Former BC star Alex Carpenter helps build up women’s hockey in China
SHENZHEN, China — She has mastered the art of traveling from here to North America and back. She tries to engage with the people, and loves playing with the dogs that run freely around her neighborhood. She is less apt to try the cuisine, preferring white rice and water over some of the more exotic local fare.
Alex Carpenter never thought she’d be here, but why would she?
One of the top high school hockey players to come out of Massachusetts — just like her father, Bobby — Carpenter has gone from North Reading to Boston College to this seaside city near Hong Kong. She is about to begin her second professional season as a center for the Vanke Rays, formerly known as the Kunlun Red Star women’s team.
Like all imported players in China, Carpenter, 24, is a player/development coach. Their salaries come from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but the Chinese government pays for their housing and meals in exchange for their expertise. It is part of China’s push to develop Olympic-caliber talent in advance of the 2022 Beijing Games.
Carpenter, who scored 291 points in three seasons at Governor’s Academy before starring at BC, has responsibilities that reach beyond supporting the breakout and scoring goals. She and six other imported teammates live in a dorm at the University of Shenzhen, where they play the home half of a 28-game schedule.
“I had no idea what to expect when I got here,” said Carpenter. “I thought we would be playing in front of no one. But a lot of people showed up. We have a pretty big rink, too.
“They don’t know too much about hockey, so they cheered at random times, when nothing was happening. But they want to learn. They really love the sport.”
After taking in Saturday’s Bruins-Flames preseason game, the Rays will travel to Boston for the second half of their training camp. Their season begins in North America, with several road trips between here and there until March. Each of the CWHL’s five other teams will return the favor.
The Rays’ coach is West Roxbury’s Bob Deraney, who coached the Providence college women’s team for 19 seasons. His seven player assistants do their teaching in English, with help from an assistant coach who translates.
Carpenter said the Chinese players had low levels of hockey sense at first, but she found them to be hard workers, good skaters, and in excellent shape. They built off rudiments: learning how to transfer body weight while shooting, not overhandling the puck, the art of the forecheck.
“Toward the end of the year, a lot of them got a lot better,” said Carpenter, who led women’s college hockey in scoring in 2015 — when she won the Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top player — and 2016. “They never really take days off. They want to put on a good show and do well. They have high aspirations for the Olympics in Beijing.”
After she was cut from the US Olympic team last January — a surprise, given her résumé and spot on the silver-medal 2014 team — Carpenter followed her father to China.
Bobby Carpenter, once drafted No. 3 overall out of St. John’s Prep, found himself coaching the Kunlun Red Star men’s team last December after the club fired former Bruins coach Mike Keenan. Carpenter, who had an 18-year NHL career (three-plus with the Bruins) now serves in an advisory role to KRS, coached by Jussi Tapola.
Alex Carpenter, whose brother Bobo is a senior at Boston University, is on a one-year contract after playing on a half-year deal last year. She had the option to play back home, but wanted the full season in China.
“It’s something different,” she said. “It’s a nice way to be able to experience a new culture. The Chinese players are really nice. I think they really appreciate us coming over here and helping them.”