Pittsburgh Penguins forward Andrew Ebbett didn't dress for the team's 4-1 win at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings on January 30, 2014. He did, however, enjoy a meeting that night with an old friend, former teammate, and veteran San Diego Police Officer Bryce Charpentier.
It had been 12 years since the 6'5", 220-pound Charpentier served as an on-ice bodyguard for the undersized Ebbett on the expansion Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. Since joining the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) after ending his hockey career, Charpentier remained in regular contact with Ebbett. He even occasionally made the drive north to watch his friend play after Ebbett signed as an undrafted free agent with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
But this 2014 game at Staples was special.
By then, they hadn't seen each other in a few years and Ebbett had established himself as a pro hockey player. Charpentier brought his two young boys along and the postgame meeting provided an opportunity to introduce his new wife, Jennifer, who was also an SDPD officer.
It was a fun reunion. But unbeknownst to friends like Ebbett, as well as coworkers and family, Bryce and Jennifer Charpentier were entering a dangerous and illegal new chapter of their life together.
Four months later, when that chapter had ended, and Ebbett heard the fate that had befallen his friend and former teammate, he couldn't believe it.
"There was no indication. It was a shock to me, for sure," he said. "I'm really just praying for him, hoping he gets through this and comes out a better person."
The shocking allegations against Bryce and Jennifer Charpentier culminated in a brief, nondescript court hearing in a San Diego county courthouse on January 30. The image of the towering, broad-shouldered Charpentier standing by his petite wife belied the charges against them. Facing a six-count indictment that ranged from burglary to distribution to weapons charges, they were each sentenced to three years in state prison. The district attorney's office had lobbied for seven- and six-year sentences for Jennifer and Bryce, respectively. They'll each end up serving 18 months.
It's a tragic story for one of Southern California's unlikeliest hockey trailblazers.
Growing up in Temecula, California, a vineyard town located 58 miles north of San Diego, Bryce Charpentier wasn't supposed to be a regional hockey ambassador. By the time he started skating with the San Diego Gulls amateur program in the late-1990s, he was establishing himself as the kind of defenseman many teams coveted—big, strong, and absolutely fearless when it came to tangling with opposing teams' toughest players.
He'd never become a superstar, but he was getting attention playing in a part of the country that was still years away from developing high-end hockey talent.
"Obviously there's more players coming out of California now because there's more rinks and the [NHL] teams have built up a culture of hockey there," said Gerry Fleming, the head coach of the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons, who coached Charpentier with the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League.
"He was a part of that first wave of California hockey players to come out and make themselves a hockey career."
Charpentier first drew attention from scouts in the North American Hockey League, a tier II junior league in which he split the 2000-01 season between the Danville Wings and Cleveland Barons. Almost immediately, he earned a reputation as a physical force.
While Charpentier became a hard-nosed, fierce-fisted NAHL enforcer, Garry Davidson was busy building a team from scratch in Salmon Arm, an isolated sawmill town of 17,000 people in Southern B.C. With no formal expansion draft, the Silverbacks owner/general manager/coach cast a wide net when it came to finding players. He had already been scouting talent in Southern California for years and saw a piece he could use in Charpentier.
"We knew that as an expansion team we were going to have to spread our wings a little bit and venture out," Davidson said. "Bryce was a big, big man. That's the first thing that grabbed us. Secondly, he was a defenseman and for a big man his feet were good; his hands were still very rough. He played an intimidating game at times. Not out of control, but a big strong guy who played a real physical game."
Years before the Kings and Ducks hoisted the Stanley Cup and California kids started making Division I college rosters across the country, Charpentier was an anomaly. California born, California trained, and playing Canadian junior hockey. He wasn't making headlines, but he was a harbinger of the talent that would soon emerge from his state. And he had no illusions about his role with the Silverbacks.
The rugged defenseman relished the role of protecting stars like Ebbett, collecting 209 penalty minutes in 55 games for a Salmon Arm team that defied low expectations and made the playoffs in its inaugural 2001-02 season. However, for all the flying fists on the ice, Charpentier was a soft-spoken, friendly comrade off it.
"Being one of the smaller skill guys, I always had a close relationship with the enforcers on our team. He was usually coming in and sticking up for me if anyone took liberties or hit me behind the play," Ebbett said. "A good leader but also kind of a big teddy bear. Did a lot around the community. The fans really loved him."
