When Alex Carpenter was growing up, it took her a while to realize her upbringing didn’t mirror that of other kids.
When you are the child of a professional athlete — in this case the oldest of three and only daughter of former Bruin Bobby Carpenter — adaptability becomes a necessity.
Before high school, Alex and her younger brothers had lived in New Jersey, Albany, New Jersey again, then settled back in Massachusetts, where Alex graduated from Governor’s Academy before signing on to play hockey at Boston College last year.
She said the uprooting shaped her personality.
“It was difficult having to skip around schools and teams but my brothers and I talked about it,’’ said Alex Carpenter, who led the Eagles in scoring last year with 40 points, (22 goals) in her freshman season. “It was kind of a good challenge having to fit into each team. It just really opened your eyes to a bunch of different people. It’s just a good experience even if it was really hard. I think it did make us stronger as people. We still have friends in all these states. I wish we could’ve stayed in one place, I wish I could’ve grown up like most kids do with one set of friends. But I think it really did make us diverse.’’
She was a natural at hockey, which she started playing at about 7 years old, but as she developed her game, her father wasn’t shy about letting her know when her play wasn’t up to the level it needed to be.
“He was very rough on me but I think that’s the reason I am where I am today,’’ she said. “Most parents will tell you, ‘You did a great job,’ even if you didn’t play the best, but my dad would be brutally honest with me and I think that’s a big part of my success.’’
As tough as the commentary was at times, she said it was always helpful.
“It was very constructive criticism,’’ she said. “He would always give me ideas. We would sit down and watch game videos. He was very reinforcing about the same things. He has the greatest hockey knowledge I know. He’s a great resource to have, to be able to ask questions and everything.’’
Bobby Carpenter, now the player development coordinator for the Toronto Maple Leafs, said he didn’t believe he was overly harsh in his assessments of his daughter’s play.
“I don’t think I was very hard at all,’’ he said. “It was her being hard on herself more than anything. [His kids liked the sport] and she loved the sport and wanted to be the best at it so I was showing them how to do it. It didn’t matter whether they did it or not, I didn’t care if she was going to go play softball or hockey in college, but she chose hockey and I said, ‘If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right.’ She had the skill and the ability and it would’ve been a shame if she didn’t develop that. There are lots of first-round draft picks who don’t make it for that reason.’’
Carpenter said it was important for Alex to realize the price that had to be paid if she was going to reach the top level of the women’s game.
“I wasn’t the parent to tell her when she did not play well, ‘OK, yeah, that was great.’ Instead it was like, ‘That was bad today. You didn’t do your best today.’ It was always a lesson learned,’’ he said. “All these people were telling her how great she was doing and she said, ‘You’re not, why?’ I said, ‘I know a little bit more than those other people and if you want to be the best, this is what you have to do.’ ”
Carpenter said it was clear early on that Alex had uncanny hockey sense. Because of that, he had to teach her to be patient with her teammates.
“You knew from Day One when she started to skate, she was a very intelligent player,’’ he said. “It was hard for her to understand growing up that other players can’t do the things she could do so we had to shape that part of her mental game.’’
When Alex began playing organized hockey, she played on both boys’ and girls’ teams. She said she tried to avoid being recognized as Bobby Carpenter’s daughter, even though everyone knew she was. She particularly felt it when Carpenter retired from coaching and began going to every game.
“He would always stand in the corner of the rink by himself,’’ she said. “You could tell when he was unhappy and you could tell when he was happy. It was kind of a lot of pressure. I guess there is the pressure of being Bobby Carpenter’s daughter. I try to not think about it that as much and think about our team.’’
BC coach Katie King Crowley said it was unusual situation last year because Alex was a 17-year-old freshman.
“She’s a great kid,’’ said King Crowley. “She’s awesome to have around here. It’s exciting to see what she has in front of her. She knows the game so well. You know that she’s grown up around the game. That’s one of her best assets. Her skill set is really unbelieveable and I think she will continue to explode in college because of her drive and competitiveness. It’s always exciting to watch her play.’’
Alex said one of the challenges was learning to balance all the demands of college with hockey, nutrition, and getting enough sleep.
“Last year it was kind of a shock,’’ she said. “We had all this academic [responsibility], all these expectations in the classroom and on the ice but I think this year, we’re more adjusted and more adapted. We had a lot of success last year, it was very exciting. We can always get better. Last year was a good indicator of where we stand in the league. We just need to continue working with that.’’
One of the reasons she has come so far in her development was because she played against girls and boys much of the time through her sophomore year of high school.
“They didn’t really target me at all,’’ she said. “I’m still good friends with all my guy teammates I’ve had over the years. Even people on other teams never came in and tried to hit me or anything like that. I was always probably one of the bigger people out there so maybe that was the reason, but I never had any issues with guys in hockey except for obviously when I got older, they were soon to be bigger than, me so that’s why I left after my sophomore year.’’
Bobby Carpenter, who played 1,178 NHL games, said one of his dreams for Alex is for her to become a successful person and that when hockey ends, she will move on into a different phase of her life.
“[The women’s game has] grown sideways,’’ said Carpenter. “It’s become more popular, but I don’t see too many options for women. Look at the girls who play in the Olympics or who are hoping. They’re hanging around and not even working and just skating. That’s no options for me. I go through this with Alex. I said, ‘Those girls love hockey but there’s a life here.’
“Obviously, she gets a scholarship to Boston College and that’s a huge advantage, but it’s the people she’s going to meet there, the opportunities from the school itself. That’s your future. You use hockey to develop your future. There’s a lot of girls out there, I don’t know if they got the message. It’s kind of a sad in a way that they keep hanging on and I want to make sure Alex understands there is a great benefit to hockey which is the school and the people you meet.’’
For now, though, Alex said she is just going to enjoy college and the sport as long as it lasts.
“I love hockey,’’ she said. “It means the world to me.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org