David Carle had to quit playing hockey. But two DU mentors turned him into a great Pioneer.
For David Carle, his passion developed from his crisis. His career built on teenage calamity.
It was June 2008, and Carle — an incoming blue-chip defenseman for the University of Denver and projected NHL draft pick — was diagnosed with an incurable heart condition at the NHL combine in Buffalo. His hockey playing career was over.
That’s when then-DU coach George Gwozdecky did “the right thing” by honoring his scholarship and unwittingly planted the seeds for what was to come — for Carle to follow Gwozdecky and his successor, Jim Montgomery, as the Pioneers head coach 10 years after his devastating diagnosis.
“George and Jim have both been instrumental in my career opportunities and development. It’s hard to think of two better people to spend the formative years of my life around than those two,” Carle said. “They are uniquely successful and I learned a great deal from them both. I consider it a blessing to have them in my life; they are people that are still there for me and the program today, which speaks volumes of them.”
Carle was 18 when he was told he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in the summer of 2008. Gwozdecky had completed the 14th season of his 19-year tenure as DU’s head coach. He had some pull with the school. And he had a question for then-athletic directors Peg-Bradley Doppes and Ron Grahame. He wanted the school to honor Carle’s scholarship — one of just 18 the NCAA allows each team annually.
“It was a pretty emotional time,” Gwozdecky said of the day he told Bob Carle, David’s father, that the school still wanted his son on a full scholarship. “Bob was pretty broken up. David was pretty broken up. As you can imagine, you had your whole exciting career in front of you and all of a sudden you can’t pursue that career.
“If my memory serves me correctly, I ended a call with Bob and walked into Ron and Peg’s office and said, ‘This is what I’d like to do. Will you guys support this?’ They both looked at me and said, ‘OK, if this is what you want to do we’ll support it, if you understand what’s going to happen here.’ I said, ‘I do. This needs to be done.’”
Gwozdecky went back to his office and called Bob Carle at the family’s home in Anchorage, Alaska.
“I said, ‘David has a home here and we’re going to honor his scholarship. It’s the right thing to do and I’ve got the support of our administration here — never having any inkling of him becoming a coach,” Gwozdecky said.
A decade later, Carle was named DU’s head coach. And at age 30, he is 45-21-11 in nearly two full seasons, and his .656 winning percentage is the program’s best since the legendary Murray Armstrong (.674) concluded a 460-win career in 1977. Gwozdecky and Montgomery each had a .614 winning percentage at DU.
Carle’s coaching career began as a student assistant under Gwozdecky in 2008-09, his freshman year, and includes 4 1/2 seasons as a paid assistant under Montgomery from 2013-2018.
Gwozdecky is now the head coach at Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch, fresh off the school’s first state championship in early March. Montgomery, upon being named head coach of the Dallas Stars in May 2018, recommended Carle as his replacement.
Montgomery was fired by the Stars in December but remains in Dallas with his family as he recovers from an alcohol abuse problem that cost him his job. He remains proud of his endorsement that ultimately helped Carle land the DU job. While he declined to address his efforts at recovery, Montgomery did speak to The Denver Post about his prized protege.
“David Carle, his first coach (Gwozdecky) won two national championships (2004 and 2005) and then he was able to work for me and (assistant Tavis MacMillan) and we won together in 2017,” Montgomery said from his home in Dallas. “I look forward to the number of national championships he’s going to add at Denver.”
As a DU student, Carle went from being a puck-pusher in practice to a key pressbox coach with headphones communicating to the Pios’ bench. He joined Montgomery on an interim basis midway through the 2013-14 season — after a 1 1/2-year coaching stint with the junior-A Green Bay Gamblers — with no promises to be part of the DU staff in 2014-15 or beyond.
“I had just lost (assistant) Steve Miller because of a wonderful opportunity for him, and I didn’t have time to do a big search. I was looking for alums, and David Carle did an incredible job as a student coach,” Montgomery said. “So I asked him to come on board for the rest of the year. And he asked, ‘Can it be more than that?’ In reality, every assistant coach is interim — you’re on a year-to-year contract. I told him, ‘I don’t like going to look for coaches. You do a good job, you’ll be here.’ And he did a fabulous job, as we all know.”
Carle was an outstanding recruiter. His first recruit was Canadian forward Danton Heinen, who produced 93 points (36 goals) in 81 games for DU before signing with the Boston Bruins after his sophomore season in 2016. Heinen was traded to Anaheim in February.
“He’s just super intelligent, super hard-working, thoughtful, charismatic,” Montgomery said. “I gave him a lot over the years. Every year I gave him more and more ownership of the program and that’s why I was so comfortable saying this is the coach who should replace me and keep it going and improve upon it.”
Gwozdecky will be inducted into DU’s Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class (originally 2020). Carle and Montgomery might someday join him. Gwozdecky’s name already appears in the hall as part of DU’s 2004 NCAA-championship team. Those Pios were inducted in 2014, a ceremony Gwozdecky missed because of his obligations as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But the 65-year-old will be present when he goes in next year.
“Certainly, it’s an honor,” said Gwozdecky. “I never expected it. I thought it was really appropriate for DU to induct that 2004 team. It was an honor to be part of that team. From that point on, it never really crossed my mind, honestly, to think about anything other than that. So when (vice-chancellor) Karlton (Creech) reached out to me a few months ago, it was a little bit of a surprise.”
It’s no surprise to Carle, who owes at least part of his coaching career to the DU legend.
Carle will be there. And Montgomery, too, if he’s free from his next coaching assignment.
“We’re all proud of David…proud to have had an impact in his life,” Montgomery said. “He’s become a great Pioneer.”
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