For 26 seconds, Team USA took the lead in Monday night’s dress rehearsal against the Canadian women’s hockey team — thanks to a backhand goal by North Reading’s own Alex Carpenter in the middle frame. In that glorious moment, many a New England parent may have briefly considered, “What if my child could do that?”
Alex Carpenter hails from a hockey family. Watching her play, it’s no surprise that her father is NHL veteran and one-time Boston Bruins center Bobby Carpenter. What is surprising, however, is how the senior Carpenter’s 18-year run in professional sports equipped him to parent an athlete who would one day compete at the highest level.
Bobby Carpenter says he never told his children to play hockey. It didn’t bother him that Alex wasn’t as interested in his sport initially and took up soccer instead. Her brother, Robert "Bobo" Carpenter, played, but the youngest Carpenter, Brendan, chose football. Alex eventually picked up a stick at 7-years-old, late by many hockey family standards.
"You have to let them figure out what they want to do," Bobby Carpenter said, "if the child doesn't want to do it, they're not going to be good at it."
He did, however, build a rink in the backyard, and set up a shooting area with a bucket of pucks. Bobo remembers staying up late with his siblings on school nights, enjoying the cold New England air beneath the floodlights.
“Those are the special moments," he said. "That's why we're so close together today and we always check up on each other."
Even with a late start in hockey, Alex was impressive. She was often the only girl on the ice. Uncomfortable with the attention at the age of 10, her father recalled how she stormed away from admirers in a huff. Carpenter, who himself once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, took her aside for a lesson on public life.
“You have to be able to learn to deal with compliments and learn to be successful,” he recalled saying to her, “You can say, ‘Thank you very much and really appreciate it,’ and [then] you can go outside the rink and scream your head off.”
Alex was born in Massachusetts, but had spent most of her childhood moving from state to state. By the time Alex was going to high school, Bobby Carpenter and his wife knew it was time to settle down. They saw the toll of the frequent moves on other players’ children.
“She never had Christmas, birthday, or Thanksgiving with family because we were always away,” said Carpenter, “We didn’t want to raise our kids that way.”
Once the Carpenters made a permanent home in North Reading, the kids did not stray far. Alex and Bobo both played for local universities at the collegiate level. Alex went on to be Boston College’s all-time leading scorer for both men’s and women’s hockey. Even when playing overseas in the women’s league based in Russia and China, Alex kept her jersey number from BC, No. 5.
Now at 27 years old, Alex Carpenter has won 5 world championships and is a second-time Olympian. She brought back a silver medal from Sochi in 2014, only to be unexpectedly left off the roster for the national team in 2018. Her comeback after being cut is a first for US Women’s hockey and opens up a new shot at Olympic glory.
At this point in her professional journey, Bobby Carpenter says he has nothing left to teach his daughter. He never made it to the Olympics in his career.
“That's the great part of it. You just sit back and you watch her do the thing on her own.”
He isn’t in the stands for the Winter Games due to COVID-19, but roots for his daughter from home. In Beijing, Alex Carpenter carries with her a family legacy, and looks to burnish her own – with gold.
Team USA lost that preliminary match to Canada, but they advanced to the medal round anyway. Here's a look at the semifinal schedule.