As the Stanley Cup final gets underway Monday night, No. 25 in yellow and black will look familiar to a specific set of early 2000s street hockey players from northern Colorado Springs.
Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo was born at Penrose Community Hospital and raised nearby. He has options, should the Bruins defeat the Blues and the Stanley Cup falls into his possession for a day, as traditionally happens for each member of the winning team. Carlo owns a home in Denver, where he still has many Colorado Thunderbirds connections.
But his grandfather, Ed Ristau, thinks Lord Stanley would make its way south, and he has plans for it if it does.
“I want to drink a beer out of it,” he said. No Sam Adams. Coors Light only.
The former basketball referee joked that he couldn’t spell hockey before his grandson shot up through the ranks, becoming an NHL mainstay as a teenager.
“Now it’s his life,” his daughter, Angie Carlo, said.
In good company
Though the Bruins have made the playoffs each of his three full seasons in the league, due to some terrible luck, this is the first NHL postseason for Carlo, 22.
First there was the concussion, on a hit along the boards delivered by none other than Alex Ovechkin. It came in the first period of the regular-season finale, after he’d appeared in every game as a rookie. The Bruins were eliminated in the first round, so he never got the chance to return.
Then there was the freak occurrence with just five games remaining in the 2017-18 regular season. Carlo went to kick the puck, but his skate got stuck. The fall broke his leg, and Angie said he had a plate and seven screws inserted.
The recovery was tough – for Brandon and those who had to watch from afar. But his first postseason has been worth the wait.
The Maple Leafs took the Bruins to seven games in the first round, but bolstered by the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask and a power play clicking at 35%, Boston cleared a path through wild cards Columbus and Carolina, entering the Stanley Cup final on a seven-game win streak.
Carlo is the only Boston regular who hasn’t scored in the postseason, but the Bruins have been ready with praise for the reliable stay-at-home defenseman and penalty killer. Settled into an established second pairing with Torey Krug, Carlo has averaged the third-most ice time on the team in the playoffs at 22:16. He’s plus-6 with 21 blocked shots.
“He got his quickness from me,” Ristau quipped.
That 6-foot-5, 212-pound frame doesn’t hurt – that, he got from his father, Lenny. He’d stand eye-to-eye with the tallest player on every other Atlantic Division team.
But Bruins captain, fellow penalty killer and guide Zdeno Chara has 4 inches on him.
“Chara has been such an incredible mentor to Brandon,” Angie said, pointing to veterans David Backes and Patrice Bergeron as well.
Ristau was assigned to the Air Force Academy in 1979. He soon retired and spent nearly three decades towing gliders.
Brandon is the youngest of his six grandchildren. They hit the links at the Academy as much as they can in the offseason.
“Gramps” hasn’t missed a game since Carlo reached the NHL at 19, watching from home or joining him on the road. He and Carol, Brandon’s grandmother, have traveled to Washington, Nashville, Las Vegas and Dallas – and, of course, Boston – where they’ve met most of the Bruins.
The jersey-clad Ristaus are settling in for Games 1 and 2 with a remote and maybe a pizza. Angie is in Boston with a contingent of – appropriately – around 25.
They may be a little biased, but No. 25’s mother and grandfather like Boston’s chances. They both point to team chemistry.
“I can’t see them not fighting to the end,” Angie said. “They all have each other’s backs.”
Rolling around the neighborhood, Brandon caught the eye of longtime youth and high school coach Hal Jordan, who encouraged his parents to sign him up for a skating program. Jordan is among Brandon’s cheering squad in Boston.
He played his youth hockey in the Springs and for the Thunderbirds for five years. Urged to go the college route, Angie said Brandon was recruited heavily by Colorado College and Denver. But he didn’t want to split his focus between school and hockey.
“Brandon knows himself. He knows he wants to put 115% into what he does,” Angie said. “He was adamant about it.”
He decided to join the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, among other reasons, for the rigors of a longer schedule.
“Lenny and I wanted (college) to happen so we could go watch,” Ristau said. “But frankly he made the right decision, and look at him now.”
Carlo attended Pine Creek for two years, but graduated elsewhere. He represented the U.S. twice on the world stage at the IIHF World Junior Championship. He showed off some offensive flair there in 2016, tallying two goals and four points as the U.S. won bronze, but cemented himself as a shut-down defensive prospect.
The Thunderbirds reportedly encouraged Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic to draft Carlo in 2015, but he went two spots before the Avs’ first second-round pick (A.J. Greer) at No. 37 overall to Boston.
With that, Carlo was set to head across the country. There was a brief, seven-game American Hockey League stint, then he made the Bruins’ opening night roster in 2016.
“It works out the way that it’s supposed to,” Angie said. “You have a lot of distractions if you play for your home team as a young player, in the beginning.
“It’s all about timing. Down the road, you never know.”
For all the marbles
This final won’t be as dramatic for their family as it might have been. In the six-game Western Conference final, the Blues beat the San Jose Sharks – including the Carlos’ former billet kid, Denver alum Dylan Gambrell.
“It would have been a lot of stress, but it would have been fun,” Angie said of her son facing Gambrell, her former tenant.
The complexities of the climb, the tough decisions, the bits of good and bad luck - it’s an eye-opening experience for the families of most pro athletes. But the Carlos and Ristaus trusted and supported Brandon, who has navigated his young career capably.
And now, the Stanley Cup finals at just 22.
“He’s such a tremendous person too,” Ristau said. “He’s a great citizen. He just does things right.”