2015-16 Female Athletes of the Year: Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa

Alex Carpenter is leaning back in her chair, one foot propped up on the corner of the table. Her reflective aviator shades are sitting next to her phone, and she’s wearing a 2013 Frozen Four zip-up. Haley Skarupa is to her right, sitting casually in a sweatshirt. The stars of women’s college hockey, faced with the possibility of becoming pioneers of women’s professional hockey, have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.

But right now, they’re in the media suite in Conte Forum, laughing at the realization that seven years of friendship have passed in the blink of an eye. The teamwork, after all, began long before Boston College—at the 2010 U18 IIHF Worlds, led by none other than the coach of the Eagles, Katie Crowley. The two notched nine points each in five games—eight goals and one assist for Carpenter, and three goals and six assists for Skarupa. Foreshadowing the future, Carpenter even scored with an assist from Skarupa in the quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic.

The two couldn’t have grown up more different. Carpenter is the daughter of a Stanley Cup winner, a nomad of the Northeast as her family traveled to accommodate her father’s busy schedule. Now considered among the best in the history of the sport, she hadn’t even begun to seriously play hockey until age 10. Skarupa, on the other hand, was drawn in simply by a young child’s curiosity in a place where good hockey is hard to come by. Neither of her parents played. And yet here they are together, savoring their final moments on the Heights and reminiscing about their individual and joint rises to the top of the women’s hockey world.

With the Carpenters, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

The patriarch, Bobby, was the first person to sign with an NHL team straight out of high school. His career spanned 18 years and four teams, ending his playing career and beginning a coaching job with the New Jersey Devils. Carpenter remembers growing up in a hockey house—she began dabbling in hockey when she was six and spent time after school at her dad’s practices, retrieving errant pucks from the empty stands. There was never a time the Carpenters weren’t moving, whether it was playing Little League or packing up their things to move to another town. When nowhere is exactly home, it’s easy for a family to grow close together.

Competition, of course, also ran in the family’s blood. The oldest of three children, Carpenter fostered the competitive atmosphere that her dad brought to the table. Games with her brothers weren’t just for fun—it was a fight for top dog in their house.

“Someone ends up always crying or leaving,” she said. “It still happens.”

The competition incited a sibling rivalry that stretched farther than the confines of the Carpenter household. Her younger brother, Bobo, is a freshman forward for Boston University—yes, the famed crosstown rival. Brendan, her youngest brother, recently committed to Endicott College as part of its football class of 2020.

Carpenter attended Governor’s Academy, where she was required to play a sport each semester—in her case, soccer (as a one-year player and three-year manager), softball, and hockey. Playing in college was never not a part of the equation. It was just a matter of where.

Narrowed down between Harvard and BC, she made her decision a full month after the deadline. Crowley was so unsure about the prospect’s college choice that her scholarship was offered to another talented senior: Amanda Pelkey, Carpenter’s teammate on the IIHF team. The coach told Pelkey that whoever got back to her first would get the scholarship. The same day, Carpenter invited Crowley and assistant coach Courtney Kennedy to her house in North Reading, Mass., for a meeting. She signed when they got there.

Honestly, when she stepped out on the ice she was better than 75 percent of the guys at least. When that’s the case, no one really questions anything. Dylan Skarupa

Skarupa found the inspiration for hockey in a different person: Emilio Estevez.    

Her brother, Dylan, had The Mighty Ducks, the tale of a ragtag group of misfits learning hockey from Estevez, on repeat throughout their childhood growing up in Rockville, Md. He’s four years older than she is, and when he started playing hockey, Skarupa, who was then 4 years old, wanted to follow right behind him. Of course, she would have to wait a few years—but just a few. By 6, Skarupa was hitting the ice, just like her brother.

