Five days later, when Philadelphia's Ken Linseman slashed him, Carpenter slashed him back and cross-checked him hard to the ice. He then dived on Linseman and began throwing haymakers. "I know some guys will try to intimidate me," says Carpenter, "and I know none of them can."
To the Hartford Whalers, it was a sucker punch that sent Carpenter to Washington in the first place. On the morning of the draft, everyone knew the scenario. Hartford, picking fourth, had a lock on Carpenter. The first three selectors—Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Colorado—were set on Canadian juniors. Washington wanted Carpenter but had the No. 5 pick. Bob Carpenter Sr. sat at a table with the Hartford contingent. He was excited because it looked as if his son would be playing close to home. The Whalers had even talked to Bob Sr., a sergeant on the Peabody (Mass.) police force, about making him a team scout. (He's now doing some scouting for the Caps in New England.)
But 15 minutes before the draft began, McNab and Colorado General Manager Billy MacMillan quietly struck a deal. The Rockies, who didn't have a second-round pick, gave Washington their first-and third-round choices in exchange for the Caps' first-and second-round picks. Winnipeg and L.A. selected. Then—bang!—Colorado announced the switch and McNab had Carpenter.
The Hartford people were stunned. Bob Sr. stormed off, brushing aside a Washington reporter by saying he wanted nothing to do with anybody from that city. "He was just shocked for the moment," says Bobby. "All of his plans fell apart so fast. As for me, I didn't care. I was happy. I thought that if the Capitals wanted me that badly, they must want me to play right away."
Too true, but few knew just how badly Washington wanted to land him. All last season Capital scouts bird-dogged Carpenter. Because they were aware of Hartford's interest in him and eager to disguise their own, they adopted a low-key approach. They showed up at nearly all of Carpenter's games but seldom let school officials know of their presence. The Caps quietly scouted Carpenter during the World Junior Championships in Munich last winter as well. There he outplayed Canada's top junior player, Dale Hawerchuk of the Quebec League Cornwall Royals.
Despite his evident skills, shortly after the draft several Washington reporters suggested to McNab that he had selected Carpenter largely for his potential box-office appeal. McNab countered by producing Washington's official scouting evaluation sheet, dated Nov. 18, long before the draft. Cap scouts had rated Hawerchuk and Carpenter No. 1 and No. 1A, respectively, a breath apart. Hawerchuk was the first pick in the draft, going to Winnipeg. That left Carpenter. All that concerned McNab was whether he could sign him. McNab continued the low-key approach and didn't pressure him. Still, for Carpenter the next 2� months were, in his word, "brutal." He had to decide whether to honor a letter of intent he'd signed to attend Providence College or to turn pro. Bobby Orr, a sort of volunteer hockey adviser to the Carpenter family, pushed college. So did Carpenter's parents. His father, in particular, worried that Bobby might not make the big club right away. He was adamant that Bobby stay out of the minors. According to Bob Sr., the minors have too many no-talent but big, overly aggressive, attention-hungry goons, the kind of players who maim you and then go out for a pizza.
Today Carpenter scoffs at the notion that his father had reason to be concerned. Carpenter maintains that he never gave the minors a serious thought. "The only question was what I wanted to do," he says, "never what could I do. If I wanted to play in the NHL, I would. My whole life, anything I ever really wanted to do, I did. Anything! Anything!"
Carpenter has always had a mind of his own. When he was 15, for instance, his coach at St. John's, Joe Yannetti, offered him a job stocking shelves at his paint factory in nearby Lynn, Mass. Bobby wanted to earn some money. Bob Sr. said no: School, hockey and work might be too much to handle. Bobby took the job anyway. By his senior year, Bobby not only was something special in hockey, but also had improved his class rank from 125th to 26th. Most fulfilling of all, at the moment at least, he had earned a promotion to second-in-command at the factory, a position whose responsibilities included actually making the paint. "Anything I ever tried hard to do, I did," he says once again.
By late August both Providence and Washington were itchy for Carpenter's decision. The Capitals had offered him a three-year contract worth a reported $600,000. On the 24th, he sat down with his parents and Orr. "It's Washington," he announced. He now admits that it was Washington all along. "I'd prepared myself for the NHL since the first day I ever put on skates," he says. "It was like searching for years for a buried treasure. When you find it, you don't say, 'Well, maybe I'll dig it up next week.' "
For their part, the Capitals have a most visible treasure. Now all they need to go with it is a team.