SOCHI, Russia — Alex Carpenter was a rink rat as a kid, always hoping to follow in the footsteps of her hockey-playing father.
Bobby Carpenter was the first American-born player to jump from high school to the NHL and the first American-born player to score 50 goals in a season, and he stood as an example for Alex, the oldest of his three children and only daughter.
In some ways, she has duplicated his feats. A skillful forward who shoots left-handed, Alex, 19, is the second-youngest member of the U.S. women’s hockey team, which will open its Olympic tournament against Finland on Saturday at Shayba Arena.
Clearly, she inherited good hockey genes from her father, who played nearly 1,200 NHL games, spent parts of three seasons with the Kings and won the Stanley Cup once as a player and twice as an assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils. But it’s her own determination that has helped her excel at Boston College and win a place on the U.S. Olympic team, a route her father never got to travel.
“He’s taught me almost everything I know about hockey,” she said Wednesday after the U.S. women’s team gathered for a pre-Games news conference and interview session.
“I used to go watch him all the time. I’d go to games with him and stuff. He just knows the little things about hockey that not many people know. He’s been such an influence on me, both on and off the ice.”
His influence has helped her become a key player for the U.S. Asked what Carpenter brings to the team, veteran and four-time Olympian Julie Chu responded with a question of her own.
“What does she not bring to the team? She’s a great player,” said Chu, the U.S. women's oldest team member at 31.
“She’s such a talented player. She’s smart out there. She’s got great individual skills. She’s got the ability to score but also move the puck. I think she’s a player who will have a huge impact for us in this tournament, not only now but in the future. But we’re excited about the now.”
Alex Carpenter, who took a leave from college for the Olympic year, grew up “all over the place.” She lived in West Orange, N.J., when her father played for the Devils; in Albany, N.Y., when he was coaching in the minor leagues; New Jersey again, and finally the Boston area. When she wanted to play hockey instead of soccer he was behind her all the way, helping her and her two younger brothers.
“He was never an official coach but he was there. He coached me off the ice more than anything,” she said. “He wanted to keep his distance but he knew that we wanted to take the game far, so he kind of had to step in because he wanted to see us be successful with the sport. He kept his distance, but if he had something to say he would come forward and say it.”
She said her father won’t be in Sochi, but her mother, Julie, and younger brother, Brendan, will be in the stands to watch her play. They’ll see a team that’s faster, deeper and more talented than the group that lost the gold-medal game to Canada.
“I definitely see that we have a good mix of veterans and rookies here. I know the veterans have been more than helpful with me,” she said. “We have a little of everything, so I think we’re going to be pretty successful.”