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Carle, Stastny's paths cross on the ice again

Sharks defenseman, Avalanche forward have memories of DU

Published November 15, 2006 at midnight

CENTENNIAL - Matt Carle and Paul Stastny are too young to be wistful.

Nostalgia is reserved for retired Army generals, not 20-somethings starting to make a name for themselves in the NHL.

That doesn't preclude Carle and Stastny from sharing fond memories of attending high school together in Omaha or reaching the pinnacle of college hockey with the University of Denver.

Their paths, so intertwined the past four years, will intersect again tonight with a new twist.

Carle, a 22-year-old rookie defenseman for the San Jose Sharks, and Stastny, a 20-year-old rookie center for the Avalanche, will face each other for the first time as opponents at any level.

"It should be fun," Stastny said after practice Tuesday. "We keep in touch. It'll be exciting to play against him."

"I don't know if either one of us are looking forward to it," Carle said during a telephone interview. "It'll be a fun experience, but we'll both be trying to do the same thing, and that's help our team win."

Carle and Stastny know how to do that.

After playing junior hockey in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha, the two reunited at DU in 2004-05 - Carle as a sophomore and Stastny as a freshman - and helped the Pioneers to the second of back-to-back national titles.

Though DU fell short of a three- peat in 2005-06, Carle won the Hobey Baker Award given to college's top player and Stastny scored 19 goals and added 34 assists to solidify his status as a premier prospect.

Given an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NHL, both left school early to begin their pro careers.

"Everybody's really happy for these guys and love to see them succeeding and having fun," DU coach George Gwozdecky said. "In certain ways, it justifies how much hard work we put into building our program."

As the older member of the dynamic duo, Carle always has been a step ahead of Stastny on the road to the NHL.

Carle was a senior at Millard North High School when Stastny was a junior, and he arrived on the DU campus in time to be a part of the Pioneers' 2003-04 NCAA title team.

"He was one of the reasons I went to Denver," Stastny said.

Carle, the 47th pick of the 2003 NHL entry draft, was the first of the two to be drafted, and he made his debut with the Sharks on March 25 - two weeks after his junior season ended with a disappointing first- round loss in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament.

Carle still is intent on earning his degree in real estate/construction management, and he will be honored by the university during Friday's game against Michigan Tech.

"I'm not a guy who likes to draw too much attention," he said. "To have the success we had there was incredible. It was a great experience and something I'll never forget."

While Carle returns to campus, Stastny will be in Columbus, Ohio, site of the 2005 national title game, as the Avalanche play the Blue Jackets.

Stastny was considered a long shot to make the Avalanche roster out of training camp, but his strong play and injuries to veterans Pierre Turgeon and Brad May helped him avoid a trip to the minors.

In his first 17 NHL games, Stastny has scored three goals and added 10 assists.

"From playing with him, you know how much skill he has," said Carle, who has three goals and 11 assists in 19 games this season. "You know he's only going to get better and increase his level of play. To see him stick on that team wasn't surprising for me at all."

Gwozdecky also is not surprised to see his former players enjoying success at hockey's highest level. They were the focal point of the DU attack, be it at even strength, on the power play or short-handed.

"They made so many plays that it just became expected that these plays would be made all the time," Gwozdecky said. "They made it look simple. I don't know if we ever took these guys for granted, but when they're gone, you realize how good they were."

Gwozdecky and members of his coaching staff plan to attend tonight's game, which also will feature former Pioneers-turned-Avalanche forwards Antti Laaksonen and Mark Rycroft.

Because Carle never played with Laaksonen and Rycroft, the reunion will focus on Stastny, who tossed the first good-natured jab of a friendly rivalry.

Asked if he expected Carle to line him up for a hit, Stastny smiled.

"Ah, he doesn't hit," Stastny said. "He doesn't want to go out of position. He's smart like that. If there's a chance, he'll try - but I'll see him coming."

Carle chuckled at his friend's comment but offered no counterpunch.

No need. The two pals will have plenty of opportunities to spar on and off the ice for years to come.

Sharks at Avalanche

When: 7 tonight.

Where: Pepsi Center.

TV/radio: Altitude; KKFN-AM (950).

Leading scorers

San Jose (13-6-0)

G A P

C Patrick Marleau 11 10 21

RW Milan Michalek 8 12 20

C Joe Thornton 4 16 20

RW Jonathan Cheechoo 7 8 15

RW Steve Bernier 5 10 15

Coach: Ron Wilson

Colorado (7-8-2)

G A P

C Joe Sakic 7 10 17

LW Andrew Brunette 7 7 14

RW Milan Hejduk 7 7 14

D John-Michael Liles 3 10 13

C Paul Stastny 3 10 13

Coach: Joel Quenneville

Injuries: San Jose - G Evgeni Nabokov (stiff neck) is probable; D Rob Davison (groin) is on injured reserve. Colorado - D Jordan Leopold (hernia), F Brad May (shoulder surgery) and F Pierre Turgeon (shoulder surgery) are on injured reserve.

Sidelight: Quenneville and assistant Tony Granato attended The Who concert at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night, prompting a fitting slogan for an Avalanche team that has lost three games in a row and four of five. "We won't get fooled again," Quenneville quipped.

Notes: The Sharks have alternated goalies Nabokov and Vesa Toskala every game, and tonight figures to be no different, with Nabokov scheduled to start. It's difficult to argue with the results: Nabokov has a 2.18 goals-against average; Toskala boasts a 2.16 GAA . . . Jose Theodore will make his fifth straight start in goal for the Avalanche. He has saved 60 of 63 shots the past two games . . . Expect the Avalanche to come out with some intensity after admittedly playing their worst game of the season Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers. "It was an unacceptable performance," captain Joe Sakic said. "We know we've got to bounce back and put that behind us." . . . San Jose has been outshot 73-36 during its past two games.

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