Coyne and Carpenter rule Hockey East: Part 2 – Alex Carpenter

Alex Carpenter (BC - 5) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting Syracuse University Orange 10-2 on Saturday, October 4, 2014, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Alex Carpenter (BC – 5) – The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting Syracuse University Orange 10-2 on Saturday, October 4, 2014, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

When I started this column on Northeastern’s Kendall Coyne and Alex Carpenter of Boston College last week, Carpenter had 104 career goals. In the world of the Eagles’ star, information that is a week old is already outdated.

In her two games over the last week, Carpenter scored three times. Her 107 career goals leads all active players. On the season, she’s had five multi-goal games, three of which are hat tricks, and her 17 goals are more than the total goals for nine teams.  Carpenter assisted on four more tallies this week, giving her 30 points. Only 10 teams in the country have scored more goals than the number in which Carpenter has been involved.

Such is her scoring prowess that even Coyne, with 106 career goals of her own, is covetous.

When asked what talent she’d like to borrow from the BC captain, Coyne said, “I would say it’s definitely the knack she has for the net. She just has a natural ability to put the puck in the back of the net.”

That skill was on display in her most recent game versus Boston University. Tied at 3-3 in overtime, Carpenter took a feed from Haley Skarupa, shot directly off the pass, and found the twine with the game-winner. While the play was a beautiful setup by Skarupa, Carpenter had caused the turnover to produce the scoring chance in the first place.

“It seems like she’s always all over the ice,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said. “She’s different in the fact that she doesn’t have the pure breakaway speed that Kendall does, but she just has that knack that the puck always ends up on her stick. You sit there and do scouting reports and you show the kids video, and you say, ‘Alright, we’ve got to keep tabs on her,’ and it seems like the kids are trying, but they just can’t. She’s just such a gifted player and so smart, and she can control a game. When you need someone to step up for a big goal, she’s a kid that does it time and time again. It’s tough to coach against her, and they have so many weapons on that team, it’s like you spend too much time worrying about Carpenter, and then somebody like Skarupa makes you pay.”

With all of the talent that BC possesses up front, coach Katie Crowley has the job of putting the pieces together in the right combinations. Last season, she skated Carpenter between Skarupa and Kenzie Kent. As a sophomore, Kent has remained on Carpenter’s wing, but Crowley introduced another first-year player in Makenna Newkirk. It isn’t always easy for a young player to strike the right balance when playing with a veteran superstar.

“I think you have to find the right players that will find the seams that Alex finds, so that she can work with them in that way,” Crowley said. “This year, she has a freshman on her line. Last year, she had a freshman on her line. Neither one, I felt, were intimidated by her, but they compliment her, and are able to play to her strengths. Both of the players that are on her line this year are very good players, so it’s been fun to see them. Kenzie last year was able to step right in once we put her on that line and really made a huge difference with her and Haley. Kenzie is really good at seeing lanes and seeing openings and seeing where Alex is open.”

Last season, the line of Carpenter with Skarupa and Kent helped lift BC to a No. 1 ranking for the first time ever, a position the Eagles enjoyed for most of the season. They led the country in goals with 195, averaging five per game. Carpenter finished tops in individual scoring with 81 points, and that success as both a team and an individual combined to make her the first BC player to take home the Patty Kazmaier Award.

“She didn’t like to talk about individual awards, and she still doesn’t,” Crowley said. “She broke our all-time leading scorer record, and she humbly accepts the puck, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. She wants to help her team get to that ultimate goal and win that national championship. Her teammates see that. Her teammates see her wanting that and wanting her whole team to be successful. She gets just as excited when somebody else scores a goal than when she does. She likes when her teammates have success as well.”

Last year, all the Eagles had success, as Boston College set a program high with 34 wins. In addition to the Kazmaier, Carpenter was named USCHO Player of the Year, and Hockey East Player of the Year for the second time.

“I think it definitely is surprising at times, but I try not to really look at the personal successes,” Carpenter said. “I think what’s most surprising is how much I’ve enjoyed it here, and it’s been an overall great environment. Coming in as a 17 year old, I was pretty scared, and it took me a while to get adjusted here. But with the help of the coaches and my teammates these past four years, I think they’ve done a great job. It’s a big testament to them for making me feel at home here.”

While this is her fourth season at BC, it isn’t her fourth straight season. She spent the 2013-14 season as one of Coyne’s teammates on the United States Olympic Team, where Coyne noticed another facet of Carpenter’s game that stood out.

“Obviously, her talents are way above all, but I would say her compete level, her determination to win is second to none,” Coyne said.

Entering so young left plenty of time for Carpenter to improve, and with that determination, she definitely possessed the drive. What part of her game does she think has seen the most growth from the days when she was a rookie?

