Could Flyers' Carle get Olympic call?

"It's always been in the back of my mind all season," Matt Carle said of playing in the Olympics. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

CALGARY, Alberta - Matt Carle made plans to take a vacation for the Olympic break.

He said yesterday, though, that he would be willing to put them aside for a shot to play for the United States in Vancouver in 2 weeks.

"That call to play in the Olympics would trump any plans that I had for the break," Carle, an Anchorage, Alaska, native, said before the Flyers' matchup last night with the Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

When Brian Burke announced the U.S. Olympic hockey roster on Jan. 1 at Fenway Park, many thought Carle could be in the running to replace injured Devils defenseman Paul Martin.

Martin announced yesterday that he has withdrawn his name from the roster; he hasn't played since Oct. 24 and his broken left forearm is still in a cast.

But Burke might have to replace more than just Martin, since Toronto's Mike Komisarek hasn't yet been cleared to return to contact drills because of a shoulder injury that's hampered him since Jan. 2.

The Toronto Star reported yesterday that Komisarek would "almost certainly" not be wearing the stars and stripes in Vancouver after receiving "bad news from doctors on Saturday."

Burke officially has until the U.S. team moves into the Olympic village to make roster changes. Burke has said publicly that he would require Komisarek to play in five games with the Maple Leafs before playing in Vancouver, so Komisarek would need to return tonight in Toronto.

That's where Carle could come into the mix. So far, he hasn't been one of the handful of names mentioned by prognosticators. According to the Sporting News, Carolina's Tim Gleason is first in line for one of the spots. Ron Hainsey (Atlanta), Ryan Whitney (Anaheim), Alex Goligoski (Pittsburgh), Zach Bogosian (Atlanta) and Keith Yandle (Phoenix) all have been mentioned, but Carle has largely been ignored.

"It's always been in the back of my mind all season," Carle said, adding that he hasn't heard from Burke or USA Hockey executives.

Roster moves are expected to be announced this weekend, Team USA executive director Dave Ogrean said yesterday in a conference call.

"The players in question are two very good defensemen but they've both been out," Ogrean said. "Brian [Burke] and [assistant executive director] Jim Johannson and the management team are going to have to make some decisions on whether to keep them on the roster or to replace them with other players under consideration. That decision is one they'll have to be making by this upcoming weekend."

With 24 points and a plus-18 rating in the first 53 games of the season, the smooth-skating Carle has made a strong case to be an Olympic replacement. Burke said in November that he would keep an eye on Carle's progress.

Carle has also made a case for the Flyers' most improved player award. By comparison, Carle had 15 points and an even rating at this time last season after coming over from Tampa Bay in an unexpected November trade.

On Nov. 20, before the Flyers slid into a 3-13-1 stretch, Carle led the entire NHL in plus/minus.

He is projected to finish the season with 37 points and a plus-22 rating, if he stays healthy for all 82 games. Carle has never ended a campaign as a double-digit plus.

Naysayers chalk up Carle's success to playing on a defensive pair with Chris Pronger, who is third on the Flyers before last night's game with 37 points. Pronger will represent Canada in his fourth Olympics.

But Carle has kept up with Pronger and his ridiculously high ice time. Carle has averaged more minutes (23:15) per game this year than any of his previous three NHL seasons.

If selected to the U.S. team, Carle would join Brian Rafalski, Brooks Orpik, Jack Johnson, Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson on the United States' blue line. He would also be the Flyers' sixth representative - and fourth defenseman - at the Olympics.

Carle is no stranger to USA Hockey. He played in the U.S. National Development program before heading to the University of Denver, where he won hockey's Heisman trophy, the Hobey Baker Award. His general manager, Paul Holmgren, helped picked the U.S. team with Burke.

"I don't know if it helps at all," Carle said of his connections. "I'm definitely familiar with the people at USA Hockey. I just don't know if it will do me any good. They want to take the best players, they don't care where you're from." *