The best shot blockers in hockey are both fearless and have perfected the technique of getting in front of pucks without coming away worse for wear.
“I wish I knew that technique,” Declan Carlile of Hartland said.
OK, well, at least he’s got the fearless part down.
Blocking shots is far from glamorous, and quite possibly hazardous for a player’s health, but it’s one of the key elements that have allowed Carlile to become one of the best players in college hockey in a relatively short time.
Carlile, a sophomore defenseman at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, is among 50 players nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Among the recent winners are NHL stars Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel and Cale Makar.
“I was a little surprised, but at the same time it was a cool honor,” Carlile said. “For me, it’s just something that I couldn’t have done without everyone on my team. It’s just a reflection of our program and how that works.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it this early in my career. It’s an honor I take pride in. It kind of sprung up on me and surprised me, and it was definitely a good surprise.”
After missing Merrimack’s first four games due to COVID protocol, Carlile has emerged as one of the top defensemen in Hockey East. He has one goal and two assists in three games, leading the team with a plus-3 rating.
With 24 blocked shots, his average of three per game leads Hockey East and ranks second in the nation to Colorado College defenseman Zach Berzolla’s rate of 3.25.
“I love the feeling of blocking a shot and everyone on the bench getting up,” Carlile said. “It helps the team. It’s been a part of my game. It doesn’t always feel great, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.”
Carlile made the Hockey East All-Rookie team last year, leading all Merrimack freshmen in scoring with four goals and 18 assists. His 22 points were three shy of the school record for a freshman defenseman. His 67 blocked shots led Hockey East.
“My first year, it was just kind of getting used to the speed and pace of the game,” Carlile said. “This year, it’s more about bringing that speed and being more used to the games.
“I’m getting my footwork together more, just thinking about it and focusing a lot in practice. I’m a lefthanded D and play the right side, so I’m getting more comfortable on that side, being able to pivot and use my stick and things like that.”
He played for Lincoln and Muskegon in the United States Hockey League in 2018-19.
Carlile went into the 2018 NHL Entry Draft ranked No. 176 among North American forwards. He hasn’t been drafted, which doesn’t necessarily derail his NHL dreams.
“I thought maybe it would happen last year, but it didn’t,” Carlile said. “At the end of the day, it’s just going to motivate me more. Being a college free agent is kind of a good play these days. I have my options open for me. I think it’s a good road to go down.”