It turned out the Silverbacks were a perfect fit for the raw, intimidating defenseman. Starved for a squad to root for, the locals often waited after games to greet players in the parking lot. When it came time to establish the team brand by dispatching players to local schools, hospitals, and community events, Charpentier rarely passed up the opportunity.
"We had no issues with Bryce at all. He made an effort to fit in with his teammates, to fit in with the community," Davidson said.
In their surprisingly successful first season, few players embodied the Silverbacks team ethos quite like Charpentier. It wasn't the NHL, but considering where he'd come from, Charpentier had made it as a hockey player.
The next season, Charpentier was traded to the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He was 21 and weeks away from completing his junior hockey eligibility. His only hope to continue his hockey career at the professional level was to get noticed by minor league scouts, and he wasn't going to do that by scoring goals.
Charpentier didn't score a single goal in Canmore but in just 20 games he collected a whopping 193 penalty minutes, the equivalent of almost two fights per contest. With a new bodyguard looking after him, Eagles star forward Mark Bomersback enjoyed one of the great individual seasons in AJHL history, winning the scoring title with 114 points, earning MVP honors, and finishing his career as the league's all-time leading scorer.
Having earned a reputation as one of the AJHL's most brutal intimidators, the kid from Temecula earned a pro contract with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the East Coast Hockey League. Playing near his hometown, Charpentier earned his spot in Long Beach the same way he had in Canada: with his fists.
By now Charpentier was officially a Southern California hockey success story and inspiring certain young players in the region.
Those younger players who looked up to Charpentier included his younger brother, Kellen, who emulated Bryce's rugged and followed his path through the Gulls program. A team captain at Western Washington University, the younger Charpentier even earned a 2012 tryout with the Ontario Reign, the Kings' ECHL affiliate.
But while little brother Kellen was refining his game, Bryce was riding the rocky rails as a minor league enforcer.
"He could take care of himself and maybe change the tempo by going out and playing physical and taking the other team off their game," Fleming remembered. "He'd come in and work and get along with the guys. Just one of the guys, a regular guy."
Suiting up for four teams in three ECHL seasons, the rigors of minor league hockey coupled with the responsibility of going blow for blow with the opposition's designated heavyweight eventually caused Charpentier's body to break down. By the time he joined the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League in 2006, a succession of hand injuries had forced him to occasionally fight one-handed. It was a lot to deal with, as were the long bus rides and nomadic nature of Charpentier's unique job.
"He was not a goon. He was just a player who didn't take crap from anybody. He played the role that he had to play to survive in that league. That's just the type of guy who goes out on the ice and does his job and makes everybody a lot tougher on the ice," said Brian Curran, Charpentier's coach in Quad City.
Having collected almost 1,500 penalty minutes in 381 NHL games, Curran was very familiar with the physical and psychological toll that on-ice gladiators ultimately pay.
"I can't speak for him, but when you play that role, and I did for 17 years, you get tired of it after a while," Curran said. "People don't realize what it's like to stand in front of someone else who wants to beat the crap out of you. It's not the easiest job in the world, but you either have it or you don't. After a while you just get tired of playing that role."
Charpentier's decision to retire from hockey was likely compelled when the Mallards announce in 2007 that they would make the jump to the American Hockey League to become the top minor-league affiliate of the Calgary Flames. None of the players on Quad City's UHL roster would be making that journey to the AHL.
By then, Charpentier had been contemplating retirement for a while and wasted little time returning home and beginning his new career.
On July 20, 2007, he was officially hired by the SDPD and assigned to the Mid-City Division.
"It was a good opportunity and something he was really excited [about]," said Ebbett. "He said he really enjoyed the work and loved living back home in San Diego. I think he offered me to go on a ride-along sometime if I ever got down to San Diego. I never took him up on that offer."
It was with the police department that Charpentier met his future wife, Jennifer, a veteran officer 10 years his senior who had worked out of the SDPD's Western Division. The couple shared a few things in common, including two children each from failed first marriages. But the similarities didn't end there.
According to divorce documents first obtained by San Diego's ABC television affiliate, Bryce Charpentier had become dependent on Vicodin after years of hockey injuries that had led to hand surgery and multiple back surgeries. Charpentier allegedly stole prescription medication, and his health issues worsened following a severe car accident that took place after his hockey career ended. Jennifer Charpentier also reportedly struggled with addiction after suffering an ankle injury at work.
