Brandon Carlo was in the Bruins lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Canadiens, just as he was Sunday in Detroit. The 23-year-old defenseman is a vital piece of the Bruins puzzle, a 6-foot-5-inch, 212-pound defenseman with brute strength and superior skill.
In fact, Carlo was on the ice for the first 55 games this season, until last Saturday, when he left the team for what was announced as a family matter. And now, after heading to Wyoming to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law, Carlo will play the remainder of the schedule with a very special memory in his heart.
In a quiet moment following practice Tuesday at Warrior Arena, Carlo spoke about Levin Comly, the husband of his sister Jessica, who died tragically at the age of 35. Out of respect to his family, Carlo kept the details private, but he was honored to describe a man who was always smiling, made anyone in the room happier by his presence, and who will be missed terribly by a tight-knit group of relatives.
“That’s definitely the closest member or friend that I’ve been associated with that has passed away. It was a really hard situation,” Carlo said. “The news really shook me. It wasn’t anything that we were expecting.
“I’m very close with my family and I just wanted to be there for my sister mainly, but also kind of put things to rest and mentally get back on track with putting it all in perspective, being at the funeral and closing that chapter, trying to move on from there.”
It wasn’t easy, not as Carlo, the baby of four siblings (he has two older brothers along with Jessica) saw a Bruins hat in Comly’s casket and thought of how much his brother-in-law had supported and enjoyed his surging career.
“That really killed me,” he said.
But being part of the Bruins is also part of Carlo’s healing, something he felt the moment he rejoined the team Sunday in Detroit, ready to play, but also ready to feel the support of friends.
“It’s been fantastic to be around these guys, to see everybody here,” he said. “These are some of my best friends, a brother in a different aspect.
“It was nice because they just gave me a hug when I came back, accepted me back, and to have that to kind of get your mind off everything else is really, really good for you.”
If one of the best byproducts of an evolving professional sports landscape is the deeper understanding and support of an athlete’s decision to attend to such personal matters even at the expense of a game, one of the most longstanding aspects of being part of a team is the welcome that awaits upon return.
Bonds among teammates are some of the strongest we can build, as lives are intertwined not simply by the number of minutes, hours, and days spent together, but also by the dependence and trust built by relying on each other to win games.
That sort of trust extends beyond a locker room’s walls.
“It’s incredibly hard when you experience loss, and for him, the way he handled himself, there are things that are so much more important than hockey,” said teammate Charlie McAvoy. “At the end of the day, it’s just a game.
“It was great for the organization to allow him to go home to be with his family where he deserved to be and should have been. When he came back, it’s kind of hard, you don’t really know what to say. I just wanted to give him a big hug, tell him we were thinking about him and his family.”
The welcome was just as big on the ice, where, as McAvoy said, “We’re just a much better team when he’s out there. One, he defends so hard. He’s long, he’s big, he can skate. I think one of his most underrated things is just how good of a skater he is. People assume he would be clunky or something like that — the stereotype of the bigger skater — but he might be the fastest guy on our team.
“When he’s on, our team is on.”
As Carlo sat at his locker Tuesday, teammate Jake DeBrusk sidled up next to him to make it a joint interview with reporters. The two were part of the same draft class in 2015, when the Bruins had an unprecedented three consecutive first-round selections. It was DeBrusk who was among the headliners, taken 14th overall (behind Jakub Zboril and ahead of Zach Senyshyn). Yet while those two players toil away in Providence, it is Carlo, the seventh pick of the second round (37th overall) who has become a Boston mainstay.
“Maybe the biggest steal of that draft,” said McAvoy, the Bruins’ first-round pick a year later.
Already with a career-high 17 points this season, Carlo has his career on the right trajectory. But when family called, he answered, supported by personal faith and professional understanding.
“I think regardless of the circumstances, with him dying so young, it just puts everything in perspective,” Carlo said, “not only with hockey but life, to really enjoy each day, because you never know what’s going to happen.
“A lot of people say that, but going through that experience really kind of dug it deeper into me. There’s no real reason to go a full day of being angry or sad; you just want to enjoy this life you’ve been blessed to have.”