Two of Bobby Carpenter’s children have followed in his “Can’t Miss’’ footsteps. Alex Carpenter, a captain this season at Boston College, won a silver medal in the 2014 Olympics and was the Patty Kazmaier Award winner last season as America’s top female college hockey player. Bobo Carpenter, a center at Boston University, is having a strong freshman year, prompting Terriers coach David Quinn to say, “Amazing kid. Academically, socially, athletically. I only wish I had 26 Bobos.’’
So how does the founder of the “Can’t Miss’’ family franchise account for his kids’ success?
“Really simple: It’s their passion to play,’’ said the senior Carpenter, whose picture, as a ruddy-faced St. John’s Prep wunderkind, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 35 years ago this week.
“They’ll do anything to make themselves better. If you don’t have a passion, you are not going to be a very good player. They have the drive. Every day. They love being at the rink.”
But lest anyone were to think their old man — dubbed the “Can’t-Miss Kid’’ by SI in 1981 — knew everything about hockey and his kids, he’ll freely admits the parenting thing has held its surprises.
For instance, he was convinced that Alex, after starring for four seasons at Governor’s Academy, would make Harvard her hands-down favorite when it came to college. And he was certain Bobo, who spent most of his high school years at Austin Prep, was bent on playing for BC.
Lo and behold, Alex chose the Heights, and Bobo cared to look no further than the BU campus.
“As a parent, you think one thing, and then, who knows?” said the 52-year-old Carpenter, who played 18 years in the NHL, including 3½ seasons as a Bruin.
“Alex came home one day and said she thought she was more like the girls at BC. Fine, I said, because eventually you become who they are by the time you graduate. And Bobo, we’re at BU for our first visit and he turns to me and says, ‘Dad, I am coming here. I don’t even want to go see BC.’
“You think you know your kids, you talk to them, but hey . . .”
Bobby and Julie Carpenter have a third child, Brendan, who tried hockey for a few years but found football to be more his thing. A senior at Austin Prep, he’ll head to Endicott College in Beverly in the fall.
“Great kid, funny, bright — he’s the chatty one,’’ said Bobby. “The other two, I have to pull stuff out of them. He knew he wanted to go to Austin Prep. He knew he wanted to play football. It’ll be a neat thing, watching him play at Endicott.’’
For the moment, though, the main focus is on the family’s core business, particularly with Alex and her top-ranked Eagles finishing the regular season an astounding 34-0-0 (24-0-0 Hockey East) and now about to face Maine in the conference quarterfinals starting Friday.
Alex is the nation’s leading scorer (38-38—76) and has a chance to become the first person to repeat as the Kazmaier winner. (Harvard’s Jennifer Botterill won it in 2001 and ’03.)
“We’ll see,’’ said Alex. “It’s not something I’m really focused on. All our focus is on the playoffs and hopefully playing for a national championship.’’
Bobo, who began his freshman year as a fourth-line winger, now is comfortably ensconced at the family franchise position, pivoting Robbie Baillargeon and Oskar Andren.
Headed into this weekend’s games at Notre Dame, he is tied for 11th in team scoring (8-4—12 in 30 games), with the Terriers ranked No. 9 in the nation and aiming for a return trip to the Frozen Four in April. They fell to Providence in last year’s NCAA title game.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot at BU,’’ said Bobo, who spent his senior year of high school in Sioux City, prepping for the college game with the USHL’s Musketeers. “I’ve grown as a player at this level for sure. And it’s just been exciting all around. To play in front of family, friends, for BU — it’s all been just surreal.’’
Teammates as mites
The Carpenter kids first hit the ice in the late 1990s. Their father built a rink in their backyard near Albany, N.Y., where Bobby began coaching in the AHL immediately after wrapping up his stellar NHL playing career with the New Jersey Devils in 1998-99.
Alex, born in ’94, recalls being in the stands for a few of his final NHL games, while Bobo’s earliest recollections are of his dad’s days as an assistant coach in New Jersey.
“We’d always be in the far back row, behind one of the nets,’’ recalled Bobo. “And every game, he’d wave to us before the anthem and we’d wave back. It was very special.’’
When Alex began playing hockey as a mite near Albany, younger brother Bobo started, too.
“Really, just to get out on the ice,’’ recalled Bobby. “I mean, he was so young he wasn’t really ready. I think it took him 2½ years to score his first goal.’’
Typical of the time, particularly at that level, Alex and Bobo sometimes would play on the same team. For years thereafter, Alex often played on boys’ teams, sometimes as the lone girl. That competition, she believes, played a key role in molding her skills and game toughness.
But as mites, they’d usually be found at the same rink in Bethlehem, N.Y., often on the same team.