By the time they were married, their addictions appeared to have spiraled out of control and Bryce was consuming $3,800 worth of Hydrocodone a month, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's office. In the warrant initially filed to search their home, the couple was accused of engaging in an elaborate "doctor shopping" scheme. Jennifer was cited for using seven doctors to fill 71 different prescriptions at 17 different pharmacies. Bryce allegedly used six doctors to obtain 79 prescriptions and in his quest to fill them ventured as far north as Oakhurst, California, almost 400 miles from home.
These exploits were ignored in the DA's final charge summary, which outlined the tactics the pair used once their drug dependency became prohibitively expensive.
The first count in the indictment, a first-degree burglary charge against both Bryce and Jennifer, outlined the couple's desperate attempts to steal prescription medication. In these efforts, the couple used their police vehicle's Mobile Computer Terminal (MCT) and bogus police calls to target their victims.
One portion of the indictment describes how the couple targeted three different users of legally-acquired prescription drugs between September 8-9, 2013. Their first target no longer had a prescription and the second wasn't home. That's when Jennifer offered to manufacture a "prowler call or check welfare call" before acquiring 10 doses.
"They acted with a degree of sophistication and knowledge that a common criminal does not possess; essentially they were insiders," said Matthew Tag, the Deputy District Attorney for San Diego County. "They were utilizing law enforcement databases, they were manufacturing radio calls in order to get into people's homes and steal medications."
By the summer and fall of 2013, they were stealing from anyone they could, including Jennifer Charpentier's own mother.
"They did not discriminate," Tag said. "They would steal from people who were psychiatric patients. They would steal from little kids that had ADHD. They would steal from people dying from cancer."
By January, 2014, around the time Bryce and Jennifer Charpentier enjoyed their reunion with Andrew Ebbett, the couple was transitioning from addicts into entrepreneurs.
The new venture came crashing down in June when, as part of an ongoing Sheriff's investigation, a local dealer was arrested after eight months of being tracked. The dealer named Bryce and Jennifer Charpentier among his associates, having no idea that both were San Diego police officers.
The couple was arrested two days later and pleaded not guilty. But they changed their plea in November when the DA presented a shocking charge summary that included burglary, possession of a controlled substance, sale of a controlled substance, furnishing of a controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by an addict. Both were officially fired from the police force after changing their plea.
In the case against them, the DA outlined how the Charpentiers had escalated their illegal activity from burglary to distribution around January 6, two weeks before the Penguins-Kings game at Staples Center, when Jennifer contacted a local supplier about going into business together. What proceeded was a five-month entrepreneurial endeavor involving multiple dealers and buyers.
On April 7, 2014, eight months after conspiring to steal medication from his mother-in-law, Bryce Charpentier allegedly purchased Hydrocodone from a supplier before being instructed by his wife to deliver the drugs to two different buyers. According to the DA, Charpentier was accompanied by one of his sons while this took place.
The following month, Jennifer Charpentier purchased a "drop phone" to assist in the side business. On June 4, she provided 20 hydrocodone pills to the DA's informant, who promised to furnish Charpentier with Adderall at a later date.
The couple was arrested the next day.
"They betrayed the people that they work next to everyday. They betrayed the people that died on the job wearing that badge," Tag said. "What they did to law enforcement was just shameful."
Both Jennifer and Bryce Charpentier appeared remorseful during their sentencing hearing on January 30. Jennifer claimed to be "horribly embarrassed" and "sickened" by her actions while Superior Court Judge Kathleen Lewis described the defendants as "victims of their own addictions."
Following a year in which the SDPD was rocked by other charges of officer impropriety, the Charpentier case caused a stir around San Diego. But the news didn't make it to some of the more remote areas of the hockey world. When informed of Bryce Charpentier's arrest, former teammates and coaches alike were shocked.
"This is kind of heartbreaking. I knew nothing about it," said Nick Vitucci, Charpentier's coach with the ECHL's Toledo Storm. "Let's hope a positive can come out of this, for him and the people he can affect [in the future] in a good way."
Through his lawyer, Bryce Charpentier declined to be interviewed for this story. Serving his sentence in a state penitentiary, his two biological children are in the custody of his ex-wife while his two stepchildren are under the care of their biological father.
With both his family and career in law enforcement destroyed by his and his wife's addiction, Charpentier will effectively start over upon completion of his sentence. For the nomadic enforcer, once a noble warrior wandering through hockey's wilderness, the most daunting battle is yet to come.