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By Sam Fryman / Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Carpenter is a name that has made its mark all over the professional hockey ranks, including literally, as it’s etched into the Stanley Cup. They are a storied hockey family and the latest in the lineage – 23-year-old Bridgeport Sound Tigers rookie Robert “Bobo” Carpenter and his 25-year-old sister, Alex – are adding new branches to the family tree.
After winning a Hockey East title in 2017-18 and captaining Boston University last season, Bobo is at the onset of his professional career. After missing the start of the year with an offseason injury, Carpenter has three assists in his first 14 games.
For the North Reading, Massachusetts native, coming back from the injury and moving up a league are simply the latest challenges to overcome. Not that he minds, as one of the keys to his game is a positive attitude as well as a selfless approach to playing the game he loves.
“I wake up in the morning and get to go to the rink and it puts a smile on my face every day,” Bobo said. “I’ve got a great group of guys here that have helped me immensely get used to the AHL.”
Like many New England natives, Carpenter’s earliest memories were playing hockey outdoors for hours on end. His father – legendary forward and Stanley Cup champion Bobby Carpenter – built a backyard rink at the family home. Both Bobby and Julie (Bobo’s mother) were generous with letting all of the kids in the family stay out to play whether it was a weekend or a school night.
But Bobo isn’t the only elite hockey player in the family. His older sister, Alex, who has an Olympic silver medal and five World Championship golds on her resume, played alongside the boys and with her brother on the Valley Jr. Warriors in her home state.
“We enjoyed the organization and still have friends that we are close with to this day,” Alex said. “I think having an organization like that to grow up in and learn both as a hockey player and a person was paramount to the careers that we have today.”
It was evident in talking to Bobo that the competition with his sister started as soon as both of them could skate, but the respect and admiration always remained mutual.
“We’d play horse and we’d get mad at each other and sometimes we’d each storm off away because we lost,” Bobo said. “We know that we brought out the best in each other.”
The family patriarch is Bobby, a man who spent nearly 20 years in the NHL after being selected third overall by the Washington Capitals in 1981. He won a Stanley Cup in 1995 as a member of the New Jersey Devils before retiring four years later with 728 points in 1,178 career games. Those stats earned Carpenter a spot in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.
Those accolades cast a long shadow, but the elder Carpenter has been the biggest support system for both Bobo and his older sister, passing along wisdom from a hockey life well lived.
“He’s been the person my sister and I still look up to everyday,” Bobo said of his father. “Without his hockey mind and his ability to coach I honestly would not be here today. He’s been the one to push us and I’m very thankful for that.”
The goal for Bobo is to push through and make the NHL like his father did. The challenge to put in the requisite work and to keep his passion for the game. Neither of which should be a problem for Bobo. Adversity – like the sting of going undrafted – has only motivated him to be even better than before.
“It comes down to doing every little thing you can to help yourself whether that’s on the ice or off,” Bobo said. “That’ll show with your actions and how you conduct yourself in the locker room and through every game.”
At 25, Alex has already had a very successful hockey career, but it too was not without some adversity. Her challenges came during her collegiate career at Boston College when she had to balance not only academics and hockey, but also being newly named to the United States Uuder-18 Women’s National Team.
“Being a student athlete is already tough with trying to balance academics and hockey, but adding another team to the mix made it all that more challenging,” Alex noted. “At the same time, I learned better time management skills and how to manage various aspects of my life better.”
Alex took her talents to Boston College in 2011, setting up another rivalry with her brother as he went to Beanpot rival Boston University a few years later. When she arrived at BC, she was also made captain of the United States’ Under-18 Women’s Team.
“She said wherever I choose she’s going support me no matter what, even in Beanpot time,” Bobo said with a laugh. “I would support BC women’s hockey and she would support BU men’s hockey, and we’d go to every game we could when our schedules let us.”
After college, Alex went to the professional ranks, which remains a difficult option for many talented women playing across North America because of the pay and volatility of the leagues. She stayed close to home and played with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), scoring 29 points in 17 regular season games before falling in the 2017 final to the Buffalo Beauts.
Wanting to prove herself on a different stage, she spent the next two seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) playing for the KRS Vanke Rays based out of China. Despite the massive time difference, Alex hasn’t missed an opportunity to check on her brother’s AHL progress.
“I keep up with his career while I’m out in China, checking the scores and such of Bridgeport this year,” said Alex. “[I] also talk to him every now and then on the phone to catch up on not only hockey but everything in general.”
This past summer, the CWHL folded and left dozens of top caliber female players without the opportunity to play hockey professionally. With the NWHL unable to secure any of the Canadian markets and many players not feeling that it was the right league for North America, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association was formed. The goal was promoting, advancing and supporting a single, viable professional ice hockey league in North America that showcases the greatest product of women’s professional ice hockey in the world.
Both sides of women’s hockey in North America have seen positive growth so far this year. The NWHL signed a new broadcast deal with the streaming service Twitch and has seen its largest numbers ever for viewership and player revenue. The PWHPA has taken to cities around North America and have had close to sellout crowds for nearly every showcase, including a three-on-three game between Canadian and American players at the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.
Alex says one of the biggest reasons there are still struggles in growing the women’s game is mistaken assumptions about the current product.
“I think that in the past there have been instances where the outside world sees a successful league, when in reality it is a disaster on the inside,” Alex said. “People become complacent because they have a place to play, and don’t realize what a successfully run league could be.”
Bobo remains an ally for wanting to see the future take shape.
“I definitely want to support my sister because she feels the same way,” said Bobo. “She wants to play hockey as long as she can. They’re making great strides towards fixing that and helping the younger generations that are going to come up and play. It’s cool to see when the men support that and bring it up on both sides.”
Both siblings stressed that hard work is the biggest key to setting yourself apart, no matter what challenges the career path might arise. For Bobo, players like Sidney Crosby in the NHL are fantastic examples.
“He [Crosby] doesn’t take a shift off,” said Bobo with great admiration. “I think you can tell the players, when they work hard they’re going to get success and then when other players kind of don’t go above and beyond it’s not going to go the same way.”
Alex made a point to also emphasize natural smarts and instincts on ice.
“I think that a player can have all the skill in the world, but it will only take you so far,” Alex noted. “I think that you need to be able to see the ice and read plays before they are even going to happen to really set yourself apart from the rest.”
This brother and sister have set themselves apart from the rest, but is it really a surprise that a family with the last name Carpenter would do anything but work hard?