Carle: The stakes go up

Editor's Note: The day before the 2008 NHL draft, doctors determined David Carle had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that results in a thickening of the heart and could cause sudden death during physical activity. Carle was forced to retire from hockey but is now a student-assistant coach at the University of Denver, where he had originally signed to play. Carle is documenting the experience for ESPN.com.

Hey Hockey Fans,

Hockey leagues everywhere are ramping up with excitement. Every NHL game now has huge playoff implications. The same goes for junior hockey as well as for youth hockey; it is getting very close to state tournament time, so teams will be trying to secure spots in their respective district tournaments to try to advance to the national tournament. Everyone is making the final preparations and final push to put their best foot forward come playoff time. There is no time like it during the year and it is no different here at the University of Denver and in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

The standings this year are as tight as ever with only six points separating the top seven teams in the league. Only five teams receive home ice advantage for the WCHA playoffs, so everything is on the line with only three weekends left to play in the regular season. Home ice will be even bigger this year in the WCHA, as our conference has not performed in nonconference play as well as it has in the past. This has left many teams on the bubble of the National PairWise Rankings.

The rankings carry a lot of weight in regards to a team's nonconference record and are one of the primary tools used for picking the 16 teams that will compete for the national championship. This makes the automatic bid of the WCHA playoff winner that much more important, making home ice a huge advantage, which in turn has upped the stakes for the upcoming weekends in our league.

This weekend we are going to Madison, Wis., for a two-game series against the Badgers. They are only one point behind us in the standings, sitting at second place. The last time we faced off was in Denver. That was back in October and we were able to take four points from them. They were a team that was struggling, a team with many loose ends that left them vulnerable and winless to date. Since that sweep, however, they have climbed their way back to the top of the heap to meet us again. Since starting the season 0-6-1, they have gone an impressive 16-5-2. This is definitely a team that has found its niche and has been able to turn things around in order to possibly save its season.

As for us, playing in Colorado Springs last weekend against Colorado College was probably our gutsiest effort of the year to date. Playing our archrivals in their building is no easy task. Their fans came out in numbers to support. The Tigers played a hard and simple game in hopes goaltender (and reigning WCHA Player of the Year and national rookie of the year) Richard Bachman would be able to win the game for them. Up 3-1 going into the third, after already giving up 28 shots to us, it seemed that their plan was working to a tee. However, our guys came out in the third and refused to be denied; they battled every shift to crawl back into the game.

Everyone was contributing to create scoring chances and all period we continued to chip at Bachman's armor. Sure enough he eventually cracked. With less than a minute to play, my roommate, Joe Colborne, popped in his second goal of the night to knot the score at three.

The final was a 3-3 tie. Even though we did not get the win, it was a great accomplishment for our team to step up to the plate on the road and come back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period. Every point is hard to come by in our league and that was a big one for us. I think the effort put forth by our team is only a shade of what is to come in the upcoming weeks.

Now the stage has been set for one of the biggest weekends of the year for us. Wisconsin is a different team from when we swept it back in October. We have recently turned a new page and are ready to run at just the right time. For me, it is exciting to be a part of it -- to sit back and simply enjoy.

Thanks and until next time,
David Carle