Denver sun sets on Jim Montgomery era, should rise on David Carle

Photo courtesy of Patrick Green

For the second time in just over five years, the University of Denver is searching for a replacement for a legendary hockey head coach. Five years ago, Peg Bradley-Doppes and her staff had the unenviable task of finding a worthy replacement for 19-year head coach George Gwozdecky. Though it seemed like a questionable hire at the time, they knocked it out of the park with Jim Montgomery. Now, with as much momentum as the program has had in over a decade, newly hired Athletic Director Karlton Creech and his advisors (which include Bradley-Doppes and current AD Ron Grahame) have an important hiring decision to make. The right one is already staring them squarely in the face.

It’s been speculated that if Montgomery were to leave Denver for the NHL, current assistant David Carle would be among the leading candidates, if not the leading candidate to replace him. And rightfully so. There isn’t a candidate more synonymous with the current Denver Hockey brand than Carle. Sure, he’s only 28 years old, but if that’s your argument against hiring him as Montgomery’s replacement, you’re missing or willfully ignoring so much.

Carle’s hockey career didn’t exactly go as planned. From Anchorage, Alaska, he planned to follow in his older brother Matt’s footsteps and play college hockey for Gwozdecky at DU before pursuing what would have almost certainly been an incredible NHL career. Unfortunately, during the 2008 NHL scouting combine, doctors noticed an abnormality in his heart. After the combine and a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that could kill him instantly if he overexerts himself. As a result of the diagnosis, at the ripe age of 18, Carle made the difficult, mature decision to end his playing career.

Gwozdecky announced soon after the diagnosis became public that Denver would honor Carle’s scholarship and allow him to still be a part of the hockey program while he was at school. As his playing career ended, Carle’s coaching career began. He remained a part of Gwozdecky’s program as a coach, including a year as a graduate assistant, until he graduated from DU in 2012. After graduation and during Gwozdecky’s final year at DU, Carle accepted a position as an assistant coach with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. He helped lead the Gamblers to a 37-23-4 record and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Carle officially rejoined the Pioneers as an assistant on Montgomery’s staff in January of 2014, replacing legendary assistant Steve Miller. Carle has been on Montgomery’s staff since and his growth as a coach is directly correlated with the program’s trajectory of success over the past four-plus years. While Montgomery was certainly the primary catalyst for the Pioneers’ national resurgence, Carle was there, taking on more and more responsibility and even accidentally coining the well-known and successful ‘proscess’.

Since his ‘retirement’ in 2008, Carle has done nothing but coach with the best of the best. From Gwozdecky to Montgomery, Carle has seen and learned what it takes to be successful behind the bench on the biggest stage at this level. To add to his unsung coaching prowess, his efforts on the recruiting trail haven’t gone unnoticed. Denver’s recruiting pipeline is in as good a position as it’s been since Gwozdecky’s heyday and Carle has played a key role in that. Don’t believe it? Try this on for size. Carle and his efforts (read: travels, plural) have been cited as one of the major reasons why Finnish phenom and 2018 Hobey Baker Award finalist Henrik Borgström chose Denver.

Borgström’s commitment is only scratching the surface, though. Take a look at Denver’s pipeline. It’s filled with talented, high-profile commitments and signees who will have huge impacts on the Pioneers when they arrive. Carle has led much of the effort to make all of that happen. And yes, he’s done it all before his 29th birthday.

Pointing to Carle’s age and his “lack” of experience as strikes against him is a naive, lazy take. He already has a decade of coaching experience and that was enough for his hometown’s program, the University of Alaska Anchorage, to offer him their head coach position, which he turned down just weeks before Montgomery took the job with the Stars (hint, hint).

Montgomery is right to put his support behind his former assistant. David Carle is ready to take the reins of the Denver Hockey program. Sure, he doesn’t yet have any head coaching experience, but there’s still no candidate more well-equipped to take over this program and keep Denver at the top of the college hockey world.

Armstrong, Gwozdecky, Montgomery. It’s time to add Carle to that list of pivotal DU coaches. No, it won’t be an easy task to replace Montgomery, but David Carle is the right man for the job and quite frankly, Denver is making a mistake if they don’t make him their ninth head coach.