FEBRUARY 23, 1981
In some suburban neighborhoods, the place to be is the house with the backyard pool, but the minute the winter woolens are hauled down from the attics of Glenmont, N.Y., this year, kids will home in on the house with the hockey rink. Bordered by plywood and illuminated by floodlights, the rink is the handiwork of Bobby Carpenter, 36, a recently retired NHL forward turned defenseman best known these days as Alexandra, Robert ("Bobo") and Brendan's dad. "It's not much different from the one I grew up with," says Carpenter, referring to the rink that his own dad built in the back of Bobby's childhood home in Peabody, Mass. "I had a model to work off."
Phil Housley, Mike Modano, Tony Amonte and other U.S.-born NHL stars could say the same about Carpenter. Toddling into the pro ranks straight out of St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., Carpenter at 18 became the first U.S.-born player to be picked in the first round of the draft, going No. 3 to the Washington Capitals in 1981. During an 18-year, 320-goal career in which he would also skate for the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings, the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils, Carpenter became the first U.S.-born player to score 50 goals in an NHL season (1984-85). Carpenter never made an All-Star team or won a major trophy before he retired, in '99, but his early achievements broke ground in the building of a less Canadian-centric NHL, in which talent from the U.S. and numerous other countries has become highly valued.
"Getting different nationalities involved has definitely gotten more people excited about hockey," says Carpenter, who gets some of his excitement from being the associate coach of the Devils' minor league affiliate, the Albany (N.Y.) River Rats. The young Rats are a little raw, which pleases Carpenter. "In NHL practices coaches teach players about other teams," he says. "Here we're still teaching them how to play hockey."
His favorite prot�g�, however, can be found in his own backyard. "With the younger ones, it's too early to tell," says Bobby of his 4- and 2�-year-old sons, "but [6-year-old daughter] Alex has learned to skate and is very, very determined."
Bobby and wife Julie want to make sure, however, that their kids' sports careers don't get in the way of other experiences—most important, college, the one thing the Can't-Miss Kid feels he missed out on. "At 17 all I wanted to do was play hockey," says Carpenter. "I think I've learned some lessons to pass on to my kids."
Not to mention young professionals.