As the NCAA men’s ice hockey national tournament draws near, the University of Denver looks to add another championship to their storied history. After an underwhelming season in 2020/21, DU has recruited a determined group of freshmen to add to their established core. One of these young players, the American Carter Mazur, has quickly made a name for himself among a forward lineup of highly skilled players—in addition to racking up points in collegiate play, Mazur was the only Pioneer to be selected to compete for his country at the U20 World Junior Championships (WJCs) in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In a shocking turn of events, however, the prestigious tournament was cancelled for the first time in its 49-year history due to COVID-19.
I sat down with Mazur to ask him about his experiences, from his drafting into the National Hockey League, to his commitment to DU, to his Team USA selection and journey to the WJCs last month.
Note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. I’d like to start with how you got here. There are plenty of leagues to play in for young hockey players, so following your years in the USHL1, what made you choose college? And more specifically, what made you choose [University of] Denver?
A. I chose college because growing up, my family really valued education. In the OHL2, you do get college, but I feel like you can play longer in college hockey, instead of playing just four years of junior and then going to school. And it’s something else you can fall back on…. If hockey doesn’t work out, then you still have an education and still can do something in the real world.
I was committed to Michigan State before I chose Denver, [until] I decided that I didn’t want to play in the Big Ten. I feel like it didn’t fit my game. I decided to make the change around last year in February, and I started to open up my commitment to see what schools really had to offer. Denver reached out because of one of my old coaches [who went there] … they were probably the last school I talked to. About a week after I talked to him, I decided that it was a school that I really felt at home.
Q. Getting drafted into the NHL, it’s often a player’s defining moment of their career. When you were drafted by the Detroit Red Wings last summer, how did that couple of days play out for you?
A. I’m sitting there watching [the NHL Draft] with my family, having really no idea where I’m going.… Once I saw Detroit had a pick and I saw my name, it was a feeling that you’ll never forget. It’s hard to explain. Especially by your hometown team that you grew up watching, it’s special to be drafted by that organization.
Right after I got drafted—my favorite player growing up was Darren Helm—he was the first person that I got a call from. That’s a player that I modeled my game after growing up, I wore his number, everything about it. It was special to hear his voice and congratulations.
Q. A few months ago, you get selected to head up to Alberta to represent the United States at the U20 World Junior Championships. What was that process like, and how did you feel when you found out you made the team?
A. I had a good feeling about making the team during the trial camp…. Once you heard that you made it, I don’t know how to put it into words, but you’re just so happy. You want to call your parents and say you made it. That’s a lifelong dream of mine, playing in the World Juniors; I watch it every year with my family. To finally have my name on the back of the USA jersey playing in the tournament, it was unbelievable to have that honor.
Q. One of your current DU teammates, Bobby Brink, went to the World Juniors last year and famously won a gold medal with Team USA. Did he give you any advice leading up to the tournament this year?
A. I wouldn’t say [he gave me] that much advice. Going into the camp, before I left, we were in Minnesota Duluth. He brought me to the side and said, ‘you’re good enough to make this team; just go and play your game.’ Hearing that out of him, because he’s been there–I think he played there two years in a row–he’s a special player. To hear that out of him was… awesome.
Q. Well, you go up to Red Deer and you play in one game versus Slovakia. Did that game feel any different from any other one in your career, or were you able to treat it like normal?
A. I would say I still treated it like normal, but for sure it had a different meaning, because you’re playing for your country. It was normal for me, until the buzzer sounds and you hear the national anthem playing after. That’s… something that I wish everyone could feel. It was awesome, without a doubt.
Q. Before the tournament ended up getting canceled, Team USA was forced to forfeit their upcoming game versus Switzerland due to a number of positive COVID tests. And less than a day later, the entire tournament gets canceled. What was the USA locker room like after you found out the news?
A. We were all in quarantine for the game against Switzerland, because we had positive tests. That was not a good feeling, because you have a feeling that this could be an opportunity for the tournament to cancel. And then we got a Zoom call with one of the heads of USA Hockey. And you know when that happens, something good hasn’t happened…. You don’t want to hear that. You go through all this work to get there, and then to have [the tournament] getting canceled by COVID… it’s crazy that it had to come down like that. But hopefully they can reschedule it for the summer.
Q. Several players expressed their disappointment with how the tournament was handled. Most notably, the Slovak goalie Simon Latkoczy made a scathing post on Instagram criticizing how the cancellation went down. What do you think about how the tournament was handled?
A. I really can’t say that much regarding it, but I feel like it could have been handled a lot better. It’s crazy that they could do a tournament last year when COVID was at its height—most junior leagues aren’t even playing, and they still can have the tournament. But in the year where the NHL is playing, and all these junior teams are playing, they can’t? I don’t know how they can have that happen.
That tournament of that stature is the tournament that you shouldn’t take lightly, and [you] should find a way for kids to play. We all came in healthy, we should all leave healthy without COVID. Having people test every single day was probably the worst thing that they could do. We’re kids that are asymptomatic, have no [symptoms] at all. I feel like testing people like that really made the tournament make a turn in a way.
Q. How important is this tournament for young players trying to prove what they can do?
A. Most kids are already drafted, but it’s a stage where you can elevate how you are as a player and show your talents to practically the whole world. This tournament is the next step. It’s a big tournament, especially for the younger kids, who are going into their draft year. If you perform well at that tournament, it could change your draft stock–it could be the difference between a second-round and a first-round pick.
Q. Unless the IIHF3 reschedules the World Juniors with the same rosters or implements some sort of an exemption for next year’s tournament, this past year would have been your last opportunity to compete in the WJCs. Does that disappointment give you that much more motivation to prove what you can do inside of this college season?
A. Without a doubt it does. Ever since my first year in the USHL, getting passed over in the draft, that was also a thing that really motivated me as a player. Stuff like this does motivate me to want to be better and to show what I have.
Q. So here we are. About halfway through the season, Denver is still unbeaten at home. They’re scoring at one of the highest clips in the NCHC4. And yet, there’s still three or four in-conference teams right up with you in the standings. With only NCHC matchups remaining in the season, how important is this final stretch in pursuing that elusive national championship?
A. Yeah, it’s massive. You take it day by day, and hopefully your team can come out on top. Having all the NCHC games, you have to be focused on them. That’s good for teams like us, because we’re going to go into every building and show them what we have. Especially playing NCHC games, they’ll get us prepared for the tournament and show what we can really do and make a huge run.
1 United States Hockey League
2 Ontario Hockey League
3 International Ice Hockey Federation
4 National Collegiate Hockey Conference