

"The echocardiogram is an advancement this year that we're proud of. The physical-fitness protocol of the York University staff is always professional and always precise and was again this year."

Within days of the end of each year's combine, McGuire and his staff evaluate the event with an eye toward improving it for the next year. A few years ago, Central Scouting added a psychological test, administered by the University of Pittsburgh's Dr. Ralph Tarter.

"This is now the third year of its existence and we're trying to build a database from which we can draw longitudinal data," McGuire said. "The player who went through it three years ago, we ask, 'Where is he on his progress toward the NHL?' We'll soon be into that five-year window where Central Scouting, without predictions, gets into, 'Is the player playing or not?' Because soon that window closes. If you're out seven years and our prediction was that he's going to be in the NHL, then we have to evaluate. If he hasn't made it in seven years, chances are the window is closing. So with the psychological evaluations, we're continuing to gather data. We're beginning to see the fruits of the labor that was started two years ago."

NHL Scouting Combine Gear McGuire gave credit to the NHL Events Department for upgrading the appearance of the 2009 Combine, which for the second straight year was held at the Westin Bristol Place, within sight of Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. The players all stay at the hotel, teams conduct player interviews in the guest rooms, team officials gather in the lobby for social and business reasons, the basement hosts the medical testing and the combine's administrative office, and the physical testing takes place in the ballroom.

McGuire said the event could be on the move again next year, as there may be need for more space, but he said any move has to be balanced against the convenience of being near the airport.

"There is some concern on my part that we have changed hotels and venues and that soon we might have to look hard at future venues, for we're bursting at the seams," he said. "Maybe not for several years, but forewarned is forearmed and we're probably at the most convenient and biggest ballroom site for it. The most convenient meaning we're right across from the jets coming and going.

"But perhaps we have visions for the Toronto Convention Center. If it gets to that point, it will be both a positive and a negative. A negative in that if it gets so big it could become unwieldy and we still want to keep it tight and approachable and not so multi-faceted."

There was widespread agreement among NHL scouts and executives at the combine that it's one of their favorite events of the year. With their playing days behind them, they're enthused about the energy and excitement of the young players. They can't help but remember their own youthful enthusiasm and love of the game, and they love seeing it again in this generation's players.

"This is the future of our sport and the future of our sport is bright," McGuire said. "One thing that we can probably say from our 'old men's' perspective is that every kid is fit, every kid here is well-schooled, whether it be by his agent or representative, or by the fact that this is now a high-paid profession. A profession that so many kids aspire to that they're training for and that they're polishing their act for entry into the 'big leagues.' I think the big league will benefit from that."

Contact John McGourty at
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