|Vinny Saponari became the first player born and developed in the state of Georgia to be drafted by an NHL team.|
"My advice was never verbal, but more hands-on, like 'Let's see what you got, kid,'" Victor Saponari told NHL.com. "We were both very competitive people; he always had to beat me in everything and I always had to beat him in everything. I feel that may have helped him advance a lot quicker than other players because he had to beat me all the time and I refused, as best I could, to let that happen. Maybe that's why he's so competitive today.”
Perhaps the fact that 18-year-old Vinny Saponari was pushed to the brink of exhaustion each day by his 20-year-old brother might explain why the younger brother became the first player born and developed in the state of Georgia to be drafted by an NHL team. That moment occurred June 21 when the Powder Springs, Ga., native was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in the fourth round (No. 94) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
"I was in summer school at BU working out with the team and just finished a workout when Vinny sent me a text message telling me he'd just been drafted," Victor said. "I was like, 'Holy Cow, no way!' And then he told me he was picked 94th overall, which was unreal. It's great because the people of Atlanta have been so supportive of Vinny. Even if he wasn't drafted, that support he had from the hometown fans down here was fantastic. It's unbelievable knowing that, in the 2008 draft, my brother was the 94th pick for the Atlanta Thrashers. You really have to step back for a minute and take it all in. It's a dream come true for all of us.”
Now, Vinny Saponari can begin to live out his dream of possibly donning the jersey of his favorite NHL franchise some day.
"It was just a great feeling for me, because growing up and playing in Atlanta, the Thrashers were the team I watched," Saponari said. "We were huge Thrashers fans, and it was a dream come true to receive a call from the organization you followed your whole life. I had been speaking with Atlanta all year so I knew they were interested, but it was still a surprise because I didn't know for sure anything was going to happen.”
If that weren't enough, Vinny also had the opportunity to play alongside older brother Victor during the Thrashers' developmental camp at the Duluth IceForum in Atlanta from July 8-13.
"I was talking to Dan Marr (Thrashers' director of amateur scouting and player development) and he asked if I wanted to invite my brother to the camp and I was thrilled," Vinny said. "It was nice to have someone there who you could relate and talk to. He's really going through the same things as me, so we were on the same page.”
It was a fitting scenario for the Saponari brothers, who also have two younger, hockey-crazed sisters.
"I attended (Culver Military Academy in Indiana) with Victor and we played one year together on the team," Vinny said. "To have an opportunity to attend developmental camp is great. It's quite a change from the days of playing against each other out on the driveway. We did learn a lot from each other back then.”
Vinny Saponari spent last season with the National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. The 6-foot, 179-pound right wing played in 57 games for the Under-18 team, finishing in the top five in points (36), third in assists (23) and sixth in goals (13). In 2006-07, he split the season with the U-17 and U-18 squads and will join his brother at Boston University in the fall.
Victor Saponari, who is enrolled in BU's School of Management, had one assist in six appearances as a third-line wing under coach Jack Parker this past season.
"I'll stick out four years of college and see if anything happens, but my parents (Gus and Stephanie Saponari) are big with the education aspect so at least I'll have something to fall back on if hockey isn't a part of my future," Victor said. "My brother is a whole different story. He has the better chance to succeed, and they eased up a bit on him because of his situation. They still harp on both of us to finish school and get above-average grades.”
Vinny Saponari, an industrious playmaker on the ice, hopes to "add a little excitement to the game" if given a chance one day.
"Gaining that experience and knowledge during developmental camp was great, especially realizing the speed of the game and the strength of the players," Vinny said. "I'll just take this all in, incorporate it into my training and return next year with that experience.”
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.