“It definitely has to be my speed,” Carpenter said. “My freshman year was tough coming in as a 17 year old and having to play with all of these older girls, but I think taking that year off to go play with some of the best players in the world, I think that really helped me work on my speed and my strength overall, which I think has really helped me these past couple years.”

Rivals have noticed.

“I think she hit another level with her game after the Olympic year, and I don’t know if that was experience,” Flint said. “I think part of it was strength and speed. I think she came back, she was faster, she was stronger, she was smarter, and then she had that extra confidence to play at the highest level. I remember the first time we played them last year, and the first time I’d seen her since the Olympics, I said to one of my assistant coaches, ‘She actually brought her game to another level.’ That’s pretty scary considering the level she was at.”

The way Carpenter gets around the rink is a bit deceptive.

“Her speed might not be noticeable to some people when they watch her play, but when you see her pull away from kids, you know she’s fast,” Crowley said. “It’s a little bit different than Kendall, you look at her, and it’s like, ‘Wow, she’s really fast!’ Carp is fast, but you don’t see it right away.”

Being able to watch her whole college career, Crowley has had plenty of time to see that speed.

“I would say it’s like her explosiveness,” Crowley said. “You can tell when she turns it on. That, I think, has become a big asset, because she’ll be skating next to somebody, and then she’ll go to that next gear and even on the bench now, you can see her pull away from somebody. And it’s usually somebody who can skate well.”

Whenever I speak to a player or coach about Carpenter, each one lists different attributes that make her great. With most top players, it’ll be one or two things that stand out. “She can really shoot the puck. She is tough along the wall. She tells great jokes.” With Carpenter, the list is ever growing. Even her coach has trouble narrowing it down to a single thing that she does best.

“I would say her intensity,” Crowley said. “I would say her hockey sense. She is pretty good at reading and anticipating things to create, whether it be offensively or defensively. Physically, she’s extremely strong. She was young when she came in as a freshman; she was supposed to still be in high school. She’s become more physically stronger, obviously, since then.”

So what’s left for Carpenter to accomplish in her senior season? Last season, Boston College lost just three times, less than half the number of losses it had in any previous year of the program. Unfortunately, those losses came at painful times: the final of the Beanpot, the Hockey East Championship, and the Frozen Four semifinal.

“Obviously, we’ve had some struggles in tournament games the last couple years, but I think we’re not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Carpenter said. “We’re trying to focus on it game by game, and obviously, it is something that we need to be concerned with, but we’re just focusing on winning every game and playing it like it is a championship game.”

While the Eagles have won both the Beanpot and the conference tournament in other seasons, they haven’t come in the years Carpenter has been part of the roster.

“She’s a kid that is definitely focused on those things,” Crowley said. “She gets pretty pumped up and pretty excited for those opportunities. I know that she’s excited for those. Last year was disappointing for us, that we weren’t able to win the Hockey East Championship after the year we had, and I think our whole team is pretty excited to get back to that opportunity, and hopefully, have a chance at it again.”

Carpenter is doing everything she can to make sure those opportunities do present themselves once more.

“I find it impressive how hard Alex works,” Crowley said. “That’s not only when she has the puck, but when she doesn’t have the puck. It goes through from practice through games. We’ll be playing a mini game, and she’ll be diving to keep the puck in the zone, so that her team doesn’t lose possession of the puck, or we don’t throw in a new puck. That’s how she is in a game, too. She’ll come back and back check a kid from behind, dive, knock a puck off her stick, it’ll go to our defenseman, and she’ll get up and they’ll pass it to her and she’ll go the other way. That’s a special trait for a kid, for a player especially at her still-young age. The work ethic that she has is pretty impressive.”

That effort can have a multiplying effect.

“For me, I like that the younger kids get to see that,” Crowley said. “They get to see her work ethic, where she is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the world, and she still works so hard, whether it’s in practice or games. They get to see that, and they get to feed off of that.”

The whole squad is getting more from each other these days.

“Since I’ve been here, I think the teams have gotten closer and closer as I’ve gotten older,” Carpenter said. “Obviously, they were close my freshmen year to begin with, but I think even so, the team hangs out more, does little things whether its on campus or off campus more. I think it’s just a more, in general, happy environment to be around.”

The four years go quickly, even with a year away in the middle.

“I’m just looking to soak it all in,” Carpenter said. “Obviously, I’ve been here for a while and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way, so I don’t want to take this last year for granted. I want to have as much fun as I can, at the same time, be successful as a team.”

Fun for Carpenter and the Eagles. Fun for Coyne and the Huskies. Fun for the fans. But maybe not that much fun for the other coaches and goaltenders in the league that have to try to slow the two snipers’ march toward Hockey East records.