Faith helped shape Brandon Carlo. Now, he fits seamlessly into Bruins’ backline
Her little boy, all 6 feet 5 inches and 207 pounds of him, has grown up, and the silver ring Angie Carlo bought 7-8 years ago in a Colorado Springs department store is showing some wear. On the outside, the word “Faith” is etched into the modest band, and inside it reads, “Live by faith, not by sight.”
“I wear the ring every day,” said Angie Carlo, whose big boy Brandon is living his dream as the Bruins’ standout rookie defenseman. “I rub it before every game he plays . . . it’s my little good-luck charm.”
With varying and untold amounts of faith, good luck, determination, hard work, and natural talent, Brandon Carlo arrived in Boston this September as a plug-and-play NHL-ready defenseman. Possibly the most talented blue liner the Bruins have drafted since Ray Bourque, the 20-year-old behemoth has fit seamlessly and efficiently into Boston’s backline, pairing prominently as captain Zdeno Chara’s partner in the club’s top shutdown unit.
More than one-third of the way through the NHL season, Carlo has piled up enough creds (most notably a bountiful 22:23 in average ice time) to be among the early favorites for NHL rookie of the year honors.
Raised in Colorado Springs, Lenny and Angie’s youngest child, infatuated by the likes of Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake, shaped his NHL dream at an early age. By age 12, Brandon and his mom were in the family Suburban sometimes seven days a week for the 120-mile round trips, from the Springs to Denver, allowing him to play with the elite Colorado Thunderbirds. By age 15, eschewing rabid interest by several Division 1 college clubs, Carlo opted to move outside Seattle and play for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League.
“Definitely a big commitment on her part,” said Carlo, thinking back to the countless drives, often in harrowing weather, he shared with his mother. “She’d get off work early, run home, make us some food, and off to Denver we’d go.”
Those trips, in part, were what motivated Carlo a couple of years ago to have the same words on his mother’s ring — a variation of a Corinthians verse — tattooed along his right forearm. On the opposite arm, in Roman numerals, are Lenny and Angie’s birthdays. Along his collarbone, four more tattooed symbols, to represent that God is greater than any ups and downs.
Photos by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
“I learned about it from my mom,” said Carlo, reflecting on the “Faith” verse and tattoo after a recent workout. “I really like the expression. I feel like it fits a lot of different things, and you can use it in many different ways. It ties me with my mom and my religion as a Christian. And then the other, with my mom and dad’s birthdays . . . I’m just all about my family, and hockey.”
There could be more tattoos to come, Carlo isn’t sure. According to Angie, whose other three adult children all have tattoos, Brandon has talked about getting sleeves, tattoos that run the full length of an arm.
“He told me that and I’m like, ‘What? I don’t think so!’ ’’ said Angie, realizing her days at the steering wheel have come to an end. “I am still trying to tell him what to do . . . but I guess it’s not working as much.”
The Jordans moved into the new house next door only weeks after the Carlos moved into their new house on a cul de sac on the north side of Colorado Springs.
The Jordans were a hockey family. The Carlos didn’t know where their lives were about to go, especially for 4-year-old Brandon.
“I saw Brandon, and I said to Lenny and Angie, ‘Hey, so your son’s a ’96?’ ” recalled Hal Jordan, who graduated from Marshfield High School in 1986. “They had no idea what I was talking about. But, hey, I’m from Boston, and hockey’s about all I know . . . kinda sad, right? You identify your kids by what year they’re born.”
The Jordans had Hadan, also a ’96 birth year, and Hadan and Brandon became fast friends. Mainly because of hockey. Totally by chance.
“We basically started with street hockey,” recalled Carlo. “Hadan’s my best friend. We were out there playing every single day of the week. We didn’t know anything about it. They were the hockey family.’’
By his trained hockey eye, there was just something about this Carlo kid, recalled Hal Jordan. He could see it from Day 1. Upon arriving home from work, he found everyone, including son Hadan and wife Maureen, wearing in-line skates and playing hockey in the cul de sac.
Delighted, Hal Jordan’s first instinct was to join the game. But the tall, gangly 4-year-old Carlo kid from next door was wearing his skates, adult size 8, and all Hal Jordan could do was watch.
“I go in and grab a beer,’’ he recalled. “I come back out to watch, figuring, ‘Yeah, yeah, this’ll be kinda cool.’ And I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen a kid skate like that for a first time on skates!’ It was absolutely crazy. I’ve coached, I don’t know, maybe 500 or 1,000 kids . . . I’ve coached since 1991 . . . and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
By age 5, at the urging of Hadan and Hal Jordan, Carlo was in a local ice rink for the first time, making the transition to a new sport.
“Took me a while,’’ Carlo recalled. “I would have to stay after with the coaches . . . the whole team would be practicing at one end of the ice, and I would be at the other end, learning how to stop. I had no idea. I just kind of got thrown into the fire.”
