If one were to flip through an archive of photos, videos, and features of Jeff Carter on the beach, it would be easy to make blanket assumptions on his career, his ambitions, his background. Often spotted in attire of various South Bay establishments and community events, and with what appears to be some sort of human-record 24-pack chiseled into his torso, it wouldn’t be a stretch to mistake him for a professional beach volleyball player or some jet-setting playboy upon a casual glance.
And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jeff Carter and his wife Megan, parents of two, are surely at home in Hermosa Beach, where the closely-knit community provides an environment more manageable in size than the sprawling metropolis that encompasses it.
But Carter, a native of London, Ont., played four years for the Ontario Hockey League’s most remote team, the Soo Greyhounds. Sault Ste. Marie is a pair of cities that straddle the international border between a northeastern abutment of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Ontario, some three and a half hours from the closest OHL teams, Saginaw and Sudbury. It is not a sister city of Hermosa Beach.
“I mean, I’m pretty simple. I’ve never been a real flashy guy,” Carter said. “I’ve kind of stuck to what’s gotten me to where I am, and that’s straight lines and trying to work hard every day and not straying from that path.”
The origin for such an ethos was laid playing in the Soo, where he benefited from the guidance of former Greyhounds and North Stars All-Star defenseman Craig Hartsburg – a coach he compared to Reign Coach Mike Stothers “in the way he handles things” – for two of his four years.
“I think everybody where they played junior, you kind of carry those over, the instincts onto the pros, and obviously you pick stuff up throughout your years, but for the most part, that’s where you learn to be a professional,” Carter’s close friend and former teammate Mike Richards said.
Richards and Carter have been influenced by a number of individuals, coaches and teammates, and both expressed the importance of learning from Those Who Came Before. While those in NHL dressing rooms also played such an important role in helping Carter attain 1,000 games played – which he will do so against the Vegas Golden Knights this afternoon – his father, Jim Carter, helped to instill a foundation in who he was as both a man and a hockey player.
“I know he talks to him a lot, his dad is extremely laid back and always excited to be at the rink, and he obviously loves hockey,” Richards said. “I think he leans on him a lot and he takes on his personality trait as well with things – when you play that long you’re going to limit the ups and downs, and I think he’s taken that on from his dad a bit.”
That sense of equilibrium is noticeable in Carter, who will give the occasional fist pump but generally celebrates his goals like he’s scored 370 of them. He’s hardened and tough, but not someone easily provoked emotionally. When fellow Londoner and 2003 draft alum Corey Perry infamously sprayed water into his glove during the Kings and Ducks’ 2014 playoff series, his response, at least the one captured on television, contained a toothless smile and some private words towards his off-season pal as he skated away.
Carter’s an honest player. He’s a goal scorer, he’s responsible defensively, he’s an effective forechecker with north-south tendencies who has played the game with great speed, smarts, tremendous reach and an equally good wristshot. But above anything else, he’s an honest player, and that’s why his influences are so important.
“If you’re honest in your effort every night and what you bring to the team in the locker room, on the ice and all that, it usually translates to good things, so I guess that’s a good way to put it,” he said.
Carter’s not a player who cheats for offense. He doesn’t cut corners in the weight room. He demands as much out of himself as he does of his teammates as a conduit between the rest of the team and the coaching staff.
“I went into Philly, it was myself and Mike, and everybody else was old,” he said. “We had a really old team. Hitch was there, he wanted the old guys, so in a way, that was good for me to see how they handled things. We had Forsberg, Hatcher, Primeau, Gagne, like, we had some really, really good veteran players that showed us the right way to do things. And then coming here, I was what, 26 years old, right in the mix with everybody else, kind of the same age … and just kind of slid right into a role. I was lucky when I came here because I knew a lot of the guys. They made it very clear what your role is with Darryl and Johnny. Everything was laid out and everything just fell into place. I think early in my career, definitely lucky to be a younger guy on an older team with a big, veteran presence. Just kind of sit back and take it in, you know?”
Richards and Carter were traded to Los Angeles and Columbus, and when the relationship between Carter and the Blue Jackets faied to get off the ground, the two were ultimately reunited in Los Angeles in a tectonically important trade for the franchise.
Before it was consummated, the team communicated with Mike Richards to learn more about the player in which they were highly interested. The evaluation he shared combined both the concrete and the intangible.
“He’s just so naturally talented, one – six-foot-four and a guy that can skate and obviously with a great shot,” Richards said of what he communicated to the Kings. “But I knew how he was in Philly. He works hard, he loves hockey. He is extremely passionate about hockey. He watches hockey nightly. Even when we lived together in LA, there was a lot of hockey on TV, so he had a lot of passion for it. I obviously knew him very well too, so I knew what we were getting. I had no problem putting a guarantee that he would have success there if we eventually ended up getting him.”
