The next year was more of the same, with Carpenter scoring 67 points in only 21 games and being named Massachusetts Player of the Year. St. John's ended up 17-3-1, but this time in the regional finals Matignon turned the tables. Carpenter, however, put on a show that Yannetti still recalls with wonder. With his team trailing 3-0 after the second intermission, Bobby scored three third-period goals before Matignon pulled away to win 5-3. The first came with Bobby's team shorthanded. After being tripped from behind, Carpenter somehow lifted the puck into the top corner of the net while diving through the air. "He's like all great players," says Yannetti. "When the game is on the line, he wants the puck." Carpenter finished the four-game tournament as the leading scorer with eight goals and five assists.
Last July Carpenter went to Colorado Springs to try out for the U.S. Junior National team, made up of players 17 to 19. The tryouts consisted of a round-robin series of games, and 16 of the 21 NHL clubs had scouts on hand. Carpenter was the youngest player there, and Yannetti, who was one of the assistant coaches, was just hoping the kid would hold his own. What he did was dominate the trials. "He was the best of all of them," says Yannetti. "He's been the best at every level he's ever played."
But he was more than that. He was almost superhuman. Carpenter had been excelling at center, as usual, until eight players, several of whom were defense-men, were sent home for overturning a car and harassing some girls outside the neighborhood 7/11 store. The next day Carpenter found himself on the back line. "He played like he'd been born there," says Tom Micheletti, one of the player agents vying to represent Carpenter. "That's when you knew." Asked to rate the 15 best forwards, all but one of the U.S. coaches named Carpenter No. 1. The other had him second.
Perhaps Carpenter's most impressive message to the scouts came at the World Junior Tournament in Munich. The U.S. team opened play with losses to Finland, Sweden and Germany. In their fourth game the Yanks faced Canada. Centering opposite Carpenter was another 17-year-old named Dale Hawerchuk, the star of the Cornwall Royals, Canada's top Junior A club. "All these scouts kept telling me, 'You got to watch this Hawerchuk, you got to see him. He'll be the first guy taken in the draft,' " says Micheletti, who was at the tournament. "So I watched him. Carpenter won almost every face-off, and he got three goals and two assists. Now, in five other matchups, who knows how they'd do? But I tell you, if Hawerchuk goes No. 1, Carpenter won't be far behind." The U.S. also won the game, 7-3.
Like they say, the kid can't miss.
Bob Sr. admits he would go to a hockey game every night if he didn't have to work the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. In the Boston area you can do such a thing, with its dozens of high school and college teams and the Bruins. A great bearlike man who weighs more than 200 pounds, Bob Sr. played hockey through high school before joining the Navy. When Bobby was three he bought him his first pair of skates, and as a kindergartner the boy used to hustle down to the swamp at the end of the street and skate by himself, not wanting to wait for the other kids, to have to share the puck and the ice.
Bob Sr. built a backyard rink when Bobby was six, laying tarp and putting up two-by-sixes and lights and even resurfacing with hot water so the ice wouldn't chip. The neighborhood kids would come over and play all Sunday—this was the Bobby Orr era, remember—stopping at midday for hot chocolate and to watch the NHL Game of the Week. Whenever Bob Sr. could, he'd take his son to a Bruins game. They were sharing an obstruct-ed-view seat when Orr scored the goal that beat St. Louis in the 1970 Stanley Cup final—the one in which he was photographed flying through the air. Seven-year-old Bobby had sneaked in under the turnstile, a common practice at the Boston Garden, even for tykes who are accompanied by law-abiding parents.
Now Orr is watching Bobby Carpenter. Saturday before last, St. John's played Matignon, and about 85 kids never saw the first period for all their pushing and shoving to get a glance at Orr. Word is out that Orr, who was watching the game with Bob Sr., is considering getting into the player representative market and wants young Carpenter as his first client. How can you say no to a legend? How can you turn down someone whom you had watched score the Stanley Cup-winning goal from your father's lap—from behind a post—10 years earlier?
St. John's is no match for league-leading Matignon this year. Stop Carpenter and you stop the Eagles, and in Bobby's first rush up-ice someone nearly decapitates him trying to do so. "As long as they don't knock out his teeth," says his mother, Ann Carpenter.
Bobby happens to have all his teeth, which is the sort of thing that makes this particular mother proud. She is a vivacious, high-cheekboned blonde who has lived in Peabody all her life and is, in the words of one scout (they don't miss a trick), "as strong as a lion." There are no superstars in her house. She has two other children, a 19-year-old daughter. Robin, who is a freshman at Salem (Mass.) State College, and a 14-year-old, Ron, called Bear, a 200-pound freshman football player at St. John's. All her children get equal time, so she ends up missing many of Bobby's games. There are more important things than hockey.