MONTREAL -- New Jersey Devils prospect Steven Santini bid his friends on the United States National Junior Team a fond farewell prior to leaving for Massachusetts on Thursday morning to rejoin his teammates at Boston College for their second-half stretch.
It was a bittersweet goodbye for Santini, a defenseman who was the last player released from the U.S. Junior roster one day prior to a preliminary-round victory against Finland at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship at Bell Centre on Dec. 26.
A wrist injury sustained Oct. 25 during Boston College's game against the University of Massachusetts was not fully healed in time for Santini to return to play for the United States at the WJC this year, but USA Hockey wanted Santini around the team during the preliminary round to offer encouragement.
"It was very disappointing not to play this year," Santini said. "I was devastated for a variety of reasons, but at the same time I understood. I was just thankful USA Hockey gave me a chance. It didn't work out as anyone planned but they had to move on and do what was best for them. I was upset because I wanted to play and win a gold medal."
Instead, Santini served as an inspirational confidant within the locker room and was grateful to be given that opportunity. He had his cast removed and no longer needed the non-contact yellow jersey during practice sessions, but doctors advised him more rehabilitation was required before game action.
Despite the loss to Canada on New Year's Eve, Santini has liked what he's seen from the United States. The U.S. has allowed six goals (including two empty-net goals) in four games on the way to earning the No. 2 seed in Group A and a quarterfinal-round game against Russia on Friday (1 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
"I think they are managing the puck very well," Santini said of the defense. "We haven't given up many goals and that speaks to how the defense is handling the puck. We aren't turning many pucks over. They are playing within the system and the forwards are helping out. Thatcher Demko and Brandon Halverson are doing well in goal; it's a mixture of everything, but our defense has been solid."
Santini said he also sees some similarities to the 2014 U.S. team that finished fifth.
"We won our first three games last year going into the last game against Canada and lost and kind of lost our momentum before losing to Russia two days later [in the medal round]," Santini said. "Even though we lost [to Canada], it's important to shift our focus to the medal round. Obviously you want to win every game, but it's almost more important that you win these next three. They know that and guys that were here last year know that."
Santini, who was chosen in the second round (No. 42) of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Devils, had one goal and four penalty minutes at the 2014 WJC. There's little doubt he would have had an impact against Canada if in the lineup; the game was very physical, an area where Santini thrives.
He received heat, ultrasound and massage stimulation and treatment on the wrist from USA Hockey trainers during his time in Montreal. He's working on his range of motion and strength but has no timetable for a return.
"I think when I first stepped on the ice a couple of days ago I've made huge strides in terms of puckhandling and shooting ability," he said. "It's important to be patient. I probably won't play this weekend against Dartmouth or Brown, but I'm going back [to Boston College on Thursday] and there's a good chance I could play against Northeastern the following weekend.
"If not, we have Boston University and Maine the following weekend so it's more of a wait-and-see and when I feel comfortable I'll play. It's tough being on the sidelines not playing and I don't want to re-injure anything. It's important I rest and be 100 percent for the second half of the year."