Catching up with: Steve Carpenter
Born in Prince George, British Columbia, Steve Carpenter's hockey career began with the New West Royals in 1989. The year following, ‘Carps’ signed on at the Northern Michigan University (NCAA) where he made the sweet 16 finals three times and won the National Championship in 1990. Awarded the Captaincy in 1992, he was also nominated a league All-Star and spent a year before turning pro as graduate Assistant Coach of NMU.
For season 1995/96 the Canadian defenceman spent a year with the Richmond Renegades of the East Coach Hockey League (ECHL) where the team set a record for most points in a single season.
He then made his move across the pond to the United Kingdom ahead of the 1996/97 season which is where our questions start.
1) Your first experience of the UK was with Solihull Blaze. Tell us about that and what the hockey was like back then?
SC: "I guess crazy would be the best way to explain it! The team was great and although we went unpaid for a number of weeks, we held the side together (for the most part) until the end of the year and finished a respectable second to Swindon. We had fans collecting money in a bucket so we could all drink beer after the game in the pub above the rink. Most people would have taken that as a warning and high tailed it out of the UK, but I took it as 'I knew where I should finish out my career'. I was home with people like myself!"
2) You signed in the Superleague for Nottingham Panthers the following year (1997/98) where you stayed for three seasons before moving to Sheffield Steelers. Can you tell us about what it was like playing in the Superleague for those fans who might not have experience it?
SC: "The standard was very good for the most part but there was a big discrepancy in talent from top to bottom. With no salary cap or import rule, the rich got richer and...well you know the rest of that saying. They really tried to make it like the North American leagues and had an All-Star weekend, but the best part was the Manchester playoff weekends. They had a huge three-storey pub/nightclub across the street and every team's fans went there and partied together. It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before. The crowds were great, Ayr, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield were the big ones, the smaller club's tried to compete but it wasn't the same. The players were different back then because you had guys that were high calibre players still in their prime coming over. Mostly all of them had AHL experience and only a few guys with top end stats from the East Coast would come over. The Brits were a huge part of the team and often played a big role in winning teams vs. losing teams. To be honest, I think the Superleague was the beginning of the end for Brits in some ways as some teams were all imports. We went from 6-7 during my first year in Nottingham to (David) Longstaff only in 2000 with Sheffield."
3) What do you remember about theinfamous Steelers/Panthers bench clearance of 2001 that you were part of?
SC: "Everyone thinks brawls are cool... but in most cases they are terrifying! I'm not one to back down from a beating but fighting one guy and having another one or two come in and sucker punch you is not cool. It was a case of testosterone getting the better of people. Hads (Greg Hadden), a good friend that I've known since I was 18 and is one of the toughest people I know and (Denis) Vial of Sheffield got into a stick swinging altercation which prompted (Barry) Nieckar to leave the bench and cross-check Vial in the head. Being the closest guy I jumped in (even though I was way out of my weight class!) which prompted Scottie (Scott Metcalfe) to leave the bench and return the favour to Nieckar for a sucker punch six weeks earlier. Next thing I know, it's bedlam!! I grabbed Hads to get him away from the carnage and (Randall) Weber grabbed me to stop me and Hads from fighting. The rest is a blur of people swinging and the refs being way out matched trying to control the big boys. All in all, no one got seriously hurt and everyone left with a good story."
4) You won the Grandslam with Sheffield that year - was that the highlight of your career?
SC: "I was very fortunate to win a lot over my career. I set a record in Junior A for most wins and lost in OT in the Canadian finals. I won an NCAA Championship, East Coast League title, plus three League and Playoff Championships in the UK. So, I had a lot of good coaches and teammates, but I would say that team was very special. I don't ever remember going into a game with no doubt that we were going to win. We struggled that year to get paid and still were able to have a great year. I remember being in Belfast and refusing to get on the bus until everyone had cash in hand for the past weeks pay and when we took a vote about not playing if they didn't pay, the vote was 18 for sticking to our guns and 1 for playing without getting our money. That's a tight team!"
