Youth Not Getting in the Way of High Expectations
DU hockey comes into 2018–19 season with 20 underclassmen
There’s one thing that is very apparent when you look at the Pioneers on paper: They are extremely young.
The University of Denver men’s hockey team has 11 freshmen and nine sophomores. There are only seven upperclassmen returning this season, and only five of them skated in the title game two years ago when the Pioneers won the national championship.
DU lost a total of 11 players after last season. Several of them, including Henrik Borgstrom and Troy Terry, left school early for the NHL.
“It’s no secret that we have a young team and a lot of underclassman, so it’s really on the leadership group to try and help bring those young guys along to make sure we start the season hot,” says defenseman Ian Mitchell, a sophomore and an assistant captain. “Within our dressing room, we expect to go out and win every night, and we feel we have the group in there to win a national championship.”
While experience may be missing, the Pioneers believe they have plenty of talent. This year’s incoming freshmen are fast and possess a lot of skill with the puck. DU has a total of six NHL draft picks on the team, five of whom are freshmen. While the polls may suggest that this year’s team won’t be challenging for a national title (the Pioneers are ranked 13th by USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine), the team believes that rankings mean very little.
“Last year we were ranked first for most of the year, but we didn’t end up winning. I don’t think it means much right now,” says forward Tyson McLellan, also an assistant captain. “Any team in college hockey can win; every team can be good on any given night, so nobody in our room is reading too much into that.”
It’s not just on the ice where the Pioneers are full of youth. At the age of 28, David Carle is the youngest active bench boss in college hockey. In May, he replaced Jim Montgomery — who took over as head coach of the NHL’s Dallas Stars — as the Richard and Kitzia Goodman Head Coach.
“There is more and more room for people who are hungry to grow within the sports they are passionate about. I think we are seeing it with young people, we are seeing it with women,” Carle says. “I guess the old guard, or the old set ways of sports, is starting to dissipate, and people are starting to be more forward thinking in sports.”
Carle should know. He has grown and learned a lot from the DU hockey program. In 2008, he committed to play college hockey with the Pioneers. That spring he was invited to the NHL draft combine, and while undergoing a battery of testing, he learned about an issue with his heart. He would later be diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. He never had the opportunity to lace up his skates with the Pioneers and was forced to retire a day before the NHL draft.
“It sucked. It was the worst day of my life,” Carle recalls. “Everything I had worked for my whole life had been taken away from me. How I define myself as a hockey player had been taken away from me at the age of 18. It was not just me; it was my whole family because of the amount of sacrifices they put in to help me get the opportunity to get drafted.”
Carle says it was thanks to DU and then head coach George Gwozdecky that his hockey career continued. The University honored his scholarship and brought him on as a student-coach. By his junior year, he knew he wanted to make a career out of coaching.
“This has all happened a lot sooner than I thought it would. Coming back here as an assistant head coach happened a lot sooner than I thought it would,” Carle says. “I’ve been given unbelievable opportunities in life, and I’ve just tried to make the most of them, and that’s what I plan on doing in this role.”
While there might be a lot of new names and faces on the ice, Carle says fans should recognize the style of play.
“Our fans can expect the same brand of hockey,” he says. “We have youthful energy, and I think our fans are going to enjoy that. We are certainly going to make mistakes, especially early. But I think you are going to see that our team in October is going to be different than our team in March.”
The puck drops on the new season for the Pioneers this Friday night when they battle at Air Force. The first home game will be the following night when DU takes on Alabama-Huntsville. It will be Homecoming for the Pioneers and also a homecoming of sorts for the opposing coach. Mike Corbett played his college hockey at DU from 1992 until 1997.