BEIJING – When Alex Carpenter was left off the final roster for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, few would have blamed her if she sulked off into the sunset and played the blame game. But that’s not in her DNA.
Instead, the daughter of former NHL star Bobby Carpenter picked herself up and set off on a journey of personal and professional discovery that took her halfway around the world to play professionally in China.
“To be honest, when I came out here to play in China it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was a lot of fun and my teammates really helped me love the game again,” said Carpenter, who was a member of the 2014 silver medal-winning team.
Fast forward four years and the North Redding, Mass., native has returned to China as a member of the team she wondered if she would play with again. And right out of the chute she made her presence felt in a big way by scoring a pair of goals to help lead Team USA to a 5-2 victory over Finland in the Olympic opener.
“It was a lot of fun to be back out there. That was a good win for us tonight and we’re just excited to get the next game going here,” said Carpenter, who scored a first-period power-play goal and followed it up with her second of the game midway through the final frame.
Carpenter is not the only player given a second chance at Olympic gold and glory. Megan Bozek, who was her teammate on the 2014 squad, is back in a familiar role logging big minutes on the red, white and blueline crew.
“I’m ecstatic to be back with this team. We have such a strong group and I’m excited to see how the tournament goes for us,” said Bozek, who was her usual strong and steady self in 16:10 minutes of ice time.
“Any minute is a good minute, but just to represent our country and be on this Olympic stage is such an honor. It’s so fun to be with these girls, whether it’s their first time, their third time or their fourth time. It’s just incredible.”
To even be back at this stage in their careers is incredible in itself and speaks to the resiliency of both players.
For Carpenter, her international odyssey began with the Kunlan Red Star and then with the Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays of the now defunct CWHL. By landing the former Patty Kazmaier Award winner, the teams not only had a bonafide star but they also had someone who could help raise the bar on the Chinese game.
“It was really special to be able and go over there to basically teach and play with so many Chinese national players, some of whom I still keep in contact with today,” Carpenter said.
“Being able to go and play professionally in China is something that you would never think you’d have the opportunity to do. Seeing where that organization went from four years ago to where it is now, it’s amazing to see the progress that they’ve made and how much they want to learn the sport, how much they want to make professional women’s hockey something special.”
A year into her time in Shenzen, which is located near Hong Kong, Carpenter convinced Bozek to join her, and together they helped the Rays win the league title.
“It was such a cool experience,” Bozek said. “Experiencing a different culture and learning about it and eating like authentic food and traveling around, I never thought I’d be able to play hockey in China. So it was really special.”
Not that she didn’t before, but the setback gave Bozek time to reflect on just how special it is to wear the USA crest and be a member of this special sorority.
“I never take a chance to put on the jersey for granted,” she said. “I don’t want to say I did before 2018, but cherishing every single time that I put on the jersey with such a special group, no matter if it’s a practice, a scrimmage game, a game against Canada or a world championship. Every time is a special moment and it doesn’t come often.
“Being cut in 2018, I think was really good for my personal development on the ice and off the ice. I knew I wasn’t done playing and I felt that I still had more to give and I wanted to try again.”
That opportunity came in 2018 when Bob Corkum took over as head coach of the program and extended both players an invitation to earn a spot leading up to the next year’s IIHF Women’s World Championship. Needless to say, both jumped at the chance and have made the most of it ever since.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that I belonged and I could still play with the national team,” Bozek said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I have no regrets with any of it. You live and you learn. I’m so happy with what I’ve accomplished and just looking forward to see where this group is going to go."
And now they’re back in China, looking to help the U.S. win another gold medal. They’re off to a good start with one win under their belt and more opportunities to wear the USA crest ahead. And neither player will take a minute of that for granted.