David Carle isn’t the youngest college coach in NCAA history, but he is one of the most compelling. The former NHL prospect was just named bench boss of the University of Denver Pioneers at the tender age of 28 and in an alternate universe, he would still be manning a blueline somewhere.
Ten years ago, Carle was preparing for the draft, just like a host of 18-year-olds are doing right now. Carle was a standout with Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school, the same program that produced Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, and he was pegged as high as a second-rounder for the draft. But at the combine, an abnormality was found during a physical and soon after, Carle was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that would force him to quit playing hockey immediately. His draft plans turned into a stay at the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“The whole week before the draft, I was in Rochester,” Carle said, “getting every battery of test imaginable.”
On his way home to Alaska, Carle was at the Minneapolis airport when he started to get texts from his friends, telling him he had been drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I thought to myself, ‘whoever drafted me isn’t very smart if they don’t believe the doctors,’ ” Carle said. “But (team co-owner) Oren Koules reached out to me and we had a really nice phone call.”
Koules’ son Miles also went to Shattucks and believed that Carle deserved to be recognized for all the hard work he had put in. Tampa had an extra seventh-rounder that year, so Koules told GM Jay Feaster to use the 203rd pick overall on Carle.
“It’s one of the things I am most proud of from that time,” Koules said.
Carle attended Lightning camp and got his jersey, though he obviously didn’t go on the ice.
“It meant a lot that they included me in everything,” he said.
But Koules wasn’t the only one in Carle’s corner. The University of Denver honored the scholarship he had been offered and Carle joined the Pioneers as a student-coach. After four years, he got an assistant coaching job in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, but after less than two years, the Pioneers called him back. Jim Montgomery was now coach and Carle joined a staff that was putting together something special. In 2017, Denver won the national championship with Montgomery at the helm and Carle as an assistant.
Known as a great recruiter, Carle logged a lot of miles for the Pioneers and even went over to Europe to chat up prospects about the benefits of joining Denver. Some of Carle’s best work came in recruiting Henrik Borgstrom to join the Pioneers, and the Florida Panthers first-rounder ended up playing a big role in that national title.
With Montgomery getting an NHL job in Dallas this spring, the Pioneers job became a very enticing one; after all, the program has been elite in recent years. Carle had already turned down the head coaching job at Alaska-Anchorage, which would have seen him taking charge of his hometown team - so he was invested. While some speculators were attaching more established names such as UMass-Lowell’s Norm Bazin to the job, Carle kept quiet, hoping his work at Denver would speak for itself.
Sure enough, it did, and now he takes over a program that continues to renew itself. Chicago Blackhawks pick Ian Mitchell is coming off a fantastic freshman campaign, for example, while Red Wings goalie prospect Filip Larsson and 2018 draft prospect Slava Demin are part of this fall’s recruiting class.
While Carle may have grown up dreaming about making an impact on the ice, fate had other plans. But at 28 years old, he has already won a national championship as a coach and now has the reins of one of the best programs in the country. It’s going to be fun to see what he can do.