“One day, Alex is in net, and Bobo’s got the puck at center ice,’’ recalled Bobby. “All of a sudden, he turns around and goes straight for Alex, because that’s what he wants to do — score on his sister! You could hear her screaming at him, ‘Bobo, Bobo, what are you doing? Go the other way! We’re on the same team!’ ’’
It was around the same time, recalled Bobo, that it became his turn to play net. The coach believed everyone should take a turn, but when his day came, he wanted no part of it.
“He was all excited at first,’’ recalled Bobby. “He brought home the equipment, wore it all around the house for two days.
“Game day comes, we’re in the stands, and he’s just standing out there, not moving.
“My wife says, ‘Look at him, something’s wrong.’ And she tells Alex to go check on him. She comes back and says, ‘He’s bawling his eyes out, crying like a baby. He doesn’t want to play.’ So we had to pull him. He never played.’’
For years in New Jersey, Bobby kept up a rink in the backyard of their home in Morristown. Bobo and Alex were out there all the time. If they weren’t there, they were in the driveway, passing pucks, shooting on a net, working on faceoffs. For 365 days a year, the family home was a cacophony of clattering sticks and pucks ricocheting off something.
“We got a new utility shed one year,’’ recalled Alex. “And Dad said to us, ‘Look, don’t be shooting at the shed, it’s brand new!’ Of course, what happens? I take a shot, it bangs off a post and puts a hole right through the side of the shed.’’
Dad got it fixed. He salvaged the puck-sized divot the shot took out of the new Home Depot shed, autographed it, and gave it to Alex.
“I had to do that,’’ he said. “She’s kept it.’’
The backyard rink was truly the focal point, although it didn’t please the neighbor directly to the rear. An older woman, recalled Bobby, she complained constantly about the noise, despite the fact that a 20-yard stretch of woods acted as a buffer between the yards.
“This lady was always complaining, saying, you know, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re too loud,’ ’’ he recalled. “And I said, ‘Listen, this is 6 o’clock at night. It’s not too loud.’ She even called the police on us. So that went on for a while until it kind of died down.’’
A couple of years later, recalled Carpenter, a younger woman introduced herself, noting she was the neighbor’s daughter. The young woman was Kathryn Tappen, the former NESN reporter/anchor who has gone on to the NHL Network and NBC.
“Kathryn tells me, ‘That’s my mom, she’s a pain, don’t listen to her,’ ’’ recalled Carpenter. “So when she’d be home visiting her mom, she’d be looking at our kids playing on the backyard rink.’’
Tappen, reached Tuesday night, had a different version of the story, noting she was still in grammar school during the years the Carpenters were neighbors in Morristown. Her mother not only never complained, said Tappen, but enjoyed watching the fun the Carpenters had on their outdoor rink.
‘’I would never in a million years tell someone I barely know that my mother is a pain,’’ said Tappen. ‘’I’m extremely close to my mom and she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.’’
Father knows best
Once she wraps up this spring at BC, Alex’s plans are uncertain. Her playing rights are owned by the New York Riveters of the NWHL. She might give the pros a try, and she definitely wants to keep her game in shape for at least one more Olympic run. The 2018 Winter Games will be in South Korea.
“I can see her playing in a couple of more Olympics down the road,’’ said BC coach Katie Crowley, a US OIympic gold medalist in 1998. “I think she’s one of those kids driven to be one of those players that sticks around on that team for quite a while.
“And I think the more she is able to experience it, especially now with women in the pro league, it’s a little easier road to do that. I think she wants to help the US win another gold medal.’’
Bobo will be eligible for the NHL Draft in June, after previously going unclaimed. Similar to his dad’s dream of long ago, he would like to make it to the NHL, ideally after a four-year run at BU that he would love to wrap up with a captaincy.
Both make it clear they are thankful for their father’s advice. They’re playing his game, and they carry his words into virtually every shift.
“Move your feet — I’ve definitely heard that from him a lot in my lifetime,’’ said Alex. “I still do. Some games I feel like I am stuck in quicksand and he will be like, ‘You have to move your feet.’ It’s a simple thing, but a lot of people overlook it.’’
But she learned long ago that the little things don’t escape her father. One day, she recalled, she and Bobo were playing a video hockey game at home. Bobo had a two-on-one, and she used her player to lunge toward the puck.
“Actually, we weren’t really playing, just goofing around with it,’’ recalled Alex. “My dad sees me make that move on the two-on-one and tells us to stop the game. ‘That’s not the move you make there, you know,’ he says. And I’m like, ‘Dad, really?’ ’’
The Can’t-Miss Kid just couldn’t let it go.
“You know, I don’t remember it,’’ said Bobby. “But, yeah, I am pretty sure it happened.’’