Ryan Fitzgerald goes to Hometown Team, Steven Santini goes to Rival, both realize NHL Draft Dreams

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July 8, 2013 by conteconfidential

Getting drafted is a dream come true for any young hockey player. While a lucky few hear their name called by the NHL team they grew up rooting for, others have to change their allegiance on draft day.

Ryan Fitzgerald was one of the lucky few, becoming a feel good story as the local boy going to his hometown team. Steven Santini realized his lifelong dream but found himself donning colors he never thought he would wear in his youth.

Fitzgerald was drafted by the Boston Bruins 140th overall. His father, Tom, finished his 17-season NHL career with the Bruins in 2005-6. It was a magical year for the younger Fitzgerald, who got to hang out in the locker room and go to many of the home games. The North Reading, Mass. native remained a huge fan even after his father retired.

“Being drafted by your hometown team is something special,” Fitzgerald said. “It took awhile to sink in but when I got home it kind of made sense that it was something special to be drafted by the team you grew up watching.”

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Ryan Fitzgerald won the John Carlton Award this year, which is given annually to top student hockey players in the Boston area (photo credit: Josh Boyd)

Santini grew up in Mahopac, N.Y., a small town roughly 50 miles south of New York City, and dreamed of one day skating out of the tunnel at Madison Square Garden wearing New York Rangers blue. He ended up becoming the first selection of the Rangers’ bitter rivals, the New Jersey Devils, at 42nd overall.

“I converted the second I was drafted,” Santini said, with a laugh. “Obviously it was a childhood dream to play for the Rangers, but the Devils are a first-class organization and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

The moment was made more special because the Devils were hosting the draft.

“When my name was called, I got a big warm welcome from the fans,” Santini said. “Being in New Jersey, with their fans and everything, it was something that not every player gets a chance to experience.”

Both had the sense that they could go to the team that ended up picking them. Fitzgerald said that he talked to the Bruins a lot leading up to the draft, and Santini went to the Devils combine and interviewed well.

In many respects, Santini is the prototypical Devils defenseman. New Jersey has always had a reputation as a defense-first team and blueliners like Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Bruce Driver are among the team’s most famous players.

“I think I fit the mold of what the Devils look for,” Santini said. “They’re built on hard work and playing a team-oriented type of system, which I think I can play. It’s a really good fit for me.”

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Shutdown defenseman Steven Santini won the directorate award as the tournament’s best defenseman at the IIHF Men’s World Under-18 Championship (photo credit: Tom Sorensen)

Even though Fitzgerald is undersized at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, he believes that he can fit into the Bruins’ physical, tough style of play because of his competiveness and grit.

“I watch a guy like [Brad] Marchand. He’s small and he gets under guys’ skin and aggravates teams in another way than maybe [Milan] Lucic and them do,” Fitzgerald said before chuckling. “I definitely think I can do that or something similar.”

The Bruins also like that Fitzgerald is a playmaker with elite on-ice vision. Last year, the crafty center was named the EJHL Rookie of the Year after netting 36 points (17g-19a) in 32 total games. Before he went to the Valley Jr. Warriors, he starred at Malden Catholic and helped the Lancers win two-straight MIAA Super 8 tournament championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Fitzgerald and Santini will soon have their first taste of being professionals as each will attend his team’s development camp. Boston’s development camp starts on July 10, and New Jersey’s begins on July 15.

Santini is having a particularly busy summer. He was also invited to USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp, which runs from Aug. 3-10.

“It’s an honor to be invited to all these camps and to be recognized for my hard work,” Santini said. “I’m just going to do my best at all these camps and develop into the best player I can be.”

While their draft day experiences were unique, the future Boston College teammates agreed that it was one of the most special days of their lives so far.

“The whole environment, there’s nothing like being there,” Fitzgerald said.

By Jen Dobias

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