Thursday, November 3, 2011

Carpenter trades in his cleats for blades

Former high school hockey star on ice with
Blues after helping Cardinals to World Series title

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- To the naked eye, even a World Series-winning pitcher can go unrecognized.

That was the case for Cardinals ace pitcher Chris Carpenter when he walked into the Blues' locker room Thursday.

Everyone knew who had just entered the Blues' hallowed hallways and locker room at the Ice Zone ... except for one. 

"He came into the room and introduced himself to some of the guys and Roman (Polak) came up to me and he goes, 'Who is that guy over there,'" Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said of Carpenter. "I said, 'He's trying out to be our new tough guy.' He goes, 'Really? He just comes and introduces himself as Chris.' I said, 'That's Carpenter, man! He was just in the World Series!' Roman's something else."
Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter sets up shop in the slot in front of Blues
goalie Jaroslav Halak at Thursday's practice.

Even the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Carpenter, fresh off winning Game 7 of the World Series that helped the Cardinals to their 11th World Series championship and former hockey player himself, can go a bit unnoticed.

An avid hockey fan and Blues season ticket holder, Carpenter was not out of place on the ice with the Blues at St. Louis Mills. He even had his own locker, fresh with a nameplate and No. 29 -- Carpenter's baseball number -- labeled above a locker stall next to Matt D'Agostini.

He battled in 1-on-1 drills, spent some time in the crease and was a point man. How about cycling the puck in the corners? After all, you're talking about a guy who was a three-time all-stater at Trinity High School in Manchester, New Hampshire.

"He's played before and it shows," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Carpenter. "For the coaching staff to let him come out, it's fun for us, too. It's always good to see that."

Added defenseman Barret Jackman, "Not too bad for a guy that hasn't played in a while. He looks a little awkward just because he's 6-6 and bigger than everybody, but he looks pretty good."

Carpenter was on the ice, but he was also joined by recently retired manager Tony La Russa and trainer Barry Weinberg, who took in practice and watching Carpenter's skating skills with Blues President John Davidson, general manager Doug Armstrong and Vice President of Hockey Operations Al MacInnis.

"It's awesome," said Carpenter. "For these guys to even give up some of their time to allow me to come in here, I know what it's like ... I just wanted to get out of everybody's way, just watch really, and then they invited me to come out here and skate a little bit.

"It was a lot of fun. I was just hoping not to embarrass myself. But they were all great."

When Carpenter was 16, he was into both baseball and hockey. Scouts from the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins were putting out feelers as to whether Carpenter wanted to pursue a full-time hockey career.

Carpenter chose baseball instead when the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him with their first pick (15th overall) in the 1993.

"It was always a dream to do that (play hockey), but I think I chose the right route," said Carpenter. "Hockey made you much tougher, I know that. Growing up playing hockey made me much tougher than baseball would have. It's a tougher sport, funner sport. I enjoy it a lot."
Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, a former high school hockey star, was
invited to participate with the Blues at practice Thursday.

Some of the Blues players were asked in jest of they were threatened that Carpenter was there to steal some of their ice time.

"We were joking about it that maybe we could use him on the power play to help us out," Pietrangelo said. "He seems like a pretty good player out there. He's probably better at hockey than we are at baseball. It's good to see him. I think we all know he's a pretty good athlete."

Added Shattenkirk, "I don't know, I saw him going after Roman. I think he hit Roman in the foot with a shot at the beginning of practice. ... It was fun to see him out there. He's obviously played before and he knows how it works. He was flying around out there. It's good to see."

Carpenter may have looked like he belonged on the ice, but Blues players couldn't quite see that translating into them doing the same on the diamond.

"I don't think we'd be standing at the plate hitting any of his pitches," Shattenkirk said of Carpenter. "I think he's got us beat in that category. ... I'm not a power hitter, I'll tell you that much. You won't see me hitting any shots out of the park."

Added Colaiacovo, "Some of us were swinging through fastballs like whiffle balls."

With the Blues' special teams (30th in power play and 29th in penalty killing) in need of a boost, coach Davis Payne was open for any kinds of suggestions, even adding Carpenter.

"I'm not sure whether he's a d-man or power forward or what he wants to be," Payne said of Carpenter. "I didn't know he was capable of putting skates on.

"It's good to see the guy out there. Any time you can get around a winner, it's good for your guys."

Carpenter will be on hand, along with La Russa and hometown hero David Freese to participate in a pre-game ceremony where La Russa will drop the ceremonial first puck prior to the Blues hosting the Vancouver Canucks.

But for one day at least, Carpenter was able to live out a dream of skating again. It won't be the last time, either after scoring a couple goals, "I had a couple, but it's 3 on 1," Carpenter joked.

"You don't realize how fast (hockey players) are until you get close up," Carpenter said. "You can sit in the stands or watch on TV all day long. But these guys can fly.

"Best part is I enjoy skating, it's a lot of fun. The toughest part is trying to do anything to not embarrass myself so I don't look like a fool."

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