After growing up playing hockey at Maitland's hometown hockey rink, Ryan Carpenter has gone on to live his dream of playing in the NHL.
Ryan Carpenter will never forget Dec. 12, 2015, in San Jose, California — walking through the gray hallways in the underbelly of the SAP Center, aka “The Shark Tank.”
The searing guitar lead of Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” blasts through the arena as Carpenter steps forward, digs his skates into a fresh sheet of ice and barrels out the mouth of a giant shark head with glowing red eyes that pierce through a thick layer of fog.
Carpenter makes long, powerful strides on the ice, circling the defensive end with his San Jose Sharks teammates as roughly 17,000 fans lose their minds.
After all those years of practice, all the long road trips playing travel hockey and all that time chasing a dream, Carpenter had just stepped onto the ice in his first NHL regular-season game.
“It’s one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can get,” Carpenter said. “So much is on your mind, you feel like you have so much energy in those first couple shifts. My family was able to come out and see me play which was pretty special. It was a special day for them too as much as it was for me.”
But unlike most hockey players that claw their way up to the NHL level, Carpenter’s journey to professional hockey didn’t start on a frozen pond. It started in Orlando — Carpenter’s hometown — where he grew up playing hockey at RDV Sportsplex in Maitland and followed teams such as the Orlando Solar Bears.
“People say, ‘Is there ice in Florida?’” Carpenter said. “That’s the No. 1 question they’ll say after you tell them you’re from Orlando.”
Since then, Carpenter, 27, has been making his presence felt in the NHL with a new team, having been claimed off waivers in December 2017 by the Vegas Golden Knights — a team that’s enjoying success in its inaugural season in the league after finishing first in the Pacific Division.
Carpenter and the Golden Knights currently are battling the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
In 36 games with the Golden Knights during the regular season, Carpenter picked up nine goals and five assists, with two of those goals being game-winners. He’s been on both the Golden Knights’ power play and penalty kill, as well.
“It was kind of a big change in the middle of the year, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes you’re so in the moment that you don’t take a step back and think about it. It was what I dreamed about as a kid — I wanted to be a hockey player.
“I try not to take it too seriously and enjoy it, because you don’t know how long it will last,” he said. “It’s been a blast, and it’s amazing some of the players you play against. The more you play, the more you feel like you belong, and you don’t really feel as much of a new guy or an outcast. You start to feel more and more confident.”
Carpenter’s first exposure to the game goes back to when he played hockey with his older cousins in the basement while visiting them in New York for the holidays. He also started going to Orlando Solar Bears games and started playing roller hockey at age 5 at a rink in Goldenrod before moving on to ice hockey at the RDV Sportsplex.
“It was a beautiful facility,” Carpenter said. “I grew up there — had a lot of years of hockey there. There’s a lot of great memories and good friendships from playing at that rink. It was cool even when I was in college — I’d work there during the summers in the pro shop or as a skate guard during the public skating.”
RDV power skating coach Sondra Pacey said Carpenter’s work ethic showed even at an early age in his youth hockey days at RDV.
“He’s just always had that amazing attitude of outworking everybody around him,” said Pacey, who coached Carpenter when he was in his early teenage years. “I wouldn’t even say it comes down to skill at that age; I thought it was more that he was a hard worker. He had desire, he was the first player there and the last one out.”
Carpenter played at RDV Sportsplex from age 7 until he was about 15. He played a year of hockey in Rockledge and continued while attending Timber Creek High School, splitting time between there and a school in Michigan while playing for two AAA hockey teams.
He was drafted into the USHL and played for the Sioux City Musketeers, also going back to Timber Creek High School to graduate.
Carpenter then played college hockey for three years at Bowling Green State University, also finishing his degree in accounting and business. It was in early 2014 that Carpenter inked a deal with the Worcester Sharks — the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks at the time.
Carpenter said he hopes to inspire other Florida hockey players to chase that same dream of playing in the NHL. After all, it’s not about where you grew up or where you’re from, but rather your love of the game, Carpenter said.
“I’d say, ‘Have fun,’” Carpenter said. “When it comes down to it, it’s just a game. When you’re able to keep that little-kid mentality, you’re able to keep the right approach and should continue to improve. If I can go and play college, go play pro and now play in the NHL, hopefully that gives other kids the same hope that it’s possible — especially if they come from somewhere in Florida.”