Before Blizzard Jonas hit Washington, D.C., like a Mike Tyson uppercut and swallowed up this weekend’s Caps games against the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins, we had a chance to catch up with former Capitals Iron Man Bobby Carpenter, 52, whose 422-game playing streak will be broken by Caps defenseman Karl Alzner whenever the Capitals are given permission to play again.
(Carpenter’s cell phone has a Peanuts’ ring tone, evoking images of outdoor hockey.) Here’s our conversation:
What are your thoughts on Karl Alzner breaking your games played streak?
That’s great. It’s quite an accomplishment for him for sure. How many games is it?
Your record is 422.
So he’s one away from 423? Even to play 423 games in the NHL today is quite an accomplishment, let alone 423 in a row. I mean, that’s pretty good.
I understand you asked for a trade and that’s how your playing streak ended?
It was a management decision. They were going to trade me so I was sat out. That officially ended it. It could have gone longer but for me, I don’t think anybody even commented on it. It wasn’t a big deal because the guy I was playing with, Doug Jarvis , had played over 900 games. (Jarvis’ streak reached an NHL record 964 and since then no one has come within 50 games). I wasn’t even halfway to what he accomplished, so I wasn’t even close to him. He wasn’t very big so he had to be smart to be able to survive that long. With the size of the guys he faced he had to have a really good head on his shoulders.
Do you plan on calling Karl when he breaks the record?
No. If it was me I wouldn’t want to talk to people about it. I wouldn’t want to hear about it. If Karl is the hockey player I think he is, he just wants to play and get it over with. I don’t believe in jinxes or any of that stuff. As a player it’s just something you don’t want to talk about. You just want to play.
Let’s go back to that 1981 NHL draft when the Caps took you third overall. If I’m not mistaken you were the highest U.S.-born player every taken in the draft (behind Dale Hawerchuk and Doug Smith). What was that like for you?
It was great. It was quite an honor and it was due to a World Junior Championship played in Germany that year. We played against Canada and I played well against Dale Hawerchuk. I thought I’d go late first round, early second round and I had a great tournament. The scouts could see us both on the ice at the same time and they realized I was just as good a player in that tournament t, so I jumped up. I was fortunate to be able to play a game against (Hawerchuk).
You spent your first five NHL seasons in Washington. What was that like for you?
I loved my time in Washington. I was 18 years old when I went there and it was a great place to grow up. The rink was in Landover, we had Annapolis near us. I got close with Scott Stevens. I loved it there. My parents could come down (from Boston) and see me. I really enjoyed it, I loved it.
Any favorite stories you like to tell about your time in Washington?
Good question, I just really enjoyed my time there. The fans there were honest, they cared for the players. We got really close to the fan club. You go to other big cities like Los Angeles and Boston, and the attention was huge. When I came to Boston it was really difficult because people would recognize you everywhere. You didn’t want to be rude, but if I had to Christmas shopping here in Boston I would have to go at 9:30 if the mall closed at 10 because if people saw you, you didn’t want to run away. In Washington it was kind of laid back. We’d go to Annapolis and not many people would recognize you. It was a really good place to grow. It was great to see that organization turn around. When I got there they weren’t very successful and I think my second year was the first year we made the playoffs. We became pretty good contenders for that Patrick Division. I think David Poile did an incredible job with that team. It’s unfortunate we never won. It was so hard to get out of that Patrick Division with Philadelphia, the Islanders were on top, the Rangers were good, Pittsburgh was coming. It was such a hard, hard division to get out of. You look back and any team that got out of the Patrick either won the Stanley Cup or lost in the Finals. Unfortunately, we got caught up in that and we could never get out of it.
What are the biggest differences you see in the NHL today compared to when you played?
“First of all, it’s a worldwide game. You’ve got the best players in the world now. When I played there was a handful of Swedes and some Finns, but there were no Russians, no Czechs. Now you have the best people in the world playing in this league. I think the players are bigger, they’re faster, the equipment is better, the sticks are better. It’s just a well-developed game right now.
Have you followed this year’s Capitals? Is it nice to see a team that set an NHL record for losses (in 1974-75) could set a record for wins?
Yeah, I am following them. They’ve done a great job. They’ve really turned the corner. Not to be negative, but you don’t want to peak too early. It’s January . You want April and you want May. They’re the most important months. But they just keep rolling along and winning games and it’s great for that city for sure.
MORE CAPITALS: When will Caps make up their games? Good question