It was in a sea of more than 19,000 fans, clad in black and gold jerseys, where Hannah Carpenter and her mother, Shannon McCarthy, often felt closest.
Amid a cacophony of cheers, volleys of target horns and the familiar soundtrack of Kernkraft 400, an unbreakable bond was forged – adding trips to TD Garden to the duo during birthdays, holidays and after a stellar showing on Carpenter’s report card.
“I fell in love the first moment I walked into TD Garden,” Carpenter told Boston.com. “It was the craziest thing ever. And after that first match I thought, ‘This is what we’re going to do together. We are surrounded by people all the time. But when we are together in the Garden, it is you and me.”
Hockey Fights Cancer Night quickly became a staple of both Carpenter and McCarthy’s appearances in the arena.
After McCarthy was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, both she and Carpenter were regulars at the annual event, with McCarthy presenting her lavender Bruins jersey and cheering on her favorite team.
On Monday – seven months after McCarthy passed away following a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer – Carpenter returned to Causeway Street for Hockey Fights Cancer Night, wearing her mother’s Bruins jersey and carrying a custom sign in memory of the person who first saw her fueled. love for hockey.
Her heart was heavy, but Carpenter believed there was no better place to be Monday — nor a more fitting way to honor her mother — than standing against the glass in the Bruins’ barn.
Her favorite Bruins player, Charlie Coyle, agreed with this sentiment.
“I know her pretty well,” Coyle said of Carpenter. “And I know she’s had a hard time with a few different things and her mom passing. I talked to her a while ago and I knew she said she was going to try to get to that game. She knew it would be a big event and her mother would want her there. And when she talked to me about it, of course I encouraged her.”
So when Coyle saw Carpenter along the glass during warmups, the stars seemed to align.
Coyle tapped the glass where her plate rested and threw a puck over the barrier that Carpenter took out of the air. She bumped her fist against the glass in appreciation and then started crying in a moment that has since gone viral after being captured by NESN cameras.
It was a fitting moment on a night that has meant so much to a mother-daughter duo united by their love for the Bruins.
“This is what my mother lived for: this game, this team and this city, and she knew how much Coyle meant to me. And it was just all this emotion coming at once,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t expect it to be caught on camera. I thought, ‘This is crazy.’
“But it was just one of those things where everything came together at once. It was the emotion of missing my mother, but I was very excited to honor her in a way that I think she would have really appreciated. It was just so special.”
It was all but inevitable that Carpenter would be assimilated into the ranks of Bruins fandom, especially with McCarthy in charge.
Initially a Red Sox fan, Carpenter was hooked after going to her first Bruins game with her mother during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of her earliest memories was waiting outside in the rain to watch Shawn Thornton meeting – McCarthy’s favorite Bruins player – after Boston hoisted the Cup.
Aside from her Hockey Fights Cancer jersey, one of McCarthy’s favorite clothing options for a Bruins game was a custom jersey with No. 22 on the back — Thornton’s number — with the word “FIGHTER” etched on the nameplate after her diagnosis of cancer.
“It ended up being the most amazing bond I think you can have with your parents – to have something that’s so much bigger than the two of you, but also to feel like you’re the only two people there,” the 29-year-old Stoughton, a Massachusetts resident, noted.
Both Carpenter and McCarthy tried to squeeze in as many matches as possible, both within the friendly confines of TD Garden and on the road.
After completing her last chemotherapy session in 2018 to help treat her breast cancer, McCarthy and Carpenter hopped on a plane to Chicago and made it in time to watch the Bruins take on the Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.
When they weren’t cheering on their favorite team from the stands, the duo emerged from McCarthy’s bedroom – described by McCarthy as a “Bruins Cave” that would make even the most devoted hockey fan jealous.
With two TVs in place and years and years of Bruins memorabilia and trinkets adorning the walls, it provided the ideal viewing experience as the two watched games from McCarthy’s bed.
That is, until things started going south for the hometown team.
“If they were doing badly, she’d say, ‘Bye, go sit over there on the couch.’ And when things got really bad, she’d say, “I don’t know what to tell you – we’re not watching this together anymore.” You have to go up there,” Carpenter said. “She said, ‘We have to clean this up.’”
“And honestly, I’m like, ‘Are you serious? You can’t kick me out.’ And she said, ‘You have to go.’ And I have to be honest. They won a lot of games that way. So she did something right.”
Those at-home broadcasts became commonplace, especially after McCarthy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019. But her physical battle with the disease never sapped her spirit, nor did it extinguish her burning passion for the Bruins and the bond she shared with her daughter.
Even after her second cancer diagnosis, McCarthy made it to another playoff game in 2019, waving one of the team flags before the puck dropped: her “FIGHTER” jersey on display for all to see.
“She might be upset that she couldn’t go and she tried her hardest to get into as many games as she could,” Carpenter said of her mother. “If nothing else, she made it to Hockey Fights Cancer Night every year, no matter how much it cost her. … I feel like it’s so easy to get caught up in ‘I don’t feel good’ and ‘This sucks.’ But she looked forward to every game.”
Coyle’s on-ice encounter with Carpenter might have lasted only a few seconds. But those fleeting interactions with fans resonate deeply with the Weymouth resident, who remembers growing up taking in the sights and sounds of warm-ups from the other side of the glass at the Garden.
“It means a lot that they are here. And they get to share that experience and know that her mother would have loved to be there and I know her mother was happy that she was there. We are all fans of the game, we all love hockey and she shares that bond,” Coyle said of Carpenter. “She shared that with her mom because she was a Bruins fan and went to games. That’s basically how you were raised. You just try to pass that on and be a good person, and it just comes around.”
Hockey Fights Cancer Night is also a special event for Coyle.
In 2019, Coyle took part in a pre-game ceremony at Hockey Fights Cancer Night alongside three-year-old Quinn “The Mighty Quinn” Waters – a fellow Weymouth resident who was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier that year.
After promising Quinn he would score a goal for him, Coyle found the back of the net in a 5–1 win over the Sharks.
On Monday night against the Florida Panthers, Coyle delivered again.
“He really made my night, but it was just one of those things where I think all the stars aligned,” Carpenter said. “A big shoutout to my mom. It was a very special way to honor her. I definitely think she was there last night and I think she helped them get that win.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
One of those 19,000 seats may no longer be occupied by a jubilant Shannon McCarthy, but the shared love between her and her daughter remains.
In addition to making it to every Hockey Fights Cancer Night, McCarthy and Carpenter set a goal to see the Bruins in all 31 road arenas in North America. McCarthy could not go through with such an undertaking. But Carpenter plans to complete the task and take her mother’s “FIGHTER” jersey with her at each new stop.
And at home, the “Bruins Cave” now belongs to Carpenter, who has no plans to stray far from her mother’s winning routine.
“I think I’ll keep the tradition going with whoever comes along,” Carpenter said. ‘If they lose? You have to go.”
What better way to honor McCarthy in her Bruins sanctuary – a space created by a lifetime of love, laughter and hockey.
A space where a certain puck has found a beloved new home.
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