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Tampa Bay Lightning's final 2008 draft pick, career ended by heart problem, moves on by staying active in hockey

David Carle tried, with several starts and stops, to describe his transition from hockey player to spectator.

"I don't know if words can describe it," he finally said. "It was definitely rough. It's a readjustment, as opposed to everything else."

To be fair, Carle doesn't just watch. As a student-assistant coach at the University of Denver, he works on and off the ice with the coaching staff, and coach George Gwozdecky said he plans next season to expand the sophomore's duties.

The chapters are the latest in a story that was one of the most heartfelt at last year's NHL draft, when the Lightning, with its final pick, selected Carle, who two days earlier found out his playing career was over because of a life-threatening heart condition.

"Now that I've had time to reflect on it, it seems bigger than I thought," Carle said of being the 203rd pick. "For (co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie) to do that, it shows character, and I'm very appreciative of them."

"What a class thing to do," Carle's father, Bob, said. "Everybody knows it didn't need to be done. It didn't have to be done. It brought a tear to my eye."

Carle was expected to go in the top two rounds. But at the predraft combine, doctors detected hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic thickening of the heart linked to sudden death in athletes, especially under exertion. It is what killed basketball stars Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis.

Carle attended the same Minnesota high school, Shattuck-St. Mary's, as Koules' son. But Koules reiterated last week that selecting Carle was about only rewarding hard work.

"Looking back, I don't think anyone would second-guess David's selection. I certainly do not," Koules said. "He's a special young man in difficult circumstances, and I believe anyone who has worked closely with him knows he can have a place in the game of hockey down the road if he wants it. His volunteer work at Denver says all you need to know about him."

What says even more is a conversation Bob Carle said he had with his son after the diagnosis:

"He's saying to me, 'Dad, it was a real blessing for me to have the skill level to be invited to the combine in order for these doctors to find out I had this condition.' Otherwise, he would have gone on to Denver and played four years of college hockey at great risk to himself."

Instead, Carle, 19, of Anchorage, Alaska, a likely business major whose scholarship is being honored, scouted from the press box during games and gave his observations to coaches between periods. He was in on video sessions and helped players work on-ice practice drills.

"I developed a great respect for his hockey knowledge, especially during games," Gwozdecky said, adding, "I don't think I would have made the transition as easy as David. In that situation, where the game you've played throughout your young life has been taken away, it was bound to have a detrimental effect. For David, it wasn't the case."

The toughest part?

"The games," said Carle, brother of ex-Lightning and current Flyers defenseman Matt Carle. "Playing (Colorado College) in their barn, those are the things as a player you want to be part of.

"At the same time, you have to try to move forward. I'm not going to help the team win by playing. I'm going to help them by taking good notes and paying attention to what's going on and what the opponent is doing."

That doesn't mean Carle has given up on playing. "I'm a guy who believes in miracles."

But he is realistic.

"From Day 1, I've pretty much known my career is over. If it somehow miraculously starts up again, I'll be thankful, but it's not something I ever expect."

Like being drafted by the Lightning.

. Fast facts

47th NHL draft

When/where: Friday-

Saturday; Bell Centre,

Montreal

TV: 7 p.m. Friday, Versus;

10 a.m. Saturday, NHL

Network

Lightning picks: Rounds (overall): 1 (2), 2 (32), 2 (52), 3 (75), 4 (93), 6 (161), 7 (182)

Tampa Bay Lightning's final 2008 draft pick, career ended by heart problem, moves on by staying active in hockey 06/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 12:50am]

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