As the season has progressed, the answer to the question of whether John Carpino is one of the league’s premier talents has moved violently from ‘probable’ to ‘definite’.
The first Ranger to score more than 40 goals in recent memory, the Vaughan, native has attracted the attention of everyone that knows anything about the OJHL; including the opposition that have consistently leaned him physically.
“I have just been staying focused,” Carpino said, regarding overcoming the on-ice (and sometimes questionable) attention he has endured as a result of his obvious ability.
“They are going to be on me, so I am always prepared for them and that way I don’t let them get to me.”
Carpino is a 5-foot-11 forward with arguably the best hands in the league, a deadly accurate shot and tremendous vision with the puck, and there have been times this season that it seemed like he could create plays and score at will.
Not only have those around the league noticed, but some south of the border have as well as he fulfilled a child-hood dream of committing to an NCAA Division I school when he signed with the University of Western Michigan in January.
“It’s obviously an accomplishment that I’ve been working on all year,” he said, regarding his plan to join the school that spawned the likes of current NHLers Mark Letestu of Columbus and Carolina’s Patrick Dwyer.
“They want me to keep getting stronger and bigger, to keep my points going up and playing the way I am. They also want me to have another big year next season.”
Being from Vaughan, Carpino had dreamed of playing his full junior career at the Al Paladini Community Centre as a member of the Vaughan Vipers; yet his dream was derailed when the team was part of the league’s contraction in the off-season.
Yet the man behind the Vipers, Jason Fortier, the team’s last head coach and general manager, had a profound impact on the talented-yet-green rookie.
“Fortier was a big part of me getting to where I am,” said Carpino, of the man whose great ability to match players with colleges is well known by those around him.
“He helped me develop as a player and even off the ice as a person, so he’s done a lot.”
The fact that the contraction of the Vipers was beneficial for the Rangers is no secret, as Carpino was joined at the Herb by Pat Piacentini, Liam Kerins and Matthew Whittaker; all important players this season for North York.
And for the unassuming Carpino, having those guys waiting for him was big step in becoming as comfortable as he did, as fast as a he did, at Bathurst and Finch.
“It helped a lot,” he said.
“Knowing a couple of the guys really helps and feeling comfortable and knowing you have someone to talk to if you don’t know the other guys yet. Everyone is friends now though since it’s later in the season, we’re a good team and we’re all good in the room, too.”
Another big part of his success this season has been his dynamic partnership with long-time friend Corey Kalk, who has joined him on one of the team’s scoring lines all season.
The two have been playing sports together since they were seven and that chemistry has made the tandem one of the most difficult for opposing teams to handle since the puck dropped on the campaign.
“It has helped us out so far,” Carpino said, regarding the familiarity between him and Kalk.
“Just seeing and knowing where each other are [is great]; sometimes I can pass the puck where he isn’t at the moment, but will be, so I can put it in an open spot and he’ll be there. It really helps me out with us clicking and to have a familiarity with another guy out there on the ice.”
In many ways, Carpino is the focal point of the vaunted North York attack and getting production from him will be a key for the squad in the playoffs.
Yet in the post-season, he knows there is really only one thing he can do to help the Rangers win.
“I just need to keep playing the way I am playing,” he said.
“I’m not going to change anything, I am going to stick to what I am good at and not try to do too much. I need to try to play the simple game and use my line-mates and hope that we can come out on top here.”