Great, great, great.

Oh my, great.

Great and great.

Forever great.

Bobby Carpenter was, is, will be great.


Wait a sec. Does anybody remember Bobby Orr?

The greatest ever.

The Boston Bruins finished fifth in the National Hockey League the year before Orr joined them.

With the rookie Orr, remember where the Bruins finished?

"Sixty," Bobby Orr said yesterday, smiling, "Last in the NHI."

No one, then, should expect Bobby Carpenter to make the Caps golden anytime soon.

But at the Bobby Carpenter press conference yesterday, the word "great" suffered great abuse. Everything about Carpenter, from his skates to his sister, was described as great. Here he is a month past his 18th birthday, just out of high school, and the Capitals lay it on so thick even a turnip would report to the boss, "They think this apple-cheeked kid is the new Bobby Orr."

By careful plan, Orr, a family friend, sat beside Carpenter. They were across from two congressmen, a governor's messenger and a man from the White House. The Carpenter family, the kid's high school coach and some Capital players and brass were at side tables. This was according to a seating chart marked "Second Revision."

To set the order of one-on-one interviews with Carpenter, news people drew numbered slips of paper.

"Like taking a number at the butcher's," a wise guy said.

Please, please," said Peter O'Malley, the Caps' lawyer. "Make it a number for ice cream at Baskin-Robbins."

How sweet it is for the Capitals. They have signed The Can't-Miss Kid, as Sports Illustrated called Carpenter on its Feb. 23 cover. Everyone says he will be the best American hockey player ever. Which may not sound like much -- Steve Kristoff and Ken Morrow are far from grrrreat -- but the Capitals exclaimed so yesterday that your faithful hockey turnip made a note, "Bobby Orr wasn't THIS good."

Abe Pollin, the owner, "We're convinced this young man will be one of the great, great hockey players". . . Max McNab, the general manager: "We find no weaknesses". . . . Roger Crozier, assistant g.m.: "Whatever he accomplishes won't surprise me."

We haven't heard anything like this since Robert Picard signed.

When you're a seven-seasons-old franchise never good enough to make the y'all-come playoffs of the NHL, you need positive vibrations to keep the customers hoping. So when you sign up a media superstar -- a real live American playing in the nation's capital -- you produce a spaceshotorchestrated press conference.

And you say "great" a lot.

Not that Bobby Carpenter ever said it.

Carpenter said he sure hopes he makes the team.

"I gotta make the team first," he said in a soft, shy, apprehensive way that indicated he is truly worried he might be sent to Hershey. And he actually said, "If I have to start the season in Hershey, then that's where I'll have to start."

If Carpenter goes to Hersey, Abe Pollin and Max McNab may go arm-in-arm off the top of the Washington Monument.

Bobby Orr on Bobby Carpenter: "I don't say he is great, I said he has a chance to be great. It will take time and a lot of help from the Capitals. But he has been blessed with ability and he will work his buff off. Ten months ago, I saw him skate for the first time and I saw him do things anticipating plays, that 17-year-olds don't do. And he's a tough little guy who'll stand up to the physical testing he's going to get in the NHL."

Ryan Walter, the Caps' captain: "I liked Bobby's humbleness. There are enough people calling him 'great' that he doesn't want to put any added pressure on himself. There is only one Muhammad Ali, one Reggie Jackson, who tell you how great they are and then go out and prove it. It's better to do what Bobby is doing, just came from underneath and say he hopes he makes it."

Bob Carpenter Sr., a police sergeant in Peabody, Mass.: "I don't think Bobby knows what great is. He just wants to play. It used to embarrass him when he scored too many goals. You know what? I don't think Bobby knows how good he is."

Let's ask him. Bobby, when did you know you were special?

"I still don't know," he said. "To be great, you have to prove it in the ultimate league, the way Joe DiMaggio did. I don't know if I'm good. I'm just going to try to do it."

Unless Bobby Orr knows nothing about hockey, Carpenter will do it just fine. Not a prolific scorer, not a Wayne Gretzky magician with the stick, not an Orr redefining his sport, Bobby Carpenter yet is a solid player who makes his teams better. "A Ryan Walter, only more so," one pundit said. Maybe it will take him a couple years to get stronger, to get used to being away from home, but no one doubts he wants this thing badly.

Ann carpenter, his mother, learned that last Thursday.

She thought he would go to Providence College. She had bought sheets for his dorm bed. She was shopping for a desk lamp. She knew it wasn't far to Providence. "If he called, and I heard a tone in his voice, I could jump in my car and be there in two hours."

Then last Thursday, her son came into her bedroom. "Bobby told me he never thought about getting master's degree, but he'd always thought about playing in the NHL. I'd never heard those words come out of him before. And he said if he went to college and some other high school guy became the first to go straight to the pros, he'd regret it forever.

"I started crying.

"And then I thought, 'Am I being selfish?' So I told him, 'Whatever you want to do, I'll support you 100 percent.'"

Ann Carpenter is a lovely woman, made lovelier by the smile that accompanied her postscript to this story.

"I'm checking the schedule," she said, "for the Eastern Airline shuttle from Boston to Washington."