Mon, Nov 06, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Olympics could be next in Sanguinetti’s journey

AP

HC Lugano’s Bobby Sanguinetti reaches for the puck on Oct. 28 during a regular-season National League Swiss Championship game against HC Lausanna in Lugano, Switzerland.

Photo: AP

Bobby Sanguinetti had long given up on this dream.

It began during 90-minute car rides to hockey practice as a 10-year-old, and it was very much alive when the New York Rangers drafted him 21st overall in 2006.

However, when the highly touted defenseman’s career stalled in the minors and he left for Europe, the Lumberton, New Jersey, native figured his Olympic hopes were dashed.

“I never even considered it,” Sanguinetti said.

Then a funny thing happened: The NHL decided it would not send players to South Korea next year, ending a run of five consecutive Olympics featuring the league’s players.

Now, Sanguinetti and others who left the NHL behind could get the chance of a lifetime on the biggest international stage.

“That’s the positives of the Olympics not using NHL players,” said Stan Butler, Sanguinetti’s coach in his final junior season. “Players like Bob Sanguinetti are going to get that opportunity to play maybe in the Olympics.”

Few Olympic hopefuls have journeys as turbulent as Sanguinetti. He has gone from first-round pick to NHL bust to now a stable, well-rounded defenseman playing in Switzerland, where he lives with his wife and newborn son.

“No one’s seen more different sides of the game,” said Danny O’Brien, Sanguinetti’s youth coach and mentor. “Here’s a first-rounder who struggled to make it all the way. He brings an awful lot of experience, and it’s not all high-end experience, either. He’s seen his share of downs.”

The downs include zero points in his only five games with the Rangers, hip surgery that cost him a large portion of one season and the realization that maybe he was not going to make it in the NHL.

After the highs of putting up 212 points in 265 junior games in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and being an American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star, Sanguinetti had just two goals and four assists in 45 NHL games.

“As a first-round pick, you obviously want to prove to people that you’re an NHL player,” Sanguinetti said. “More than anything, with the experience, you kind of realize it’s not as easy as everybody thinks.”

It looked easy for Sanguinetti growing up playing for O’Brien’s New Jersey Rockets and then in the OHL. As Butler put it, Sanguinetti “checked off all the boxes” as a dominant offensive defenseman who could quarterback the power play and fill the role of the modern-day puck-mover.

Even in the AHL, Sanguinetti showed off his offensive prowess. Hartford assistant and former NHL defenseman J.J. Daigneault raved about Sanguinetti’s skating, hands, wrist shot and hockey IQ, but said: “Maybe sometimes I think he was thinking offense too much.”

Sanguinetti and his now-wife, Sarah, moved to Russia in 2013 as he tried playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. That 15-game experiment with Atlant Mytishchi gave Sanguinetti confidence in his defensive game, but when he tried the NHL once more, he played two more AHL seasons and did not make it back.

Moving back overseas, this time to Switzerland, proved an easier adjustment than he imagined. The smooth-skating Sanguinetti looked right at home on the wider, international-sized ice, piling up the points and earning a strong report from the Rangers’ European scout and praise from his new coach.

Sanguinetti’s play in Europe caught the attention of US Olympic general manager Jim Johannson, and Sanguinetti will play for the US at the Deutschland Cup from Friday to Sunday as an audition for South Korea.

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