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United States ready to be patient with injured Santini

by Matt Kalman

BOSTON – Boston College sophomore Steven Santini probably didn’t know what to think about his chances for being part of the United States National Junior Team for the 2015 IIHF Junior World Championship when he injured his right wrist in late October.

Santini, a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2013, hasn’t played since Oct. 25, when a fluke run-in with a player from University of Massachusetts in the corner led to the injury. Santini had surgery a couple days later.

“Yeah, I mean when I first got hurt I was obviously devastated because this tournament means a lot to me,” he said Tuesday after the first day of the USA Hockey selection camp on the campus of Boston University at Walter Brown Arena. “I thought walking off the ice last year against Russia, I felt like I had unfinished business in this tournament. So everything I’ve done since the day I got hurt was to get back and be healthy for this tournament. I’ve come a long way. I’m obviously not cleared to practice yet but I feel great physically, I’ve been working five or six times a week and hopefully everything will work out.”

Santini wore a yellow “no-contact” sweater during the two practice sessions Tuesday. He took part in some drills, but when the battles started he was relegated to skating alone in the opposite end zone. Santini expects to be cleared for contact in the next day or two, but he’s unsure when he’ll be able to play in games.

It was important to United States general manager Jim Johansson that Santini get to participate in the camp, which runs through Friday. The U.S. could obviously use a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman with experience both on and off the ice.

"We are going to give him as much time as we can,” Johannson said. “He's been skating and is in great shape but he just hasn't played a hockey game, so ... we talk about body of work and character and all those things. Lot more will be addressed with Steve on Dec. 23 and beyond. He'll skate around here and it'll be what he can and can't do.

“He is without a doubt a guy we want on the team. He's a character kid and he brings everything the World Juniors is all about and we're going to give him as much time as we can to know. To me it'll come down to more to Steven saying, ‘I can go’ or ‘I can't.’ We've made it clear with the medical team they have to tell us the status. They've been handling him and a lot more will be known after Dec. 22. If the kid can go, I want him going."

Santini is one of three defensemen returning from the U.S. team that failed to medal last year. He’s not above being a source of moral support until he can fully assert himself in the practices.

“Obviously I want to be supportive and be positive,” the 19-year-old said. “It’s been tough to be patient through this whole process. But ... we have a lot of great, young players and I think we’re going to have a good team. So I’m just trying to be a good guy and support the team the best I can right now.”

It’s in Santini’s nature to be a mentor, whether he’s injured or playing.

“I was fortunate enough to play in the tournament last year and guys like Brady Skjei, Matt Grzelcyk, they were really good to me when I was a younger guy,” he said. “So now I’m just trying to do my best to return the favor. [Zach] Werenski, [Noah] Hanifin, all the younger guys, they’re coming in. So everyone’s just trying to keep up and stay on the same page. So if I can just be a good leader and a good role model to the younger guys, then that’ll be good enough for me at the end of the day.”

Defenseman Ian McCoshen is another returnee from the 2014 U.S. team and he’s Santini’s teammate at BC. He knows how valuable Santini could be once the tournament starts.

“He’s a fantastic team guy,” McCoshen. “He’s all about the team and when he gets in the zone, watch out. He’s going to be a big part of this team and we’re really excited for him to come back.”

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