From Mahopac to Hockey’s Big League0
By Chuck Slater
He’s only 21, but after his first full week in the National Hockey League, Mahopac native Steve Santini figures to be there for a long time.
“It was pretty cool,” the New Jersey Devils’ newest defenseman said of his week in the bigs (he played a lone game with the Devils at the end of last season). “I really didn’t know what to expect. The players here are so talented. But my teammates and coaches helped me so much so I felt confident.”
Pretty much a stay-at-home defenseman, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 207-pound backliner even picked up a point in his first game up, a shutout of the Boston Bruins early in the new year. He got an assist on a teammate’s goal after his own shot was blocked. (He also added an assist in his fourth game.) “I don’t really know how to explain it other than it was pretty cool,” Santini said. “It was pretty awesome.”
A couple of days later in his second game, a victory over Carolina, Santini racked up seven hits. “We’ve never had anyone get that many hits before,” said a Devils official. Also impressed with the right-hand shooting defenseman was John Hynes, the Devils’ coach. “He was poised, defensively sound,” the coach said of his newcomer’s early play. “He made some good decisions with the puck. He brings an energy and character to our team. That’s the type of person he is.”
And Santini, a tremendous plus-5 in the four early games of his first full pro season, won’t be 22 until the end of March. “It’s a little bit different up here,” he said. “But my time in the minors helped prepare me.” Prepared for a long stay? “I try not to think about that,” he said. “One game, one day, at a time.”
Santini, who left Kennedy High School for the U.S. Olympic Development team after his sophomore season, has always been surrounded by hockey. His father, Steve Sr., also played the sport, is the owner and business manager of the Brewster Ice Arena, and coached his son at JFK.
Santini, who first starred for the Brewster Bulldogs and N.Y. Apple Corps, was named New York State’s co-player of the year in Division II after his second season with Kennedy/Putnam Valley, as his 45 goals led his dad’s team to the section semifinals. Then he was “nervous and excited” though he had to move to Michigan to join the U.S. program. He helped earn silver medals with the 17-and-under, then the 18-and-over club. Next came three seasons skating for Boston College, in the last of which he had 18 assists while being named Hockey East’s best defenseman.
After being drafted in the second round, Santini spent the majority of this season in the minor leagues with the Albany Devils before his new year call-up. Bet he’ll never see the minor leagues again.
“Steven is positionally sound,” said Hynes of the Mahopac native. “He’s always in the right spot. Steven is a guy you want to play with as a defensive partner.”