By Rick Carpiniello
NEW YORK — Kevin Shattenkirk learned that he’d been chosen for the U.S. Olympic hockey team just as everybody else did — on Jan. 1, while watching on television at the conclusion of the Winter Classic.
“And of course the game goes to a shootout and takes as long as possible,” Shattenkirk said with a laugh. “It was really nerve-wracking but a lot of fun.”
Shattenkirk, the St. Louis Blues defenseman out of New Rochelle, played his first game as a pro at Madison Square Garden and scored the tiebreaking goal in a 2-1 win Thursday night over the Rangers, the team for which he rooted as a kid. He was 5½ in 1994 when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, and Brian Leetch — his idol — became the first U.S.-born player to receive the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
“I think that’s ultimately what drew me to the game and why I loved it so much, seeing them win it,” he said. “You get a real appreciation, and it’s easy to jump behind a team that’s got the greats like they did.”
Shattenkirk, who will turn 25 next week, went through Iona grammar school before moving on to play hockey at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn. Then it was on to the U.S. developmental program, then Boston University (for which he twice played at the Garden, against Cornell). Now he gets to go to Sochi next month.
“It means a lot,” Shattenkirk said. “I had the opportunity to play for a lot of USA teams growing up, and you always dream of being on the Olympic team and it’s a goal of yours, but it’s pretty far out of reach, especially when you’re younger. And now, the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about it, and now that it’s come to fruition and it’s a reality, it’s going to be a really exciting time to get over there and wear that jersey.”
At Brunswick, he played for an assistant coach by the name of Dave Maloney, the former Rangers defenseman and captain and current broadcaster, whose two sons played there.
Maloney saw that the kid “had a chance” and pushed him. Maloney said he told Shattenkirk to play “so that the fans leave the building saying, ‘Who was that kid? Who’s that Shattenkirk?’ ”
“It was great,” Shattenkirk said. “He was great for us as kids. He kind of brought a lot out of us.”
Shattenkirk was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round (14th overall) in 2007. He was traded to the Blues in 2011.
“It really has been great,” he said of the move to St. Louis. “We have a great team now, a championship-caliber team, so it’s important that we use this time and run with it.”
Shattenkirk, 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds, reminds Blues coach Ken Hitchcock of former Devils and Team USA defenseman Brian Rafalski — a player with offensive skill who had to learn to play the whole 200 feet without losing his offensive instincts.
“That’s where Shatty’s at,” Hitchcock said. “Shatty’s learned the defensive and the trusting part just like Brian did.”
On Thursday, Shattenkirk was at the Garden, having officially filled 20 ticket requests. He estimated 60 friends and family would be at the game.
And Shattenkirk was just a short ride from his summer home, his parents’ house in New Rochelle.
“I love coming home and getting a good slice of pizza, and things you miss when you come from New York,” he said.