Steven Santini says family and faith guided him in fulfilling his dream of being an NHL defenseman with the New Jersey Devils.
“I think God played a big part of my life on and off the ice,” the 22-year-old, who grew up attending Mass with his family at St. John the Evangelist parish in Mahopac, told CNY.
“I grew up wanting to go to church. It worked out that I went to a Catholic high school and a Jesuit college at BC (Boston College). It helped me grow spiritually.”
Santini, a third-generation hockey player in his family, is in his third season with the Devils. He played one game in 2015-2016 after signing with the Devils out of Boston College, and finished with two goals and six assists in 38 games last season for a team that finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 70 points.
This year, Santini has a team-high 107 hits and was second with 63 blocked shots, both at even strength, in 33 games through Jan. 1 for the Devils, who are in a tight battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division. He’s contributed two goals and eight assists.
“It’s been exciting,’’ Santini said. “We had a really good training camp and came out of the gates ready to go. The biggest thing now is to keep it going for the 82 games (in the regular season). Our effort is way better than last year, and we’re a much closer team. It’s showing on the ice.”
Santini, a defenseman, was scratched from the lineup for two games after the Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vantanen from the Anaheim Ducks Nov. 30. Upon his return, Devils coach John Hynes asked Santini for a little more puck play, especially making offensive plays when opportunities arise.
“The coaching staff did a job communicating with me to what I needed to work on,” Santini said. “I’m a young defender and it’s good to step back and push the reset button to get better and help the team any way I can.
“This is a competitive lineup. We have eight high-quality defensemen. You play hard every day and control what you can control. If you’re not doing your part, someone else is going to be put in the lineup to do the job.”
Santini attended John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers for two years before relocating to Ann Arbor, Mich., for his final two years of high school to participate in the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he gained international experience with U.S. national teams.
Santini, a second-round pick of the Devils in 2013, played three seasons at Boston College, signed with New Jersey on April 7, 2016, and made his pro debut the next day in the Devils’ final regular-season game at Toronto.
“I’m so spoiled,’’ said Santini, who completed the work for his business degree from Boston College last summer. “It was a perfect school for me. A lot of schools offered great things. BC being a Jesuit school played a role in my decision. You walk around campus and you get the feel of a Jesuit Catholic community.’’
Santini comes from a hockey family. His 86-year-old grandfather, Bob, still competes. Bob, who coached at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, was a founder and the first commissioner of the Catholic High School Hockey League. Steven’s father, Steve, played at Mount St. Michael and the University of Maine before coaching at Kennedy Catholic. Bob and Steve are owners of the Brewster Ice Arena, which opened in 1997. Ironically, that was the year Steven, first stepped on the ice at age 2.
“You don’t want to push kids at that age and you want it to be fun. The initial instruction always has to be fun, and it was fun for him,’’ Steve Santini said.
“He was always a very competitive kid in all sports. He was always a very big kid, which is a benefit in sports. He was always a good player, but you never really know how he was going to develop and end up.”
Steven Santini is now fulfilling his childhood dream.
“It is a blessing to play for a local team and live out your dream of playing in the NHL,” he said.