NHL dreams turn to reality for Colorado Springs’ Carlo
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Believe it or not, Brandon Carlo does get nervous.
You just wouldn’t realize it from watching the composure he’s played with as a 19-year-old on the Boston Bruins’ top defensive pair early this season.
Carlo turns 20 on Nov. 26.
“We had a team dinner when the team told us we’d broke through camp,” he recalled. “A couple of us were in the same position. Our hearts were breaking through our chests. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
“Then there was the first game (on Oct. 13) – that’s when it really hit me.”
The Colorado Springs native not only made the Bruins, but he’s played a key role for them early in the season, being paired with future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara against the opposition’s top lines every game.
“It’s the role you go into with ‘Z’ as a shutdown guy,” Carlo said. “Every game, we’ve developed more and more chemistry.
“Every game is a challenge. The Rangers were super fast. Other teams are harder on the body. Every team has strengths and weaknesses.”
Carlo’s rapid ascent to the NHL came after playing just eight games in the American Hockey League (AHL) at the end of last season, following the conclusion of his third junior season in Tri-City of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
That capped a season in which Carlo was a force for Team USA’s bronze medal-winning team at the IIHF World Junior Championship. He and Zach Werenski (now of the Columbus Blue Jackets) were dominant, going plus-19 over seven games.
Just three seasons after leaving Colorado, where he played first for Colorado Hockey Club (now the Colorado Rampage) and then the Colorado Thunderbirds, Carlo finds himself in the world’s top league.
His rise is due to a combination that’s equal parts size, skill and elbow grease, said Thunderbirds director of hockey operations and 16U AAA coach Angelo Ricci.
“Brandon has always been a student of the game and has a strong work ethic,” Ricci said. “He reads the game very well, had a good hockey IQ and has really good feet for a 6-foot-5 defenseman. He makes the smart, safe and simple plays with the puck, which all they want him to do. He has shown a great ability to make a nice outlet pass.”
As an added bonus, Carlo led all Bruins defensemen in scoring with two goals and four points through 12 games. To put that in context, he never scored more than four goals in a 72-game WHL season.
“He is also showing a nice offensive touch, which isn’t expected of him, but it’s great to see,” Ricci said. “He will only get better with that side of his game.”
His taste of pro hockey last spring further motivated Carlo to put in extra work over the summer.
“I came into camp knowing I was prepared,” he said. “I set my goals high.”
He made a strong impression on his future teammates, fellow Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller said.
“You could tell he had matured a lot since camp last season,” Miller said. “You see it in how he carries himself.
“He’s soaking everything in, and playing with ‘Z,’ who is the ultimate pro, helps.”
The 6-foot-9 Chara, who at 39, is a generation older than his defense partner, has become another big brother of sorts to the rookie.
“The first time I saw him, I was almost in shock with how big he is,” Carlo said. “I can’t put into words how much he has helped me. He’s so talkative and not afraid to share his knowledge. His leadership shows throughout our (locker) room. You can see how much he wants to help everyone in there.
“I’m also fortunate we have a lot of older guys who are great leaders – Patrice Bergeron, David Backes to name a few – who will take time to sit down and share what they’ve learned through their experiences.”
Carlo was emphatic that he would not be where he is without the support of two families – his own, including parents, Lenny and Angie, as well as three older siblings – and his Colorado hockey family.
“My mom and dad went to my first game in Columbus, but we weren’t sure if I’d be in the lineup,” he said. “It was really cool to have them there to share with me. My mom has been to Boston to see a game, and I’m sure she’ll be out more. She loves that.
“My two older brothers and older sister have been supportive, too, especially on social media.
“And the Colorado hockey community has been incredible. So many from the Rampage and the Thunderbirds have reached out. Angelo keeps in contact and reminds me where I’ve come from. I appreciate them all.”
They walked alongside Carlo as a youth, encouraged him when he left home at 16 and celebrated with him when Boston made him a second-round pick (37th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft. Not even 16 months later, he is playing more than 22 minutes per game in the NHL.
Ricci is convinced Carlo’s willingness to continue learning bodes well for the future.
“He has shown that if he continues to mature as a player, he will have a very long NHL career,” Ricci said. “I am extremely proud of him.”
Top photo/Steve Babineau/Boston Bruins
— Chris Bayee