David Carle and Co. proving tempered preseason expectations foolish

When it was first reported in late May that David Carle was the next head hockey coach at the University of Denver, many wondered if, at the young age of 28 which made him the youngest head coach in Division I hockey, Carle was up to the challenge of leading arguably the best program in the history of college hockey.

Through Carle’s first 20 games, the Pioneers sit at 14-4-2 and are sitting at #2 in the Pairwise rankings. That would be impressive enough before considering the bevy of obstacles he and his program have faced. From adding new coaching assistants, fielding a roster with 20 underclassmen, and the early loss of their would-be starting goalie, Filip Larsson for the first twelve games of the season. About the only thing that didn’t change was the steady hand of Director of Athletics Ron Grahame.

Most of DU hockey’s strongest, most vocal supporters were expecting a rebuilding year. Some thought .500 would qualify as a successful season. Others would have been happy if Denver simply retained the Gold Pan (though that still remains to be seen). And, as for the DU ‘Tenzer Streak’ of 17 straight 20 game winning seasons – the best mark in the country – there was no way Denver would reach 20 with all the upheaval and change…right?

While the credit must go to Karlton Creech on his first critical coaching hire, we were excited about David Carle replacing Monty. In a May 8th article, we urged the hiring of David Carle thinking he would be a great long-term fit for DU. While the early success surprised many of us, Carle, his staff and his team seemed to be determined to make this inaugural campaign a success by nearly every measure. And, while there is still a lot of hockey to be played this season, now is a great time to reflect on David Carle’s early success, take stock of what we’ve seen to this point, and maybe adjust our expectations for the rest of the season.

Carle’s Success factors

  • Carle hired smart. He retained and brought in excellent experienced assistant coaches: Tavis MacMillan, Dallas Ferguson, and Steven Reinprecht.
  • Continued to support Montgomery’s core values of team-first, relentless puck pressure, and puck possession. However, David Carle has done it his own way – he has not tried to morph into Jim Montgomery.
  • Since he recruited DU’s current roster, he has a keen eye on his on-ice talent and understands how to put his players in the best position on the ice to win.
  • Has shown ease in interviews, public speaking and engaging with hockey donors and fans. In early November, Carle opened the hockey locker room to media, donors, and friends and handled the celebration in a comfortable, confident manner. No public situation seems too big for Carle. While more low key than Monty, Carle has stamped his own personality on the program.

The path only gets more difficult from here with archrivals Colorado College and North Dakota on their schedule this weekend and in two weeks, respectively. But Carle, his staff, and players have left us with few reasons to doubt their future success.

Season Highlights…so far

  • September 13th, Carle wins his first game as head coach 6-0 vs. Alaska-Anchorage
  • November 3rd, Carle introduces the public to the new Miller Hockey Complex.
  • November 16th & 17th, Denver pushes #1 Minnesota Duluth to OT in a loss and shuts down the Bulldogs 2-0 the following night.
  • November 23rd & 24th, Gaining confidence, Pios tie and then defeat top 10 Providence at Magness Arena.
  • December 8th – After being handled by North Dakota 4-1 in Grand Forks, the Pioneers returned the favor with a 2-1 OT win.
  • January 5th and 12th – The Pioneers show they never quit with OT wins at Wisconsin and versus the Omaha Mavericks at Magness Arena to clinch two consecutive sweeps and seven straight wins.

Key Stats

  • Outscored opponents 68-42 for the season
  • Three players with double-digit goals – Liam Finlay (10), Jarid Lukosevicius (12), Cole Guttman (10)
  • Four players with double-digit assists – Liam Finlay (11), Emilio Petterson (15), Ian Mitchell (12), and Brett Stapley (10)
  • Goals Per game: DU 3.4, Opponents 2.1
  • Both DU goalies, Devin Cooley and Filip Larsson have been named NCHC Goalies of the Week

In a weird season, Denver has been the biggest surprise across college hockey. Though the players would disagree, the prevailing opinion at the beginning of October was that Denver would be good but not great. They’d compete for home ice in the first round of the NCHC Tournament but not much more. Maybe they’d make the NCAA Tournament but they wouldn’t make much noise.

Carle and his team have proven all of that to be extremely misguided. Denver has made the transition from Montgomery to Carle as seamless as possible and if you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t have even known that there was a coaching change. Sure, the big names of Borgström, Gambrell, and Terry are gone but the Pios have suffered no dropoff in their absence.

Denver is one of the best teams in the country and fans of the Crimson & Gold have David Carle to thank for that. The Pios may not win the Penrose Cup, NCHC Tournament, or the National Title this year but you damn well better believe they’re contending for all three. Thanks to Carle, those tempered expectations we all had at the beginning of the year have proven to be misguided and you know what? Sometimes, there’s nothing better than being wrong.