by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
The first sacrifice that Hartford Wolf Pack rookie defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti made for hockey came when he was around 6 years old.
Actually, it was more like extortion, but Sanguinetti prefers the tale be viewed as a hint of his cleverness and dedication to the sport.
Sanguinetti had strep throat, and the medicine that he was supposed to take was awful. But he sucked it up and told his grandma, Beverly Kwoka, that he’d take it for the small fee of $100.
Spoiling grandmothers being what they are, Kwoka made the deal. Sanguinetti took his medicine, then grabbed the bounty and went shopping.
"I said when I got better, I’m going to buy hockey equipment," Sanguinetti said. "I loved watching the game when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to play hockey."
Growing up a huge Rangers fan in Lumberton, N.J., about 90 minutes from New York City, Sanguinetti used to tell his grandmother that he, too, would someday play in the NHL. Yeah, that’s something that tons of kids dream about and say. But in Sanguinetti’s case, he may be about to make Kwoka’s investment look like a bargain.
Sanguinetti, New York’s first-round pick in the 2006 draft, is second among rookie AHL defensemen with 21 points (three goals, 18 assists). That prowess as an offensive blueliner puts him on the cusp of an emotional family reunion with Grandma and the rest of the family in the same Madison Square Garden where he once sat watching his favorite team.
"As a kid, you have that dream. You want to be a Ranger," Sanguinetti said. "It’d be a dream come true. But you don’t want to get too caught up with it so it affects your game."
Sanguinetti, 20, has come a long way to cover a short geographical distance. It wasn’t that long ago that his dad, Bob, used to haul him into New York for maybe 20 games a season.
"He was a huge Rangers fan," Bobby said. "I was brainwashed, and he passed it on to me."
As a young player, Sanguinetti quickly outgrew the local hockey scene. So his parents trucked him to leagues in Valley Forge, Pa, (one hour away) and in Bridgewater, N.J. (75 minutes) for practices and games several times a week.
"It’s tough, but it shows the type of dedication my parents had," Sanguinetti said.
In the back seat Sanguinetti could look out the window, squint his eyes and fantasize that some day all the miles would lead him to the door of the Rangers’ dressing room. But those sorts of happy endings are usually on wish lists that never come true, right?
That’s what Sanguinetti figured leading up to the 2006 draft in Vancouver. Since he never interviewed with New York, he figured the Rangers were not nearly as interested in him as he was in them.
That notion was chased out of his head when the 21st pick of the process was announced, and Sanguinetti was jolted when the Rangers called his name. Adding an even more unreal element to the scenario, Brian Leetch, Sanguinetti’s all-time favorite, later called to congratulate him.
"Breathe, I guess, was the first thing," Sanguinetti said when asked his immediate thought after hearing the selection. "You are shocked at first, and excited. It’s really emotional when you are there."
Sanguinetti has had the advantage of tiptoeing into the pro hockey scene, or as much as any hometown hero with high expectations can. In each of the past two seasons he’s joined Hartford after his junior seasons ended, those with Owen Sound in 2006-07 and Brampton last year.
As a 6-foot-3 defenseman with a strong scoring pedigree (29 goals and 70 points for Brampton last season) it was a given than Sanguinetti would be a quick study on the offensive side of the puck. What the trials allowed Sanguinetti to sample were the defensive challenges that lay ahead.
Hartford general manager Jim Schoenfeld admitted that some people were concerned about the challenges Sanguinetti would face in his own end. Schoenfeld counted himself among the curious crowd as well.
Sanguinetti is a minus-7 this season, a stat that Schoenfeld shrugs off. Sanguinetti played a ton of minutes in juniors, Schoenfeld reasoned. Sanguinetti had to save his lungs at some point, and if some of the down time came while he played defense that’s a habit that can be tweaked.
"It’s amazing how quickly he’s adapting to the pro game. He’s improved very much with his reads, his one-on-one coverage," Schoenfeld said. "He’s a smart player. He has a real active stick."
Added Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander: "You always give your offensive guys more leeway to be creative, based on how much they can get for you. But very seldom does he put the team at risk jumping into the play. He’s a good skater on the rush. He can create things on that second flow of attack. And he’s a good passer."
Sanguinetti racked up an assist against Lowell on Dec. 28 that doubled as an updated snapshot of his developing game sense. With Hartford on a power play, Sanguinetti faked a shot from the right circle and threaded a pass to teammate Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau for a one-timer off the left side. It was a feed that took confidence, and even for a lifetime playmaker that ingredient can be a long time growing.
"I feel early in the year I wasn’t making those passes," Sanguinetti said. "I was second-guessing myself. I was getting comfortable (now) to see what I can get away with. You have to trust your instincts. I feel like I’ve come a long way from the start of the season."
There’s only one place left to go, and it’s a destination Sanguinetti knows well. A New York attitude and toughness seep out of him, at least as a fan and semi-resident. The real test of his pressure coating will come when he enters the Garden as the newest prospect on the other end of that scrutiny.
"It’s a great city, but pretty crazy. Hopefully they don’t boo me, but if it happens it happens," he said. "You have to produce when you are in New York. I’m used to being surrounded by it, and the atmosphere. I was one of those fans at one time."