Hadan Jordan and Brando Carlo quickly became regular partners on defense, often paired until age 12. Brandon was bigger.
“Always head and shoulders above my height,” recalled Hadan, now 6 feet and still playing hockey. “For our age group, he was always bigger than everyone.”
The height difference was so striking, recalled Hal Jordan, that he carried a copy of Carlo’s birth certificate with him for tournament play, where out-of-town coaches routinely challenged him over Carlo’s age.
“I loved it,” recalled Hal Jordan. “Some guy would be in my ear, saying like, ‘No way that Carlo kid is 7!’ I’d pull out the paper and say, ‘You’re right, he’s not . . . he’s only 6.’ ”
By age 12, Carlo made the decision to play for the elite amateur program, the Thunderbirds, thus starting the near-daily drives to Denver. Through those years, recalled Angie Carlo, the family annually spent $20,000 or more to keep Brandon in the game.
At age 15, though he would have to move to the Seattle area to play for Tri-City, recalled Angie Carlo, the financial relief was something to celebrate.
“We broke out the champagne!” she said, laughing, “we didn’t have to pay for hockey anymore.”
Hadan Jordan kept up his game in Colorado Springs through his high school years, and the last two seasons has played for the Bridgewater-based Boston Bandits, a Tier 3 junior team. In January, he’ll begin classes at St. Michael’s College, his dad’s alma mater in Colchester, Vt.
So some 16 years after first playing street hockey together in the cul de sac, best pals Jordan and Carlo have been reunited here in the Hub of Hockey. One off day, Carlo zipped down to Bridgewater to see one of Jordan’s games, and Jordan has been a regular this season on Causeway Street, watching Carlo’s NHL career unfold.
Hadan lives in Marshfield, staying with the family of Tom Jordan, one of his uncles, and Carlo has visited a few times for a home-cooked meal.
“It’s almost surreal, I can’t believe sometimes that my best friend is in the NHL,” said Hadan Jordan. “It also doesn’t surprise me at all. He always wanted to be the best, no matter what we did, whether that was playing football in the backyard, or shooting pucks, or being on the ice or lifting the most in the weight room, or seeing how many pushups we could do at age 12. He’s always been the hardest worker.
“But it’s just crazy that my best friend since age 4 is playing for my favorite team in the NHL.”
Denver is where Carlo’s game really began to take shape. He played five seasons with the Thunderbirds, and it was coach Angelo Ricci, a former University of Denver standout, who he feels most helped to shape his pro mind-set.
“I learned to be mature as a hockey player, on and off the ice,” he said. “All my coaches influenced me, I’d definitely say, but Angelo was the biggest influence on me, for sure.”
Carlo was a captain (and his mother the team manager) in his final season (2012-13) with the Thunderbirds, during the months he was making the decision where to go next. He was drafted by both Tri-City in the WHL and Youngstown (Ohio) in the USHL. Also, added Ricci, he would have had his pick of free rides with top Division 1 NCAA programs.
“Could he have gone to college and maybe the same thing happened?’’ said Ricci, 44, a 1995 Denver graduate. “Maybe. He probably would have played a year [then turned pro].”
But by Ricci’s eye, Carlo by age 16 already had the mind-set and the body to make the pro game a realistic pursuit.
“He knew what he wanted,” recalled Ricci. “He wanted to take that chance to make it to the NHL. I give all the kids the options. I lay it out to the parents. I will tell you there have been other players who’ve made big mistakes with us, going the wrong way, they would have been better to take the long road. But with him, and almost any kid who’s done it in his situation — him, Dominic Turgeon, Cal Foote — there is something about those kids.”
After two seasons with Tri-City, Carlo was selected by the Bruins in the second round, No. 37, in the 2015 draft. It was the same year they made three consecutive picks, including defenseman Jakub Zboril, in the first round.
After only one more season in the WHL, Carlo arrived in Boston this September, and it looks as though he’ll be here for a very long time.
“I thought he would be a first-rounder, maybe in the 20s,” said Ricci. “I was shocked. And I am not going to lie, I was shocked the Avalanche didn’t take him. They had the first pick in the second round, traded the pick, and I think they were going to take him. But then Boston, I think, saw a steal in him.”
By design, for a club challenged mightily on the back end last season, the Bruins have cast Carlo in a shutdown role, using him all but exclusively with Chara at even strength and for killing penalties.
But it looks like there is more to his game, his speed and high hockey IQ reasonable bonafides for him to be used as a greater offensive threat, perhaps one day be a power-play regular.
“To be honest, I’m not concerned with that,” said Carlo. “My focus coming here was just to make the team and be the best I can be, whatever role they’ve asked me to play. I think I still have a lot to learn. But so far, I think I’m doing OK.”