By Rick Carpiniello
NEWARK – Two local kids who had been Rangers fans their whole lives quickly switched allegiance Sunday evening at the NHL draft.
Defenseman Steven Santini of Mahopac was selected by the host team, the Devils, in the second round (42nd overall) and defenseman Brett Pesce of Tarrytown was picked by the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round (66th overall).
“I’m really excited,” said Santini, 18, who left home to play for the US’ national developmental program team at 16, and will play as a freshman at Boston College next season. “Being a guy from New York, from Northern Westchester, it’s kind of an unreal experience. I had a lot of friends and family here (50 or 60, he estimated). It’s a great moment for all of us. It felt awesome. It’s kind of a sigh of relief. You’re just sitting there waiting and when you hear your name, I wanted to jump up and down I was so excited. It was a great feeling. I was really excited.
“I grew up a Rangers fan, yes. Used to be a Rangers fan. It changed about 15 minutes ago.”
Santini, whose dad Steve Sr. coached various teams, and at Kennedy Catholic (where Steven played as a freshman and sophomore) and is an off-ice official for the Rangers, grew up idolizing Mark Messier, and counts Dan Girardi as one of his favorite players. He said he can’t wait to ask advice from Devils assistant coach, Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens.
Pesce, 18, who will be a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, lists the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh as the kind of defenseman he wants to emulate, though he has always watched the Staal brothers, three of which play for the team that drafted him.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” he said. “Probably the best feeling in the world. It’s a dream come true. At the same time I know I’ve got a lot to do before I make the NHL. I’m looking forward to it.
“At the end of the day, whether I was going to be picked 90 or 30, it was a great honor and a great accomplishment for me and my family. I’m very thankful.”
Both defenseman have some offensive skill, but both take pride in their shut-down ability. Some scouts think Santini’s got a bit more toughness, but both are strong two-way players.
“Kevin Shattenkirk (of the St. Louis Blues), being a New Rochelle kid, he’s somebody I’ve looked up to,” Santini said. “When he got drafted and played for Team USA, it was something I dreamed of doing. Today I’m very lucky to have an opportunity.”
“I played (against) Steven growing up,” said Pesce, who played for the North Jersey Avalanche growing up, then the Jersey Hitmen of the EJHL for a year. “The game’s getting bigger in our county, and I know a lot of young players who will play at the college level.”
Now younger kids have two more players to admire.