The trade was made in-season, so reuniting with the former teammate was “kind of just natural,” Richards said of Carter, his house guest through the end of the playoffs.“It was nice having him there, but I think after the season when we ended up winning that year, that’s when it all came together. It was just surreal, how everything came full circle and you go from a [hail]storm from the year before, losing out, getting traded, me and him going to a different team, and then finally getting back together, and once everything was done we ended up winning, so it was just ironic how everything happened. We always wanted to win together in Philly, and it didn’t happen, and then we got split up, and then the next thing you know we’re hoisting the Cup together. I do remember handing the Cup off to him in L.A., which was something that I probably won’t forget anytime soon.”
Nor will anyone forget the amazing 2003 draft class, of which Carter will become the 12th member – and 11th selected in the first round – to reach the silver stick barrier. Such longevity doesn’t occur without an approach that limits the oscillations in mood and temperament. Such traits are passed down in his DNA; others are learned and inherited through the experience of a trial-by-fire, 81-game, 20-year-old rookie season in Philadelphia; some are the fruits gained from two Stanley Cups along with gold medals at the Olympics and world juniors. All helped mold Carter into the player, husband and father he is today. Richards noted that “you take on the persona of whatever you learn,” an indication that those who’ve imparted knowledge or experience onto the Kings center have done so to the betterment of the players and teams around him.
“Honestly it starts at home as a child, and then with Hartsy for a while in the Soo, and as a young kid, … and then going to Philly with Johnny and coming here with Johnny, Darryl and Dean and everybody, I’ve been pretty lucky to have had some really detailed coaches that hold you accountable and make you play the right way, so it’s really helped me.”
2003 Draftee (Selection): Games Played Entering Saturday
Eric Staal (2): 1,193
Dustin Brown (13): 1,136
Brent Seabrook (14): 1,098
Ryan Suter (7): 1,092
Brent Burns (20): 1,063
Dion Phaneuf (9): 1,048
Patrice Bergeron (45): 1,047
Thomas Vanek (5): 1,029
Ryan Getzlaf (19): 1,004
Ryan Kesler (23): 1,001
Corey Perry (28): 1,001
Jeff Carter (11): 999
Joe Pavelski (205): 983
Zach Parise (17): 965
Shea Weber (49): 944
Jeff Carter, on the challenges of his rehabilitation process over the previous two years:
It was tough. A long time off the ice, and then coming back, it was what it was. We made do with what we had, and last year – last year was tough. Nothing seemed to go right. Pretty much the whole year I was never very comfortable in my feet. This summer is when it started to turn for me, and thankfully it did, because skating’s a big part of my game, and when I feel comfortable out there and I’m skating, things open up for me. I’m glad that it has come back.
Carter, on the healing process:
It’s just time, you know what I mean? There’s no real other way to put it. We did all the rehab and the workouts in the summer and in-season and coming back from injury, but time. Some things take longer than others.
Carter, on growing older alongside those he’s won with:
It’s been a blast. I was lucky enough to come and be a part of it at the right time. I made some really good friends here, and it’s fun to see everybody grow up, especially with the new guys coming in. Especially as we transition to a younger team, it keeps me energized and feeling young, and I know it does for some of the older guys here as well, so it’s been fun.
Carter, on how he mentors the younger players on the team:
Nothing in particular, to be honest with you. You just talk. If the young guys are coming up with questions, you answer them. You just try and be a good guy and talk. To be honest with you, for the most part we’re not talking about hockey, we’re talking about what’s going on outside of the rink and what they’re doing. … If we sit here and talk about hockey all day long, we’re going to go crazy.
Carter, on something he’s held on to as a King that comes from his youth:
I try to stay young, come out with a smile every day. It’s a tough business, especially when things aren’t going the way you’d like them to, but at the end of the day you’ve still got to come in with a smile on your face and go to work every day. Like I said, it’s hard some days, but I think if you can try and do that more days than not, good things happen.
Carter, on what makes it easy to be at the rink:
One thing is our team – everybody gets along, everybody loves being with each other. We just come in and joke around, we sit around, have a coffee. You’ve got to keep it light. If we’re uptight and grumpy every day, it’s not going to go too well. So we try to keep it as light as we can and move on.
Carter, on what links those who’ve reached 1,000 games played:
I mean, I’m extremely grateful just to have the opportunity to play 1,000. I mean, you talk about the injuries and stuff, you never know in this game what’s going to happen. One quick little play, that could be it. I’m definitely grateful to have hung around this long. It’s just fun – fun going out and playing, fun being around the guys.
Carter, on what he’d learned about winning Stanley Cups that he hadn’t known before:
I think going through it in Philly and not winning, you learn how hard it is to get there, but there’s that extra push that you need collectively in the room to get over that hump. You get there, and you come up short, that stings. It stings for a long time. I think for us in here when we did it, there was no part of our game that wasn’t at its best I guess is maybe the best way to put it. Everything was clicking, everybody was going and everybody knew what they had to do. Everybody was prepared, and when that happens and everybody’s pulling in the same direction, it’s tough to stop.