When the Bruins’ season was ended by the Tampa Bay Lightning just a few short months ago, Brandon Carlo could still have been perceived as one of the B’s kids, a part of the next generation. Thus far in his career, his defense partner has always been a trusted veteran, first Zdeno Chara and then Torey Krug.
Now all of a sudden, Carlo — with 297 NHL regular season games under his belt — is a graybeard of the B’s defense corps. Only John Moore (532), a reserve much of last season, and Kevan Miller (324), who is attempting to come back from a shattered kneecap, have more service time than Carlo.
After a Wednesday workout at Warrior Ice Arena, just hours before Chara’s signing with the Washington Capitals became official, the ever-thoughtful and introspective Carlo spoke with the Herald. At that hour, he was still holding out some hope that Chara would return, but the signs of a departure were already there.
Indeed a sea change has occurred on the Boston blue line, and Carlo will be one of the young men tasked with keeping this ship on course.
“It’s going to be a fun challenge,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m really looking forward to every little thing that comes to us this year. There’s definitely going to be some difficult parts. I can tell you around the rink it does feel a little bit different. With Z not being around, Torey not being around, there are parts of that group that do feel little different, but that’s just me being in the league long enough to experience those changes. I feel grateful for the position that I’m in.”
Carlo then added in jest: “And if you could tell me who my D partner is, that would be great.”
That will be TBD. Perhaps it will be draft classmate Jakub Zboril, looking to finally get his foot in the NHL door. Jeremy Lauzon, another member of the 2015 class who started to establish himself last season while playing on the his off side on the right, is another possibility. Maybe it will be Matt Grzelcyk, the closest replica the B’s have to Krug.
Whomever it is, it will be uncharted territory for Carlo, as it will be for Charlie McAvoy on whatever the top pairing will be.
“Losing Torey obviously sucks. I’ve been friends with him over the past couple of years and grown a sort of comfort level playing with him. It’s been s nice to have somebody who’s been steady alongside me to really just go through everything with, the ups and downs. I really enjoy the way we played together,” said Carlo. “It’ll be interesting. I really have no idea what the thought process is for me from the coaches, who I could even be paired with, but I thought about it a little bit. All options are available. But for me, I want to continue to grow in my game, play in the moment. I feel like we have plenty of capable hands going forward, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of stepping up being in a bigger role and maybe now that I have a couple of years of experience helping guys who haven’t had as much go through and navigate some of the little things I’ve learned the past couple of years.”
Carlo has stayed active in the offseason. With the exception of a trip home to Colorado for Thanksgiving and then the required eight-day quarantine upon return to Boston, he has spent the last couple of months skating and working out at Warrior.
As the team’s union rep, he kept close tabs on the Return to Play efforts of the PA leadership.
“Those guys did a great job to get us where we are. The message never changed throughout the whole process,” said Carlo. “We just wanted to play as many games as we could and we left it up to the owners from there to decide what they wanted to do with the season. But from (the new CBA) that we made right before the bubble, our goal and objective was to continue along with that deal. I’m really happy that things worked out. Obviously it took a little while, but it’s so nice to finally come to the resolution.”
The owners had been trying to gain some concessions from the players, an effort that was eventually abandoned. Was there a point when he thought the whole thing would go off the rails?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘go off the rails.’ We were pretty confident in where we were as a collective group, all of the Players Association, so the nicest part was unity within all of us,” he said. “That made things a lot more clear with how we were going to proceed going forward, so that was nice. With the negotiations last summer, there were different conversations, different ideas being thrown around a lot more. But this go-round we were really on the same page. I was confident that we were going to take the unified step going forward, which we did and I think it worked out pretty well.”
Carlo also spent much of the oddly-timed offseason examining what went wrong for the team, and himself, during bubble play in Toronto. A standout during the B’s run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, he never quite looked like himself in the bubble.
“It was a unique situation. I’m not sure as a group, we were as mentally prepared as we needed to be to go on to that situation,” said Carlo. “It was tough. And having a negative outlook with the situation that we were handed didn’t benefit us, especially myself. I wasn’t trying to be negative, but at the same time I let those thoughts creep into my mind, so overall I think just going forward, we’re thinking positively, having fun and enjoying the game. Those are the things that have gotten me to this point and when I’ve played my best hockey, when I’ve enjoyed the game and played with confidence. Within the bubble situation, I don’t feel like I was dong that. It’s unfortunate, but bubble situation or not, guys are going to go through that in their career at different points. I’ve talked to the best players on our team, Z and (Patrice Bergeron) and about all those things and they’ve had these moments. It’s just about getting on track and getting to the point where you have confidence and you’re strong within your game. I look forward to that. That’s part of living, re-engaging and going through the battle and enjoying the struggle as well. I’ve done a lot throughout this summer to regroup and I’m feeling really good.”
There were plenty of negative aspects to the bubble that a player a could have latched on to, but what was it for Carlo?
“I didn’t feel that good with my game at that point. There are parts of you within yourself that you are trying to find out why. It’s not necessarily the blame game, but maybe you’re think ‘this situation just isn’t for me,’” said Carlo. “That was just the mindset that wasn’t helping me going forward to regroup for the next game, just being stuck in the situation where I wasn’t as joyful an as happy as I typically am. It was hard being away from family and friends and hearing that repetitively from guys on our team and guys on other teams and I wasn’t living in the present moment. I think that was my biggest downfall in the time-frame, just focusing too much on the future and the next round. I felt fine throughout the first round and then the second round, we were dragging, we weren’t clicking as a group and I think it took a little bit of a toll on us us. And I think we can absolutely learn from that.”
Now Carlo will take those experiences into a brand new Bruin world.
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