Nearly a decade and a half after having his promising future as an athlete taken away due to a rare medical condition, Anchorage’s David Carle reached the pinnacle of his coaching career by guiding the University of Denver men’s hockey team to a Division I national title in his fourth year at the helm of the program.
“(As a team), we feel really indebted to DU,” Carle said. “To try and be a part of winning championships is a really special thing for us to try to give back.”
With its win over the the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks in Boston on April 9, the program captured its record-tying ninth NCAA championship.
“For us, being a part of Denver, you get excited about the history and tradition that the program has,” Carle said. “To be able to add to that is really special and something that our players and staff are very proud of.”
With the championship, the Pioneers tied the University of Michigan for the most national titles in NCAA history and tied with Boston College for the most since 2000 with four.
“A goal of ours at Denver hockey is we want to be synonymous with being the best college hockey program in the country,” Carle said. “To be able to tie the record is a great accomplishment and a big step in that direction.”
He was an assistant coach on the staff of former Denver head coach Jim Montgomery when the Pioneers won the 2017 national title, but this holds even greater reverence for him because this was the team and staff that he assembled, not inherited.
“Both are very special,” Carle said. “Anytime you win your last game of the year, it’s a great season. Our staff and our players all together are part of a group of nine teams that been able to do something very special. That’s what really excites us and we’ll be bonded together, all of us, for the rest of our lives.”
Carle said that his full circle moment came after he won his first title as a coach in 2017 and that his second has a whole different meaning.
“Being a part of that championship you satisfy that desire, that dream,” Carle said. “To be a part of the team that won the second one is even more special.”
Carle had committed to play for the Pioneers in 2008 before a medical exam at the NHL Combine prior to the draft revealed that he had an enlarged heart. He was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and went from a likely high-round selection to having his career cut short before it even began.
“Obviously it was a heartbreaking moment,” Carle said. “At the age of 18 to go through that, but as I tell people, ‘You don’t get through that by yourself.’ My family and friends were there for me and very supportive.”
Even though he retired immediately after receiving his diagnosis, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in the seventh round, knowing he’d never be able to play for them.
“As time goes by, you appreciate that gesture more and more because you see how valuable draft picks are,” Carle said. “There are sixth, seventh rounders that are really good hockey players. For them to honor me with a pick means a lot, so I’m very thankful for that.”
The Pioneers made a gracious move of their own when they decided to still honor Carle’s scholarship and allowed him to begin his coaching career as an assistant on former head coach George Gwozdecky’s staff.
“The same day I was diagnosed, they told me my scholarship would be honored,” Carle said.
After he graduated in 2012, Carle spent two seasons coaching with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL before returning to Denver as an assistant under Montgomery, eventually being named head coach after the 2018 season.
Carle isn’t the only member of the team, or even his family, with ties from Alaska to Denver. His brother, Matt, was a standout defenseman for the Pioneers and was a part of back-to-back national championship teams from 2004-2005.
“We’ve been together, our family and DU for 20 years now,” Carle said. “It means the world to us be a part of it. Now I tied my brother in championships, so that’s exciting. It took me a few more years but we’re very proud Pioneers.”
Two of his assistants, Tavis MacMillan and Dallas Ferguson, are Canadian but spent time in Alaska playing hockey collegiately and professionally and also coached at UAF where they attended college.
Senior defensemen Kyle Mayhew played 94 career games in junior hockey for the NAHL’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs. He recorded 51 points (8 goals, 43 assists) during time with the team including a career-high 39 points (8 goals, 31 assists) in 58 games in the 2017-18 season.