BEDFORD, Mass. – It was Jan. 8 in a sleepy town outside of Boston, exactly one month before (and several miles away from) the dropping of the puck in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games opener for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. Long before many of her teammates would hit the ice for another practice at the Edge Sports Center, Alex Carpenter skated alone to one side of the rink and pumped puck after puck into an empty net, going top shelf on an imaginary Finnish or Russian or Canadian netminder.
Nobody could blame Carpenter for her eagerness that afternoon.
“I started working out here in the spring, and I worked out with a bunch of older girls and I just wanted to be just like them,” Carpenter said after practice that day. “I’d try to get the same weights. It was … not like a rivalry, but more like I want to be just like them. I want to be just like them. And to be with them here now is unbelievable.”
Carpenter, 19, is now in Sochi and played with her Team USA teammates against a real Finnish goalkeeper as the United States beat Finland, 3-1, in its first preliminary-round matchup at the Olympic Winter Games. So far, Team USA is 2-1 in Sochi, having picked up another win against Switzerland followed by a loss to Canada. Carpenter is responsible for two goals so far in the tournament.
Carpenter, a forward, already had a hockey name, as the daughter of former NHL forward-turned-defenseman Bobby Carpenter, but she has also made a name for herself by carving up opponents in Hockey East for two seasons at Boston College and on the international stage.
Bobby Carpenter was the first American high school player to go directly to the NHL, doing so after a standout career at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass. He played in nearly 1,200 NHL games, was part of a Stanley Cup-winning team with the New Jersey Devils and played in an NHL All-Star Game, but Alex is now doing something he never got to do: She will represent Team USA in the Olympic Winter Games.
“Of course I would have loved to have played in the Olympics,” said Bobby Carpenter, who lives in Boston but works in player development for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. “I was too young to play with the ’80 team and then I turned pro in 1981, so I couldn’t play for the Olympics.
“I played in the Canada Cup and the Sports Festival, and those events were exciting. I loved the Sports Festival in Colorado Springs, and I got to meet figure skaters and boxers and athletes like Herschel Walker, but the world watches the Olympics, not the Canada Cup. I’m excited for her.”
Bobby is not be in Sochi as he will be stayed back home to be with his son, Bobo, who has committed to playing hockey at Boston University. But his wife, Julie, a former figure skater, and their younger son, Brendan, have made the trip to Sochi.
Even though Bobby will not be in Sochi, he has had almost daily contact with Alex, mainly through FaceTime.
And his influence has been with her throughout her life.
“I definitely heard that I do have a lot of his style,” said Alex, the oldest of the three children in the Carpenter family. “Obviously I’ve done video with him all my life growing up. I went to the rink with him. On our rides home we’ll talk about stuff. I still talk about stuff with him. So I think his hockey knowledge has definitely rubbed off on me and just from being around the game so much as a young kid; I’ve just grown up around it.”
Although his little girl is now a major force on the international scene and no longer in need of daily talks with dad, Bobby Carpenter still finds a way to help guide her along the way. He has made it to multiple games during the selection process for the national team and has the film room ready at home for whenever Alex wants to swing by.
“I’ll even get video and bring it home sometimes,” she said. “I’m lucky I’m 20 minutes away and can just pop home for a half hour and do that.”
Those video sessions and the hockey know-how coursing through Carpenter’s veins have allowed her to make a seamless a transition to the U.S. women’s team. Team USA coach Katey Stone, a longtime college coach at Harvard, doesn’t seem to have any reservations about the teenager’s ability to hang with the best in the world.
“Alex is strong, shifty, her game has gone from zero to 60 here in a very short amount of time,” Stone said. “She had a great game going in, but where she is now versus where she was in September, it’s exponentially different.”
Bobby Carpenter said he knew from an early age that Alex had the talent to go far. He vividly recalled taking her to the Polar Bears Tournament in Connecticut when she was 9 and saw how well she matched up with much older players.
“I knew my daughter was good,” he said. “But after watching all of those other girls and then seeing her play, I thought, ‘Wow.’”
Alex continues to impress at a young age. At 19, she is the second-youngest player on the U.S. women’s team. But then again, having early success in the Carpenter family isn’t anything new as Bobby made the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 17 and was dubbed “The Can’t Miss Kid.”
Alex is young enough that she doesn’t have many memories of the U.S. team that won gold in 1998, the first year women’s ice hockey was part of the Olympic program. She does recall later editions that earned a silver medal in 2002 and a bronze medal in 2006 and was glued to her set as a freshman in high school in 2010, watching current teammates such as Julie Chu and Jessie Vetter pushing Canada to the brink in the gold-medal game in Vancouver.
Once she came into the fold, Carpenter did her best to avoid stargazing. Like everything else along the way, she’s succeeded just fine.
“I just looked up to them and I still do,” she said of Chu and others who paved the way and now skate alongside her. “They’re still role models to me even though we’re all on the same team now.”
And one of her biggest role models will be rooting for her back in Boston: her dad.
“I think anytime your children reach a goal at such a young age it’s exciting,” Bobby Carpenter said. “And for them to accomplish is unbelievable. I just keep telling her to enjoy this. I know she wants to win and wants to end to happen so fast, but I hope she will pay attention to everything that happens around her and not miss the ride.”
Tony Lee is a freelance writer living in Boston. He has covered sports for more than a decade for ESPN.com, the New England Sports Network and the Boston Metro newspaper, as well as several other websites and publications. Lee is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.