She followed in his footsteps all the way to Wootton High School, where she spent her freshman year and Dylan’s senior year on the co-ed hockey team, as one of just two female players. During that time, she also played on the Washington Pride, a club team that’s part of the Junior Women’s Hockey League. In late February, the two teams crossed schedules: the Pride had a game, and the Wootton Patriots had a state championship to win at the same time. So Skarupa showed up to her club game, helped her team, and left at the end of the first period. Then she travelled 40 minutes to where the state championship was well underway and played in the last period.

She won both games.

“Honestly, when she stepped out on the ice she was better than 75 percent of the guys at least,” Dylan said. “When that’s the case, no one really questions anything.”

The same determination that drove her to play two games at the same time took her all the way to the top. Her parents had attended BC, so the school was always at the top of her list—how lucky was it that it also had an elite hockey program? But, like all high schoolers, she needed to be convinced. The Eagles had no problem doing that.

First, Kennedy, well-known for her humor, sent her recruit a personalized email counting down the top 10 reasons why she should come to BC, a la David Letterman. The other reason was that the Eagles had already signed Carpenter a year earlier.

The timeline is confusing: Carpenter and Skarupa were on track to be in the same grade until Carpenter accelerated during middle school. She entered college at 17, a year earlier than her peers, but then took a year off when she went to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, thereby putting the two together again in the class of 2016.

Out of the gate, Carpenter proved a dominant force on the ice. She saw action in 35 of 37 games, contributing 21 and 18 goals to the 24-10-3 season. There are very few people who wouldn’t want to be teammates with someone like that.

“[Carpenter] committing there was definitely big in her wanting to go there too to try and create something special,” Dylan said of the recruiting process.

And then there were two.

I like the Clarkson goal still. That was probably one of my favorites. Alex Carpenter

Everyone you ask about what makes Carpenter and Skarupa the best duo says the same thing.

They have a supernatural GPS that knows exactly where the other is on the ice at all times. There is a “second sense,” in the terms of teammate Megan Keller, that makes the plays happen, that makes Carpenter go exactly where Skarupa needs her and vice versa.

It only took four games—the first win of the 2012-2013 season—for that GPS to kick in. A little more than halfway through the second period of a game against University of New Hampshire, their teammate Jackie Young made her way to the penalty box for cross-checking. This would be a terrifying situation for someone just starting her collegiate career, but Skarupa had Carpenter. She passed it to Skarupa, who raced up the ice and psyched out goalie Vilma Vaattovaarato to put the puck past her. It was Skarupa’s first goal for the Eagles.

This would happen 106 more times.

Carpenter has had an assist on a Skarupa goal or vice versa 107 of the 621 goals scored by the Eagles in their three seasons together in maroon and gold. And those are just the ones they made happen together. In her career, Skarupa assisted 129 times, and put 115 of her own in. Carpenter edges her out in both categories, with 133 goals and 145 assists. To put that into perspective, 17 percent of all goals BC scored in those three seasons had Carpenter assisting Skarupa or Skarupa assisting Carpenter. Even more impressively, either Carpenter or Skarupa scored 40 percent of ALL of BC’s goals during that period.

And to think they weren’t even always on the same line. It wasn’t until Jan. 16 of this season that Crowley put the two together for good. But when they come together, magic happens.

It is a perfect bookend that the last goal of the duo’s career was by Skarupa with an assist from Carpenter. This time, the stakes were much higher. Thirty-nine games and 39 wins had passed by in the 2015-16 season, placing the Eagles in the Frozen Four for the sixth time. The team’s opponent, Clarkson, had dominated the first two periods and led 2-0 halfway through the second. But then they did it again, sparking a rally with a Skarupa goal off Carpenter’s initial shot. With the equalizer from Kaliya Johnson late in the third, it all came down to overtime.

Who but the dynamic duo could deliver?

The Golden Knights tried to stave off the attack, but Carpenter forced a turnover on Shannon MacAulay. She sent it straight to where she knew Skarupa would be, anticipating the pass. She slammed it, and with only 58 seconds played in overtime, the Eagles were going to the national championship for the first time.

