Hometown boy makes big-time impression

Updated: June 27, 2006, 7:45 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- To be honest, Jane Sanguinetti imagined it a little differently. Harvard, Yale, even Boston College. Not the GM Place on a brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon in late June.

Not that she was complaining when the New York Rangers abruptly called her son's name, making Bobby Sanguinetti the 21st pick of the 2006 entry draft.

"I can't believe it," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "It couldn't have gotten any better than that."

Bobby Sanguinetti
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesBobby Sanguinetti, the Rangers' first-round pick, grew up idolizing former Blueshirts defenseman Brian Leetch.

Indeed there is more than a little symmetry to Sanguinetti's circuitous journey from Lumberton, N.J., to Broadway.

Sanguinetti's father, Bob Sr., was born in New York and, while courting his future wife, often took her on dates to hockey games. Later, father and son would take the train from New Jersey into Manhattan to Madison Square Garden, where Bob Sr. had season tickets. The seats were high enough that if father held his son up, he could have touched the girders in the ceiling. But the seats were perfect for a young boy and his father to share a bond.

The two took in one of the first two games of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals between the Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks (talk about symmetry), and dad later attended Game 7. The two then attended the Stanley Cup victory parade together.

Early on, Sanguinetti adopted Brian Leetch as his role model. He wore No. 2, and if it wasn't available, he went to No. 22.

Somewhere in the Sanguinetti household is Bobby Jr.'s first Rangers jersey.

"We don't even have to redecorate," his mother said after the Rangers made him one of their own.

One of the most endearing elements of the NHL draft is that it marks not just the journey of a player, but of a family. Being drafted marks a starting point, of course, but it's also a destination, a justification of decisions and sacrifices made along the way.

It wasn't too long ago Sanguinetti was attending a preparatory school outside Princeton, N.J. His classmates are now headed off to Ivy League schools, places Jane Sanguinetti imagined her son might attend as well. Even when the swift-skating defenseman began to excel at hockey, she imagined the educational possibilities, Boston College, perhaps Boston University.

"I remember thinking, this is actually going to take him somewhere," she said.

She did not, in the beginning at least, imagine it would take him to a place called Owen Sound, then beyond a trip to the NHL draft podium and an invitation to a Rangers' training camp practically in their back yard.

Not that it's all been easy.

Sanguinetti and his family drew the ire of the U.S. National Team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., when he withdrew a commitment to attend and crossed the heavily armed hockey border to join the OHL's Attack.

Owen Sound had selected Sanguinetti in the junior draft, even though he'd indicated he wouldn't play junior hockey (once a player attends a junior camp, he loses his eligibility to play U.S. college hockey). But Sanguinetti and his family agreed to at least visit the picturesque lakefront town northwest of Toronto. And after a second visit, what seemed to be an easy decision, to go to Ann Arbor, became more difficult.

"I went there looking for a reason not to go there. And I couldn't come up with one," admitted Jane Sanguinetti, who works in software development for the State of New Jersey's office of the attorney general.

Finally, while waiting for a flight home to New Jersey, Sanguinetti, then 16, made the decision to leave home and go to Canada.

The decision ultimately cost Sanguinetti an invitation to this summer's U.S. evaluation camp for the World Junior Championship.

"We just had to do what was best for him," Bobby Sr. said. "We knew the consequences, possibly."

After struggling early on with playing and living in a new country and going to a new school, Sanguinetti thrived. He became fast friends with another American ex-pat, Bobby Ryan, who was taken second overall by Anaheim last summer. Ryan was a regular visitor to the Sanguinetti household last summer and both he and his father called to wish Sanguinetti luck before this weekend.

Attack GM Mike Futa raves about the evolution of Sanguinetti's game, likening him to a young Scott Niedermayer.

"Obviously the kid's got a very special talent," said Futa. "He just has the ability to create offense. He's got an unbelievable first pass and a deceivingly strong shot."

When the Attack lost a top defender in the playoffs this spring, Sanguinetti absorbed more minutes and excelled, leading the team in playoff scoring with 15 points in 11 games.

"His game actually went to another level. It was his coming-out party," Futa said.

Up in Section 118 of GM Place, Row 4 to be exact, of Saturday's draft, Sanguinetti sat shoulder to shoulder with his father, an administrator with the New Jersey attorney general's office. The two wore matching dark blue pin-striped suits. Alongside in support was mother Jane, sister Lauren and maternal grandmother Beverley.

Together the family sweated out the first 20 picks.

As in all things, a little perspective goes a long way. Sanguinetti lists his sister, who has undergone three liver transplants, as one of his greatest inspirations. She is studying nursing at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

"I'm really proud of him," Lauren said. "He's given up a lot."

It was Beverley who helped start Sanguinetti's career, long ago offering to pay him $100 if he would take medicine to help him get well enough to attend a family wedding. Sanguinetti took the medicine and the hundred bucks, which he then put toward buying his first set of hockey equipment.

"I said, 'You know what, I'm going to start my hockey equipment with this' and drank the medicine and I'm on my way," said Sanguinetti, 18. "I told her when I was 10 years old, she could come to the draft and I held my word, and she's here and I'm pretty excited."

Waiting with the other families of players drafted Saturday, Beverley recalled watching her grandson from the time he was taking skating lessons, on through the time he was cut from his first hockey team, to his emergence as a bona fide NHL prospect.

"I'm just so proud of him. I'm just as happy for his dad," she said. "I just couldn't even come up with words."

Projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, every time a team began its selection by announcing a player from the Ontario Hockey League, the family tensed as one.

"Every time I went, 'Uh-oh, this might be it,' but after that you just relax and wait for the next one," said the 6-foot-1, 174-pound Sanguinetti.

Finally, it was the Rangers' turn to pick.

"My dad said to me right before, he gave me a nudge and said, 'You're going to be a Ranger,' " Sanguinetti said.

Later, answering his first questions from the New York press, New York Rangers jersey sitting comfortably on his shoulders, it was hard to imagine a more perfect fit.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.