It was in the basement of his grandparents’ Staten Island home where Ryan Carpenter was first exposed to hockey.
He was often decked out in Rangers gear, banging around roller-hockey pucks with his older cousins during one of their annual trips to New York.
Fast forward to today and Carpenter’s journey has come full circle. The 31-year-old forward signed a one-year, $750,000 deal last month to play for his favorite team, fulfilling a childhood dream while thrilling the rest of his family.
“My dad was a big sports fan of all the New York teams, and so I think naturally, as his firstborn son, I kind of just followed whatever he liked,” Carpenter said. “I remember at one point, I think I had all of the Ranger jerseys – home and away, blue and white, and then the Statue of Liberty one.”
Despite Carpenter being born and raised in Orlando, his father and New York native, Mike, didn’t let his three children forget their Big Apple roots. Ryan was too young to remember the Rangers winning their last Stanley Cup in 1994, but he can recall watching the VHS tapes with his father in the years that followed.
That left a lasting impression, with those memories flooding back when the opportunity to sign with the Blueshirts came along this summer.
“When I had an offer from the Rangers, it was hard to pass up,” he said. “Being a team that I loved growing up and seeing how good they were this year and how they surprised teams and went on a pretty good run, and just the amount of skill they have.”
The other key factor in the decision was Carpenter’s familiarity with Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant. They previously teamed up for two seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights, including a memorable run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.
“I thought I had some good seasons playing under him,” he said. “You want a coach that keeps guys accountable, but across the board expects the same effort from everyone. You respect that. It’s hard not to want to go through a wall for a coach like that.”
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Carpenter earned his first extended NHL opportunity under Gallant because he brings many of the hard-working elements the veteran coach appreciates.
He admittedly won’t produce many points − his career high is 18 with the Knights in 2018-19 − or make many flashy plays, but he prides himself on defense, penalty killing and a 51.5% faceoff win rate.
Those traits were evident during his three seasons with Bowling Green University, with the last two spent as team captain.
“I always found that he was real in what he had to bring to the table to stand out and willing to play the game that way,” said Chris Bergeron, who coached Carpenter at Bowling Green and is now behind the bench for Miami University. “I had a conversation with George McPhee, who’s the GM and president of Vegas, and ‘determination’ was his word when he spoke of Ryan.”
Carpenter understood that he had to take pride in the grunt work if he was going to continue his hockey career past college − and that determination fueled him to fully commit to making that happen.
“His daily routine was something to keep,” Bergeron said. “I can picture him in our weight room doing quick-feet ladders because people would say, ‘Well, I don’t know if he’s fast enough. I don’t know if his skating is good enough.’ … He was willing to make those decisions as a young person because he had a goal.”
Carpenter went undrafted out of the USHL and posted modest numbers at Bowling Green, but he kept pushing. Eventually, he got a free-agent deal with the San Jose Sharks and spent much of his early-to-mid 20s in the AHL.
He had a couple in-season cups of coffee with the Sharks, but it wasn’t until the age of 26 that he broke training camp on the NHL roster. It didn’t last long, though, as he was waived after 16 appearances in the 2017-18 season. That led to the opportunity with Vegas, where he proved he could be a valuable fourth-liner.
Next came three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, who have entered a full-scale rebuild and dealt Carpenter to Calgary at the trade deadline in March. Adversity hit there, with the Flames only using him in eight games and making him a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs.
That puts Carpenter back in the familiar position of fighting for an NHL job.
The Rangers see him as a viable option for their fourth line, with his ability to play center a notable distinction. But those final few roster spots are shaping up to be a crowded competition, which will include holdovers Ryan Reaves, Dryden Hunt and Julien Gauthier, prospects Will Cuylle, Brennan Othmann and Bobby Trivigno and newly signed Swedish center Gustav Rydahl.
It’s nothing new for the kid who grew up with a closet filled with Rangers’ swag. He’s made a living by embracing every challenge and is ready to see if his perseverance can land him a role on Broadway.
“You’re trying to build trust and earn a spot,” he said. “I still keep my confidence, but at the same time, just try to stay humble. There are plenty of good players that have either played last year or are in the organization that are going to be competing for spots. Ultimately, it just makes the team better and everybody better. That’s always been the mentality. It has to be.”
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.