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NCAA PRO-file with Matt Carle

by Bob Snow
Rock-solid and smooth-skating defenseman Matt Carle of the new-age Philadelphia Flyers knows a little about the hardware hopes that come with each spring.

The Flyers, led by Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, are focused on getting into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then going deep to achieve the ultimate goal -- a June parade of Lord Stanley in the shadows of Rocky Balboa's downtown Philadelphia training sites.

Perhaps Carle can point the way since he knows plenty about winning. Between 2003 and 2006, Carle trained and played in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains in downtown Denver, leading the University of Denver Pioneers as deep as it goes in NCAA play: back-to-back national titles in 2004 and '05.

Carle's curtain call on a memorable and historic three seasons at Denver was receiving the 2006 Hobey Baker Award after his team's season ended with a first-round loss in the WCHA Final Five -- and then not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

"His last year with us, Matt really at times carried the team on his shoulders," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "He was rewarded with the Hobey, and that is unusual because that award usually goes to someone on a team with a lot of success."

Denver's two title teams had a lot of success, thanks to recruits like Gabe Gauthier, Adam Berkhoel, Ryan Caldwell, Brett Skinner, Peter Mannino, Paul Stastny -- and Carle, who came from the U.S. National Team Development Program, and a season with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL.

"The Development Program was a no-brainer for me, a dream come true at that time," said Carle, an Alaska native who credits fellow Alaskan Scott Gomez of the Canadiens for much of the motivation that got Carle where he is today. "My parents are big supporters, even though my dad never played the game. They never really knew what to expect along the way. They never pushed that hard. And when I got older, Scott Gomez was a huge influence for a kid like me growing up in Alaska. He won his first Cup in 2000 (with New Jersey). I was 15 at the time. He put Alaska on the map, kind of paved the way for many of us."

Why Denver for his college career?

"I give them some grief," said Carle, "because I was contacted by some other schools and never really considered Denver. But they had a solid business program and a good hockey team. It was a place I knew I could step in and play right away."

"A lot of things that Matt brought to the table fit the profile of the team we were putting together," said Gwozdecky, whose Pioneers currently are No. 1 in the nation. "You can project what you think he would be like, but we did not project him to be a Hobey Baker-type level player. He was a self-starter and worked very well with his coaches at the Development Program and with the Lancers. When he hit the college level, we knew, 'Hey, this is going to be a pretty good player.'"

How good was Carle's three-season run?

"The first year we kind of came out of nowhere," said Carle about 2003-04, his freshman season, which culminated with Berkhoel's 1-0 shutout of Maine for Denver's sixth title. "That made it a lot of fun. Every step was kind of a shock to all of us that we were still in the hunt. A lot of that was influenced by our captain, Ryan Caldwell.

"Then our second year, we weren't expected to win, but we had a better team -- more talented with a group of guys who had been there. It was more of a business attitude. One thing in the second run is a lot of that younger talent was in top-flight recruits like 'Stas (Stastny).' But the gel was the older guys. All three of our captains (Nick Larson, Matt Laatsch, Kevin Ulanski) were recruited walk-ons -- none had scholarships entering. A great character team."

The 2005 national championship game was a methodical 4-1 trouncing of WCHA arch-rival North Dakota, led by Mannino in goal, and Stastny's 2 goals and 1 assist. Carle, Skinner, Stastny, Gauthier and MVP Mannino took five of the six All-Tournament Team honors.

Carle's individual offensive ledger went from 26 to 40 points his first two seasons to a whopping 53 in 2005-06, his final season before joining the San Jose Sharks in 2006-07. He was tabbed by San Jose at No. 47 in the 2003 Entry Draft.

He remains the only junior defenseman to win college hockey's top individual award in NCAA history. Carle's 110-game career produced 109 points, two national championships and the Hobey Baker Award

"I can't answer that question about which of the three was best," Carle said of his Denver highlight reel. "It would be between the two national championships, for sure; hockey is a team sport. The Hobey was great, but it's more fun to celebrate with a bunch of guys all season.

"My 100th point sticks out. I remember being three-on-three and Mannino fired a pass up to Stastny and 'Stas' sent me in on a breakaway. That's my college highlight."

Give Carle one hope for another college highlight, and it will be about another Carle -- younger brother David.

"He was obviously dealt a huge blow when they found out at the NHL Combine," said Carle about his brother's 2008 diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -- a thickening of the heart muscle that can be a death sentence for young athletes. The disease ended David's playing career.

"His last year with us, Matt really at times carried the team on his shoulders. He was rewarded with the Hobey, and that is unusual because that award usually goes to someone on a team with a lot of success." -- George Gwozdecky

"He's 20 now," Carle said of his brother. "I'm sure he'll always have a 'what-if' in the back of his mind. It's tough for me and our family. My brother is there as a student assistant coach so I keep tabs on him and the team. He was supposed to go there on a full ride. They honored a full scholarship. He'll find his niche -- and hopefully be carrying a national championship trophy."

"What a classy school," Bob Carle told the Denver Post at the time. "I'm sitting there with a broken kid, and I got that phone call (about honoring his scholarship). It was a pretty good feeling on a very dreary day. The University of Denver, in my book, is about as high as you can get when it comes to class."

Matt Carle feels the same about the Sharks and Flyers.

San Jose signed Carle to a three-year entry-level contract the spring of 2006. During his first full season, he had 11 goals and 31 assists in 77 games and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.

"It was tough to leave Denver," he said about that decision, "but it fulfilled another dream."

In November, 2007, Carle signed a four-year contract extension. Eight months later, however, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a key piece of the trade for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich.

"I wasn't surprised at the trade when the Sharks had the chance to get a Dan Boyle," Carle said. "The trade by Tampa Bay (to Philadelphia) was a surprise, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise to play for a great organization and alongside Chris Pronger and others."

Carle has 119 points in 296 NHL games, including 4 goals and 30 points in 69 games this season. He also boasts a plus-20 rating, second on the Flyers, as the team zeroes in on a playoff berth.

What's another connection between the City of Brotherly love and his brotherly love in Denver?

"'Stas' and I stay involved with Denver," Carle said of the Avalanche forward who plays in the shadows of his alma mater at the Pepsi Center. "Last year we bought jerseys for all the alumni at the team's 60th anniversary dinner."

This summer, Matt Carle hopes to hoist Lord Stanley at his alma mater, while David Carle stands beside him with Denver's eighth NCAA championship trophy. 

"They've got a good shot -- and so do we," said Carle.

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