Success in the game of hockey is about the only accomplishment that has eluded Walter “Ted” Carter, Jr., during his exciting journey through life. And that was only temporary.
A Rhode Island native born in Burrillville, RI, Carter was recently back in his home town to be honored by the high school he attended. The school’s gymnasium was dedicated and named in his honor.
The event marked a busy few weeks for Carter during which he also had been named the new president of The Ohio State University. That is the capstone on distinguished careers in higher education and in the U.S. Navy where he rose to the rank of Vice Admiral and served as a “Top Gun” combat pilot.
Carter was the first Burrillville High School graduate to attend the U.S. Naval Academy from which he graduated in 1981. Typical of his long and varied service, he would return to Annapolis in 2014 as the academy’s 62ndsuperintendent.
During the 33 years between graduating from the academy and eventually leading it, Carter’s naval career was impressive, earning him several leadership and combat honors.
He was designated a Naval Flight Officer after finishing fighter school in Pensacola, FL, and earning his Navy wings of gold in 1982. He became a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (popularly known as Top Gun) in March 1985 as the original “Top Gun” movie was being filmed. He was assigned as Tom Cruise’s (star of the film) first escort to Marimar, CA, when he arrived in February 1985.
In 2001 he completed the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program. His career as an aviator features extensive deployment around the globe in the F-4 Phantom II and F-14 Tomcat. He recorded 6,150 flight hours and safely completed 2,015 landings on 19 different carriers, the record for all active and retired Naval aviators.
Among his many honors is the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for leading the Navy’s first combat mission into Kosovo. In total he flew 125 combat missions in support of joint operations in Kosova, Bosnia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan
Ashore, his long list of assignments also includes service as the 54th president of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI, where he established the Naval Ethics and Leadership Center.
He is the only recipient of both of the Navy’s most prestigious leadership awards – the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Award and the U.S. Navy League’s John Paul Jones Award for Inspired Leadership. He also was named an Honorary Master Chief by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy in 2008.
After retiring from the Navy, Carter was named president of the University of Nebraska in 2019. He resigned from that post recently to accept the presidency of Ohio State.
In his home state, he has been inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame and the R.I. Aviation Hall of the Fame.
The gym at the high school – now known as the Vice Admiral Walter “Ted” Carter Gymnasium – was named in his honor during special ceremonies during which a center-court Broncos logo, the school’s nickname, was unveiled. The impressive logo was created by Jeffrey “Ace” Farrell, a friend and former Broncos teammate of Carter. The building’s new commemorative signage also was unveiled.
The packed gym included town and school officials, several of Carter’s former classmates, members of the current senior class, and scores of friends from the town. It was a turnout typical of the closeness of the Burrillville community.
And, as he has done at other events over the years, Carter talked about the importance of his Burrillville and Rhode Island roots in his own life. He has explained it this way: “I believe in what the town of Burrillville has to offer. The education I got set me up for success. I want them (the current seniors) to know how proud I am that I am from a small town in Rhode Island, and I don’t want anyone to forget that.”
All of which brings his story back to the game of hockey, the sport that eluded him as a high school student.
Burrillville has a long-earned reputation for its success in hockey under legendary coaches like Tom Eccleston Jr., Babe Mousseau and others. (Eccleston and Mousseau both are inductees into the RI Hockey Hall of Fame.)
Hockey was a sport that had touched Carter’s family. During the Broncos’ heyday, his father was a member of one of the team’s best-known hockey forward lines along with Mike Lovett and Buzzy Boisvert, a trio that had skated together since they were kids. Carter earned second-team All-State honors as a senior after honorable mention the year before. He would go on to skate for the Providence College Friars in the late 1950’s.
Carter, the son, didn’t play on the hockey team at the high school. A graduate of the class of 1977, he was a teenager who was growing but still too light for the bruising demands of competitive hockey. Instead, he played three other sports (basketball, soccer and track).
But he had grown enough by the time he entered the Naval Academy to join the Midshipmen club hockey team. He not only played hockey during his four years at Annapolis, he was one of the team’s leading scorers and was named captain as a senior.
“I scored quite a few goals but usually it was from about seven or eight feet in front of the goal,” he recalled. “My slap shot was so bad that our coach (former Northeastern goalie Steve Gordon) told me, I think kiddingly, that if I ever used the slap shot again he’d put me on the bench.”
Instead, that woeful shot became Carter’s nickname, and eventually his call sign as a Navy pilot. It was a moniker most certainly borrowed from the title of a movie about hockey released in 1977. “Slap Shot,” starring Paul Newman became a cult comedy classic for moviegoers and then became Ted Carter’s nickname and military call sign.
“I’ve seen the movie ”Slap Shot” several times,” Carter admits. “In fact I watched it again just a few nights ago.”
Hockey was important in Carter’s life in another way, too. In a very special way. The game brought him and his future wife Lynda together.
“She was attending the University of Maryland and we were introduced by a mutual friend,” he said. “I invited her to attend our hockey game the next day at the Academy, and she accepted.
“I had been in a scoring slump but got two shorthanded goals in the third period of that game to beat Duquesne 4-2.”
Lynda became a regular at Navy hockey games and a good luck charm for her future spouse, as the goals kept coming for Ted Carter. The rest is history, with more than a little assist from the game of hockey.
The cult classic sports comedy film “Slap Shot“ has several Rhode Island connections beyond Ted Carter’s nickname.
Dave Hanson, cast as a member of the riotous Hanson Brothers forward line, also played pro hockey, including one year with the RI Reds during that minor league franchise’s final season (1976-77) in Providence. His Reds stats for 27 games include 2 goals and 10 assists for 12 points and 98 penalty minutes. He also played 33 games in the National Hockey League with Detroit and Minnesota.
Dave Hanson’s son, Christian, played with the Providence Bruins in 2012-2013, netting 12 goals and 17 assists plus 53 penalty minutes. His NHL career included 42 games with Toronto during parts of three seasons.
Another cast member, Con Madigan, also skated briefly with the Reds, suiting up for 10 games in Providence during the 1964-65 season, scoring one goal and two assists and racking up 34 penalty minutes. He was cast as bad guy Ross Madigan in the film and had the nickname “Mad Dog” both in real life and on the movie screen.
And actor Phil D’Amato, cast as comic villain defenseman Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken in the film, was a big hit as the guest speaker at the annual reunion dinner of RI Reds Heritage Society in 2017. D’Amato had played hockey as a student at Boston’s Emerson College and became an accomplished actor with roles in several movies including another hockey film, The Deadliest Season, and the award-winning The Deer Hunter, which starred Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep.
By Arnie Bailey