Hockey

After 10-plus NHL seasons, Anchorage's Matt Carle calls it a career

The end is never easy, but it often reveals character — a person's true pedigree — more clearly than any highlight or stat sheet can.

So it was with NHL defenseman Matt Carle of Anchorage, who on Friday called it a career after 10 full seasons, and parts of two others, in the world's best hockey league.

These last couple of seasons have been difficult for the only blueliner among the 16 Alaska players who have ascended to the NHL. He found himself in and out of Tampa Bay's lineup last season, and the Lightning bought out his contract in the offseason. He signed a one-year deal with Nashville, but in the last month was repeatedly a healthy scratch.

Finally, the Predators put Carle on unconditional waivers, and Friday he announced his retirement.

On this end, out went a text — got a sec?

Inside of 30 seconds, Carle called.

Hockey aside, that moment tells you everything you need to know about Carle. He never forgot who he was and where he was from, and he was pure class to the end, generous and accommodating. That also tells you how Bob and Karen Carle raised their three boys.

(It also is of a piece with all of the Alaskans who have played in the NHL — to a man, they return calls and texts in a hockey heartbeat. Carle, for instance, said he planned to call me later Saturday.)

After 857 regular-season and playoff games for four NHL teams — San Jose, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Nashville — and two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, Carle called it a wrap at age 32.

He's still processing it, of course. He got to live his dream, and how many of us really get that fantasy fulfilled? He forged relationships, made life-long friends, knew the honor of playing at the pinnacle of his profession.

"Obviously, I'm very grateful and thankful for the opportunity,'' Carle said from Nashville. "I've been so fortunate. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"It will be always be nice, when I'm watching hockey, to look back and know I played at the highest level there is.''

Carle is the second Alaskan to retire from the NHL this year. Scotty Gomez of Anchorage, the most prolific and honored Alaskan to ever set a skate in the NHL, said goodbye this past summer after 16 seasons and two Stanley Cup rings — he saw the end coming.

So did Carle, even as he aimed to resurrect his career by signing with Nashville, which is coached by Peter Laviolette, his old bench boss in Philadelphia.

"It's not something that came out of nowhere,'' Carle said. "Over the course of last summer, getting bought out, it was in the back of my mind. I thought I was coming into the right situation. Obviously, things didn't work out.''

Rather than lamenting the end, though, it's worth celebrating the journey.

Carle proved so good as a teenager that he played in USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and then dominated in the U.S. Hockey League. He won a World Under-18 title and a World Junior Championship as an amateur, and as a pro won a World Championship bronze.

As a freshman at the University of Denver, he was on the ice in the frantic final 94 seconds, when the Pioneers faced a 6-on-3 disadvantage against Maine and held on for a 1-0 victory to seize the national championship.

The Pioneers were repeat national champs when Carle was a sophomore. As a junior, all the two-time All-American did was become the first, and still only, Alaskan to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey's best player.

He conducted a cellphone interview during dinner that night, and put Karen on the line too. Carle signed with the Sharks after his junior year and scored a goal in his NHL debut.

The following season, Carle made the NHL's All-Rookie team. The two trips to the Stanley Cup Final proved painful — the Chicago Blackhawks were too much when Carle played for Philadelphia, and again when he skated for Tampa Bay.

Hockey's been good to Carle — he's made more than $40 million in his career, so he's set. He's looking forward to more time with his wife, Clancey, his college sweetheart, and their two little girls, Sophie (2) and Audrey (six months). Maybe take a trip back to Denver to see his younger brother, David, an assistant coach with the Pioneers. Maybe head home to Anchorage for the holidays — Carle figures he hasn't been home for Christmas since his sophomore or junior year of college. The youngest Carle boy, by the way, is Alex, a sophomore defenseman at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

Carle said he and his family will probably stay in Nashville for a couple of months. They're building a home near Minneapolis, where they've made their offseason home. Carle has been taking online classes, and plans to continue doing so, to finish his real estate finance degree at Denver.

All this is a bit surreal, of course. Hockey's all Carle has ever known. Now he's digesting the end, eager to spend more time with his girls, to negotiate life away from the rink, given, he said with a laugh,  that his "schedule just opened up for the next however long.''

"I knew something was going to give,'' Carle said. "Talking about it is one thing, doing it another.

"It was weird finally pulling the plug. It kind of is what it is. Here we are.''

It was a helluva ride Matt Carle enjoyed. May his next one be as fulfilling.

This column is the opinion of sports reporter Doyle Woody. Reach him at dwoody@alaskadispatch.com, check out his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog and follow him on Twitter.com/JaromirBlagr

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