It’s not easy making your name as a hockey player.
It’s especially difficult when the name on the back of your jersey was seen in arenas around the National Hockey League for nearly two decades.
But for Alex Carpenter – daughter of Bobby Carpenter – being immersed in her dad’s passion helped fuel her own.
“When I was very young I would go to games all the time,” says the U.S. forward. “I thought it was the coolest thing to watch games and video with him. I fell in love with it from an early age because of him.”
The Washington Capitals selected Bobby Carpenter third overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, making him the first American-born player picked in the first round. Bobby would play for five NHL teams, capturing the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995.
While Carpenter is too young to remember that championship – “I was one. I was told I ate Cheerios out of [the Stanley Cup]” – her family would get two more days to spend with the Cup after Bobby became an assistant coach with the team.
“In 2000 and 2003 we had Stanley Cup parties at our lake house in Alton Bay, N.H.,” she says. “Family and friends came up and hung out the whole day.”
By 2000, six-year-old Carpenter was just as comfortable on the ice as dad, and just as familiar around the Devils’ rink. Bobby would often pick his daughter up from school and take her to the team’s practice facility in West Orange, N.J.
It was there where she took aim at a fellow future Olympian.
“(One day) I put on Brian Gionta’s skates because I left mine at home,” says Carpenter. “I went out and took a few shots on (Martin) Brodeur after they were done practice, which was pretty fun.”
Bobby fostered this love of the game for his kids at home as well, just like his dad had done for him.
“My grandfather built a rink for my dad when he was young,” says Carpenter, “so my dad built a backyard rink for us wherever we lived.”
Family shinny, including younger brothers Robert and Brendan, was common.
It could also sometimes get out of hand.
“We’d be checking each other into the snowbanks on the side of the rink,” says Carpenter.
Mom Julie, a former competitive figure skater, would sometimes get on the ice with the kids, too, but she was just as likely to work with them away from the action, helping them with their strides. “We were so young at the time, but I believe it helped a lot in developing us as skaters,” says Carpenter.
Bobby started going to daughter’s games after he retired, often watching from the corner of the rink by himself.
“He picked up on little things that none of our coaches were able to pick up on,” says Carpenter. “One of the most important things he taught us was to be humble – to be a playmaker and not hog the puck.” When you’re young, she says, you tend to have tunnel vision for the back of the net. “He wanted us to be all-around players the offensive and defensive zones.”
Not that the kids would necessarily always listen. Admittedly thick-headed as a younger player, Carpenter was slow to warm to all of her dad’s suggestions. “As we got older we learned that he knew a lot about the game and we really took that to heart.” While praise would come after a really well-played game, that wasn’t what made her better.
“He knew that constructive criticism was what was going to make us better players,” says Carpenter. “And we knew every game we played he was proud of us, no matter what.”
Carpenter is now a junior at Boston College and has both a world championship gold medal and an Olympic silver medal to her name. But she still likes to call on dad to break down video with her. Last Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve were spent studying game tape from the United States’ pre-Olympic tour. This season they’ll study her college games.
And what does dad notice? Maybe trying a pass here or skating more there, says Carpenter. “It’s little nit-picky things, but they make a big difference.”
Dad’s words of wisdom have gone beyond the ice as well. Her mini-sticks game already honed years ago in the hallways in West Orange (thanks to a young Jay Pandolfo), Carpenter has learned from her dad the keys – nutrition and rest – to managing a long season.
As Carpenter, still only 22, continues to rack up points and medals – and her brother Robert carves his own identity with the Sioux City Muskateers of the United States Hockey League – the conversation has shifted. Before, it was Alex and Robert, son of former NHLer Bobby. “It’s starting to change a bit,” says Carpenter. “People recognize my brother and me for who we are as players. Obviously, we have great bloodlines from our father and we acknowledge that.”
But she won’t dwell on it.
“I’m not even playing for the name on the back,” she says. “What’s on the front is more important.”