5) On the back of that Grandslam, you signed for Coventry in the British National League finishing runners up in all three competitions. The next season, you again lost in the Finders Cup final before wining the league and playoff double. How satisfying was it to loose the 'bridesmaids' tag? Can you put your finger on what got you over the hump?
SC: "Thommo (Paul Thompson) has proven what a good coach he is but his real talent is recruiting the right group of players. He always was able to find gems and would keep a strong core and then add to it. We had a strong core of guys, especially our Brits and then he added a great goalie in (Jody) Lehman and a couple of other key guys. That night we won the title in Dundee was epic, the celebration started with us dancing and singing in the dressing room and never really stopped until the next day. That was really a team that got along and we played as a group on and off the ice!"
6) You stayed with Coventry as they joined the Elite League, what was that transition like going up against club's who had come from the Superleague?
SC: "It was tough, our budget was very small at the time and it's one thing to be the best at a lower level but every team in the Elite League was very good. We were also very small in stature compared to the other teams and they would take advantage of that, especially Cardiff."
Steve left Coventry after three years in the summer of 2004, moving to the Milton Keynes Lightning of the EPL where he was to retire a league and Playoff Champion once again.
The interview concludes finding out about the #3 in 2016 and of course asking about what he is perhaps most well remembered for - those hits!
7) A devastating open-ice hitter, fans loved you for it - would you spend half the game sat in the box in today's game?!
SC: "I would probably be banned most of the year as a clean hit in my day is now a suspendable hit. In our time it was up to you to protect yourself, now kids are taught to not worry as they have stop signs on their backs and if they hit you hard they'll get a penalty. The game has really changed and unfortunately (in my opinion) for the worse. I rarely even watch hockey on TV anymore. Open ice hitting was timing and willingness to put your body in danger because a lot of times it hurt you as much as the other guy. I just loved that part of the game, catching a guy with his head down and hearing the crowd go nuts was the best!"
8) So what about the Steve Carpenter of 2016?
SC: "I have been married nine years this July, with two beautiful step-daughters, one going into fourth year university and the other just graduated grade 12.
"I'm the Vice Principal (Assistant Head Master) at a French Immersion school, ironically it was my grade school back in the early 80's. I'm golfing and fishing all summer and hunting and fishing all winter."
9) In 2006 you were appointed Head Coach and General Manager of the Williams Lake Timberwolves (British Columbia Hockey League), can you tell us about your achievements coaching at junior level over the past ten years?
SC: “I started with the Junior A T-Wolves but they folded after a dispute between the owner and the city, but I've been coaching the Bantam and Midget T-Wovles since. We have made it to the Provincials every year by winning the conference, but the best we've ever done is 4th. I have now retired from coaching after 10 years and I plan on joining a 3-on-3 league this winter.”
10) You fractured your neck in 2014 playing rec hockey - how are you recovering from that?
SC: "Yeah, it happened during a game for the local Fire Department team because my wife is on the FD. But, I've just completed my 3rd Tough Mudder two Sunday's ago! Still some issues but I can walk and be active so I'm very thankful for that."
11) Are you still in touch with anyone from British hockey, particularly ex-Blaze teammates and was there anyone you particular got on with?
SC: “Unfortunately not really. I see some of the things they are up to on Facebook but everyone gets so busy in life so it's hard to stay in touch. I have stayed in touch with Thommo and Gareth "Giz" Owen and he's planning a trip over to see me sometime this summer so that should be a good laugh.”
12) Final question - you played under Mike Blaisdell for a number of years and then Paul Thompson, both had tremendous success coaching in the UK, how do the two compare?
SC: "Very different- Thommo is a very technical based guy and builds a lot of systems into his teams. Blazer was more of an old school guy where he put people in good situations for their skill-set and then let them play. They were both what I would call players coaches though, they both cared about their players. They were approachable and liked to have a good laugh which made you want to play for harder them!"
Carpenter closes, "All the best to the Blaze this year, I still follow them on the website and a big thank you to all the fans who made my time in Coventry some of the best years of my life! Cheers and I hope to see you in my future travels."
We would like to thank Steve for taking the time to speak to us and for his efforts in helping us lift out first ever silverware in Coventry!
Article: Craig Summerton (@block15blaze)