Hockey is a game of transitions. Transitioning from offense to defense, from defense back to offense, transitioning into new teams, new schemes, even transitioning mindsets as a game progresses. Over the last year or so, Boston College forward Alex Carpenter has gone through two huge transitions off the ice, but she’s handled them with the same grace, fluidity, and power she’s constantly shown on the ice as well.
Carpenter has a steely look in her eye as she sits across the table and talks about Sochi. It’s clear that she still hasn’t forgotten that feeling, that she maybe won’t ever forget the weight of a silver medal hanging around her neck, watching the Canadian flag being raised up to the rafters and listening to the Canadian national anthem ringing throughout the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Russia.
“It was definitely a disappointment, we thought we had it there,” Carpenter said. “We say that we didn’t train all these years for a silver medal. We didn’t win the silver medal, we lost the gold.”
Just over three weeks after Canada completed its comeback, dashing the United States’ hopes of winning gold, the Boston College women’s hockey team also came up just short of achieving its goal of adding a star to the backs of its jerseys. The Eagles made the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Clarkson, the eventual National Champions, in Potsdam, N.Y. by a score of 3-1.
At one point in the second period of the gold medal game, Carpenter came around the backside of the goal unguarded, taking advantage of Canadian defender Tara Watchtorn’s perch in the penalty box. Carpenter’s linemate Hilary Knight slid the puck through a defender’s legs, across the crease, right onto the tape of Carpenter’s stick. All she had to do was beat Canada’s goalie Shannon Szabados. She’d done it time and again with BC, and she wasn’t going to miss here, not on the world’s biggest stage. She slammed the puck home for an emphatic 2-0 lead.
“I just thought ‘Wow, we’re up 2-0, this is it, we’re gonna win,’” Carpenter said, a wistful smile briefly lighting up her face. “It was a very exciting moment for myself personally, but for our team I think it was as well.”
Carpenter was just 19 years old and playing in the Olympics, an incredible experience for someone just halfway through college—even more amazing were the four goals and the assist she tallied in five games.
Leaving Team USA—temporarily, at least—and returning to BC, Carpenter lines up to a familiar face on the ice—fellow forward Hayley Skarupa.
“It’s been really easy, you know, we played together even before we got to BC [with the] USA U-18 team and we played together my sophomore year here,” Carpenter said. “We kind of know where each other are on the ice all the time, and then we have Kristyn Capizzano with us, and our line is coming together nicely.”
When Carpenter joined the U.S. Olympic team, the first six months of her year were spent training all day every day at their team hub, which was located near Boston. Carpenter took advantage of her close proximity to BC to stay a part of the Eagles.
“From what I saw and what I’ve heard, we have got a great group coming back, so I’m excited to finally mesh with this group,” Carpenter said.
“It was different having to sit in the stands and not be able to go out there and help them win, but I’m excited to be back.”
Carpenter attributes this close contact with BC to her easy transition back to being an Eagle. Instead of needing to meet two new classes of players, Carpenter was already familiar with this year’s sophomores before coming back on campus.
“It was pretty easy to come back and meet all the new freshmen,” Carpenter said. “A couple of them are local, [and] a couple of them were involved with USA Under-18 team. We were acquaintances before, so I think it was pretty easy to come in and mesh with everybody.”
After BC’s 10-2 dismantling of the Syracuse Orange in its season opener, it’s hard to argue with her statement. Carpenter scored twice and assisted on two goals, one for Skarupa and one for Capizzano, amassing four points in her first game with the Eagles since March 22, 2013. BC head coach Katie King Crowley was positively thrilled to have Carpenter back on the front lines, but, in typical fashion, was still able to point out room for improvement.
“You know, it’s kinda getting back to college hockey. It’s definitely different when you come back, and I think she’s doing a great job,” Crowley said. “There were some times where I thought she passed when she should’ve shot and a few times where she was trying to make that extra play, but she’s obviously a great player. We’re happy we have her back, and she’ll be a threat wherever she is on the ice.”
Carpenter may have been able to ease on back into the Eagles lineup with minimal problems, but even she admits it’s been a little bit harder for her to transition back into the student portion of being a student-athlete.
“That was tough—it’s still pretty tough,” Carpenter said. “Last year at this time I wasn’t doing too much, I was just training, off-ice training, on-ice training, so it’s definitely a challenge to come back and know you have homework due every day, and sitting in class for a couple hours is kinda tough on me, but I’m getting used to it.”
While transitioning back from training to school hasn’t been easy, both Carpenter and Crowley are confident that she benefited and improved in a big way thanks to her time with the national team—training every day and playing the top competition in the world will do that for a 19-year-old.
“I think she’s stronger, quicker, and everything else, I mean she’s still one of the most intense players that you’ll ever come across,” Crowley said. “Being a player who just works out and plays hockey is a pretty cool experience to have, and she took full advantage of that and has certainly gotten stronger and faster, when you don’t even think that she can.”
Carpenter agreed with her coach, citing her improved speed. “I definitely have been told by numerous people that I had to get quicker, and I think I really worked on that last year and I think that separates me from a lot of other players now,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot quicker with and without the puck.”
Spending a year away from a team, especially a college team where players have a limited timespan to play, can make a team look different. Carpenter acknowledges that this incarnation of the Eagles isn’t the same one that she left a year and a half ago. She doesn’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, though.
“I think we have a lot more depth this year, I think we can have four solid lines, and we have five solid defensemen and three goalies vying for a spot, so I think that we have that good mix of older veterans and rookies who are going to mesh together very nicely,” Carpenter said.
When Alex Carpenter talks, it’s almost always in an even, matter-of-fact tone. It’s in Carpenter’s nature to take care of her own business first, to control what she can control, and to not concern herself with things that escape her control. Whether it was talking about her experiences with the U.S. Olympic team, her transition back to the Eagles, or her personal goals for the year, Carpenter was all business. That type of attitude doubtlessly helped keep Carpenter’s transitions over the past year smoother than they could’ve been. When Carpenter was with the Olympic Team, her mind was completely focused on Sochi. Now that she’s back at Chestnut Hill full time, Carpenter is completely on winning with BC.
“I definitely think this team does [have what it takes to win the National Championship] just from looking at our team from all of preseason,” Carpenter said. “I really see a special group with these girls, and I think if we keep getting better week by week, month by month, we’re gonna get to where we wanna go.”
Hockey is a transition game, and if Carpenter’s switch back to college hockey keeps going as smoothly as it’s been so far, it’s no stretch to think that the Eagles could be wearing jerseys with a star on the back in a year. This time, after the final whistle, Carpenter doesn’t want to be the one looking at someone else’s banner being raised. She wants someone else to be looking at her team’s banner being raised.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor