New Blackhawks center Carpenter ready to take on his Vegas 'brothers'
If there's one thing Ryan Carpenter hates, it's losing to his brother.
Doesn't matter if it's racquetball, tennis, golf or cards -- it stings, and it stings bad.
And that's why Tuesday's game against the Vegas Golden Knights is so important to the new Blackhawks forward.
"We better win," said Carpenter, who signed a three-year deal with the Hawks July 1 after spending most of the last two seasons playing for Vegas. "I have a little brother and I can't stand when I lose to him in anything.
"It's like I have a bunch of brothers on that team. So there's no friends on the ice when the puck drops."
2nd chance in Sin City
Carpenter's winding path to the most successful expansion franchise in pro sports history began when his older cousins got him interested in roller hockey at 5. Two years later, the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears built a rink near Carpenter's home and the 7-year-old found himself on skates for the first time.
After two seasons in juniors, Carpenter attended Bowling Green State University and was eventually signed by the San Jose Sharks as an undrafted free agent.
He was 23 at the time, though, and spent most of the next three seasons playing for the Sharks' minor league team, racking up 44 goals and 84 assists in 194 AHL games.
Carpenter's big break came when he made the Sharks out of training camp in 2017. He had 1 assist in 16 games and was put on waivers in December.
A nerve-racking 24 hours followed for Carpenter and his wife, but their prayers were answered when Vegas GM George McPhee decided to put in a claim.
"We just prayed," Carpenter said. "God surprised us because we didn't know what was going to happen. I thought my chance in the NHL was done if I got sent to the minors. I don't know if I would have gotten called up again."
Suddenly, Carpenter was with the hottest and most surprising team in the league.
His first game with Vegas came in a 5-4 victory over the Blackhawks at the United Center Jan. 5, 2018. A month later he became a staple in the lineup, thanks to a red-hot stretch that included 9 goals in 20 games.
"The one thing that was good for me is no one was that established there," Carpenter said. "They got there in September and I got there in December, so everyone was just super welcoming.
"It was kind of a second chance opportunity for me. And that was the identity of the team -- everyone was getting a second chance."
Then came the playoffs.
And what a ride that was as Vegas eliminated the Kings, Sharks and Jets in an improbable and thrilling run to the Stanley Cup Final. The fairy tale ended when Washington lifted the Cup after five games, but it was an experience Carpenter will never forget.
"It's crazy when you get that close and lose," he said. "Any time you're on a winning team there's just a special bond with the guys when you win like that. It's a lot of fun."
Carpenter scored 5 goals in 68 games with Vegas last season and was a healthy scratch during a first-round playoff series against San Jose that the Sharks claimed in seven games.
When the off-season rolled around, the 28-year-old father of two young boys was faced with the most important decision of his career. He ended up getting an offer from the Hawks -- a team that desperately needed a gritty forward who could win key faceoffs to help its putrid penalty kill -- and opted to sign a three-year, $3 million contract.
"(You) want to pick an organization that you think has a good chance to win and does things the right way," Carpenter said. "That's what Chicago was for me."
It's only been six games, but Carpenter has already impressed in his role as a fourth-line center.
In addition to being responsible defensively, the 6-foot, 200-pound forward has flashed offensive ability on a couple of occasions. The most impressive move came when he stared down Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck on a 2-on-1, then threw a no-look pass to Brandon Saad that Saad buried for a short-handed goal in a 3-2 overtime loss last week.
Carpenter also registered assists in a win over the Oilers and during Sunday's 5-3 loss to Washington.
"A lot of guys at this level can make plays," Carpenter said when asked if he possesses a little more offensive ability than he's given credit for. "I mean when you develop in the minors you become a point guy and an offensive power play guy.
"Your role maybe changes in the NHL, but it's kind of a balance. You don't want to be too loose, but at the same time just be confident and willing to make plays and be aggressive. Don't be hesitant."
Carpenter's always played for winners as a pro.
All three of his AHL teams made the playoffs, with the 2016-17 San Jose Barracuda advancing to the Western Conference finals. Vegas, of course, went to the Cup Final in 2018 and lost that heartbreaking series to San Jose last April.
That's a five-year run of postseason hockey -- and Carpenter doesn't want it to end in 2020.
"Excited to be part of that kind of tradition and the high expectations in this organization," he said.
"Guys have tasted that success and been on the other side that I haven't been on. So hoping to get back in the playoffs and chase that Cup."
Ryan Carpenter's pro stats since 20142014-15, Worcester Sharks: 74 games, 12 goals, 22 assists, 34 points
2015-16, San Jose Barracuda: 66 games, 18-37--55
2015-16, San Jose Sharks: 1 game, 0-0--0
2016-17, San Jose Barracuda: 54 games, 14-25--39
2016-17, San Jose Sharks: 11 games, 2-2--4
2017-18, San Jose Sharks: 16 games, 0-1--1
2017-18, Vegas Golden Knights: 36 games, 9-5--14
2018-19, Vegas Golden Knights: 68 games, 5-13--18
2019-20, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: 6 games, 0-3--3
NHL totals: 138 games, 16-24--40
NOTE: Worcester and San Jose Barracuda were American Hockey League affiliates of San Jose