Despite his love for the sport, Bob Sr. recognizes that as well. He wants his son to go to college next fall, not so much because of what Bobby will learn in the classroom but because of the opportunity college provides a young man to grow at his own pace. "You can't be 17 going on 25," he says. "In the pros, you're not allowed to be an adolescent. But at that age, if you don't play a good game, you shouldn't have the weight of the world on your shoulders. College is a very important part of a young man's life, both mentally and physically. It helps you develop as a human being. But the ultimate decision has got to be his. What am I going to say, 'You have to go to college.' That was the old days."
If Carpenter is one of the first five or six players drafted, he'll probably be offered a three-to five-year contract in the neighborhood of $100,000 per annum. But Carpenter himself is less intrigued by the dollar signs than by the idea of being the first high school player to jump directly into the NHL. "Put him with the right players, and he could do it," says Quebec's Fleming. "Personally, though, I'd let him get his feet wet in one of the minor pro leagues for a couple of months first."
"Getting his feet wet" is an NHL euphemism for getting his head bashed in. Vancouver's Anderson thinks jumping from high school to the pros could ruin Carpenter. "They're saying he can play in the NHL right away, and he can't." says Anderson. "He could lose his confidence just like that by trying. I think he should go to college for a couple of years before signing. If Winnipeg or Quebec gets him and moves him right up, it will hinder his progress."
It happens. It happens in all sports, in all fields, all the time. A young guy takes on the world, gets knocked on his ear, and never again performs with that same unconscious confidence. It's a scary thought for the father, who is realistic enough to know there's no such thing as a Can't-Miss Kid. So far it has been Bob Sr. who has fielded the queries of the scouts, the agents and the college coaches, keeping them away from Bobby so that his son can concentrate on school and hockey and adolescence. In June, after the draft, they'll sit down and, Bobby says, "He'll let me know subtly what he wants me to do. He'll get all the facts and then lean one way or the other. He doesn't tell me what to do, but I don't think I've ever gone against him."
If Carpenter does choose college, it will almost certainly be one in the Boston area. His grades—he ranks 46th in a class of 246—are good enough to get him into Harvard, but he'll more likely opt for Boston College, which is currently the No. 6 team in the country. "B.C.'s great hockey tradition—that's what will decide it for him," says St. John's Assistant Coach Eddie Rossi. "Hockey's what has motivated everything Bobby's done. He'd love to be out Friday and Saturday nights drinking with the other guys, but he's not going to do that because of the hockey situation. I sympathize with him because he hasn't been able to enjoy a normal teen-age life. But it's not like anybody's forcing him. He just loves it. Even in school, his grades are good because he doesn't want someone to be able to dictate to him that he isn't going to a Harvard or a Yale. He wants that control."
The bottom line on Carpenter—and one that no one is even whispering yet—is that he has the potential (that accursed word) to be what the sport of hockey so desperately needs: a legitimate U.S.-born star. There has never really been one, although some of the U.S. Olympic players are off to excellent starts. But the expectations are that Carpenter will be better than any of them. Maybe a lot better. All he has to do is start.