Skarupa is usually subtle in her feelings on the ice. She’ll participate in the line of high fives with the bench, but very little else goes into her celebration. This time, however, her arms were outstretched the moment the puck hit the twine, and she and Carpenter jumped into each other’s arms. The bench was going wild. Players raced onto the ice, with Makenna Newkirk starting off a dog pile so tightly packed that neither Carpenter nor Skarupa could breathe.

“You know Haley, she’s not a big celebrator when she scores, so you know that when she’s celebrating, it’s a big goal,” teammate Dana Trivigno said.

BC lost 3-1 in the finals to the University of Minnesota. But that didn’t tarnish the last points made in tandem.

“I like the Clarkson goal still,” Carpenter said. “That was probably one of my favorites.”

Skarupa and Carpenter stood at the front of the bus, ready to begin this year’s rendition of a longstanding tradition for the first road trip, a long ride to Cornell. Each freshman was to stand in front of everyone with her headphones blasting a song much too loud, prepared to give an impromptu performance to a wild audience. Erin Connolly stole the show, impressing her elders with her lyrical interpretation of the Avril Lavigne classic, “Complicated.”

To talk only of points scored is to give an incomplete picture of what Carpenter and Skarupa have meant to BC women’s hockey. In their senior year, the two were also captains, friends, and, most importantly, comic relief.

Some of their teammates were afraid of them at first—they were seniors, and if that’s not reason enough, see the above stats. Freshman Grace Bizal, Carpenter’s roommate on long road trips, barely said a word to her at the beginning. But by the end, Bizal would walk into the hotel room and set her things on the bed of her choice, feeling comfortable—and maybe even a little daring. Carpenter would have no choice but to give it to her. At least Bizal started speaking to her.

Skarupa and Carpenter wanted to lead by example, having their teammates come over to their rooms (right next to each other) in Edmond’s (yes, Edmond’s). They also kept things light-hearted, and are both sarcastic by nature.

Carpenter in particular loves to bring pranks into the equation. A favorite among teammates is her equipment theft. When the Eagles traveled to an away rink for practice because Kelley Rink was occupied by men’s and women’s basketball, Carpenter would take someone’s glove and hide it in her bag, only to reveal it at the rink once someone freaked out about missing a glove. That someone, assistant-captain-to-be Kristyn Capizzano, doesn’t recall it being as funny amid the panic. Teammates also remember filling up the coaches’ sticks with water and re-lacing their skates as highlights of Carpenter’s playfulness.

At this point, I asked the two what songs they sang when they were freshmen. They could barely keep it together, they were laughing so hard. Carpenter’s was Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish,” while Skarupa rapped the Nicki Minaj dance hit, “Starships.”

“You crushed it though, I remember that,” Carpenter said.

Though their college careers have come to an end, it was initially thought that Skarupa and Carpenter wouldn’t venture too far from each other. In the inaugural draft for the National Women’s Hockey League, the first-ever professional paid league for women, Carpenter (1st round, first overall) and Skarupa (3rd round, 9th overall) were both selected by the New York Riveters. This past April, however, it was announced that Carpenter’s draft rights had been traded to the Boston Pride and Skarupa’s were traded to the Connecticut Whale in Hartford. As of publication, neither has signed to a team, but it seems likely that they will compete at yet another level, this time as rivals.

But it probably won’t be long until they’re teammates again. The trials for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are coming up. Carpenter has already represented her country at the sport’s highest stage and is likely to make the team again. Skarupa is vying for her first spot.

“She’s gonna do whatever she’s gotta do to get on that next Olympic team,” Dylan said of his sister.

But that’s all still a while away. For now, in the precious final weeks they have left here at BC, all there is to think about are those memories they keep going back to, and laughing about, in the media suite of Conte Forum.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

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About Shannon Kelly

Shannon Kelly is the assistant features editor. One day she'd like to get paid to be funny instead of being funny for free for this newspaper or on Twitter @ShannonJoyKelly. (The irony of her middle name is not lost on her.)