April 8, 2014 by conteconfidential
Boston College hockey features many flashy forwards who can leave the crowd awestruck. But for those who appreciate good, hard-hitting defense, it’s hard to miss Steven Santini when he takes the ice.
The punishing, 6-foot-2 defenseman has grown into a shutdown role on the blueline and has also contributed his fair share of highlight-reel hits over the course of the season.
In the final press conference of the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Jerry York described Santini and fellow freshman Ian McCoshen as “big, thick kids.” He also said, “I think they’re going to grow into some really really good players.”
At this point in the season, Santini has surpassed York’s expectations and has recently teamed with senior alternate captain Isaac MacLeod.
“As the year’s gone on, they’re even better than I thought they were going to be at this point,” York said at the same press conference.
Though on the younger end of college hockey, Santini plays beyond his years and can impact the game from the defensive or even the offensive zone. He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team for his stellar play.
This was evidenced when he began the play that eventually won BC its fifth-straight Beanpot title. Santini fired the puck off the boards to Austin Cangelosi, who was able to work it to Isaac MacLeod for the shot. Then, later that game, Santini put just enough of a hit on a Northeastern player off a faceoff, giving Mike Matheson enough room to dump the puck to Gaudreau for the empty netter.
Steven Santini has made a name for himself with his highlight-reel checks, but his dependable play in his own end has made him even more valuable to a young BC squad (photo credit: The Boston Globe)
Small plays like these make Santini such a dependable defenseman, though they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Santini doesn’t have the biggest offensive numbers among BC blueliners, having contributed only two goals and eight assists this season. But his +28 plus/minus rating ranks first among all NCAA defenseman, pointing to his reliable play in his own end and his ability to effectively start the breakout.
“You know as a defenseman you’re not going to get much glory,” Santini said. “But everyone knows their role.”
When asked about his success this season, Santini was quick to thank the coaching staff for the opportunities given to him and his teammates.
“Obviously, our coaches give us a lot of opportunity in practice and in games to grow as players throughout the course of the year,” Santini said.
Coming off their elimination form the Hockey East Tournament courtesy of Notre Dame, the Eagles had two things to accomplish going into the NCAA Regional in Worcester: get the “Big Line” scoring once again and tighten up the defense significantly. After a 6-2 shellacking of Denver in the first game, the Eagles took on the best defensive team in the nation in Massachusetts-Lowell, winning a tight game, 4-3.
“We are really happy with the strides we have made. I thought as a team we actually did very well,” Santini said. “Thatcher played very strongly in goal, and made some really key saves for us. Our defensive play was something we really worked on after the Notre Dame weekend.”
Yes, letting up only five goals in two games against two of the 16 best teams in the country is a vast improvement over the Notre Dame weekend. The question is if they can continue this success on a bigger stage.
Going into the Frozen Four, it will be important for the young defense to continue their solid play for BC to have success. But going into the Frozen Four is nerve-racking for any freshman.
Santini does not think this will be a problem.
“Obviously we are all a little nervous, we’re all a little excited, but once you get on the ice and they drop the puck, it’s just hockey from there on,” he said.
Santini also thinks the overall youth of the team, including half of BC’s starting defensemen, should not be considered a weakness.
“It’s no secret we have a young D-core, our lineup last weekend was three freshmen and two sophomores,” he said. “We are all just here to play, we’re not worried about how old guys are, its just hockey. And also to give credit to Isaac MacLeod, he’s our only senior defenseman [and] he’s been a great leader for us. He’s done a great job helping us out and showing us stuff.”
But Union will not be the easiest matchup for the Eagles. The highest scoring team they will face in the tournament, Union is in the top five in goals per game (3.70). The Dutchmen are also strong defensively, allowing a meager 2.05 goals-per-game.
With some fairly potent scoring forwards, and a handful of defensemen that can push the puck in the offensive zone, notably Flyers prospect Shayne Gostisbehere, Santini believes that hard work is BC’s key to coming out on top.
“We are just going to have to out-work them and play within the system, and if we do that, we will put ourselves in a position to win,” he said.
Though Union will prove to be a tough task for the Eagles, Santini believes that Coach York’s philosophy will ultimately lead to more success.
“He always emphasizes working together as a team,” Santini said. “It’s not one person stealing the show. It’s 20 guys playing together.”
By Ryan Silva