The sport of hockey has taken Bobby Sanguinetti all around the world. Growing up in New Jersey, Sanguinetti left home as a teenager to attend a prep school and begin his journey on the ice. Since then, he’s played for teams in Canada, the United States, Russia and Switzerland. He has represented his country in international competitions, culminating with the opportunity to join the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Just being able to throw that USA hockey sweater on with your fellow Americans, there's no better feeling,” Sanguinetti says. “The pride that you play for and to represent your country."
Sanguinetti grew up as a fan of the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League. He remembers attending Rangers’ games with his father, who had season tickets. One of Sanguinetti’s earliest memories is as a six-year-old being in the stands for the Rangers’ Game 7 victory over Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup, the coveted trophy as NHL champions. His dreams came full circle twelve years later, when the same franchise made an 18-year-old Bobby Sanguinetti a first-round draft choice.
“On draft day, I remember sitting there with my Dad,” Sanguinetti says. “I expected to go a little bit earlier (in the draft), and we were slipping. He gave me a nudge and said ‘you’re gonna be a Ranger’. It was just a really cool experience.”
That moment made the previous years’ hard work worth it. Sanguinetti had left home at thirteen to play at Lawrenceville Prep School. Two years later, the family decided to allow him to leave once again, this time for Canada, where Sanguinetti would play at the Major Junior level with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. The decision raised the level of Sanguinetti’s game, but it also cost him any chance of playing college hockey in the United States. He talks about the decision at 6:00 of the podcast.
“At that time, you start hearing NHL teams talking about being an option for you,” he remembers. “There were a lot of nights where we sat down at the kitchen table and drew up the pros and the cons. It took a lot of convincing of my mother to let me go play. At that point the fastest way to get to the NHL for me was to play Major Junior in Canada and not the college route.”
After the 2006 draft, Sanguinetti began to get a taste of U.S. hockey in the NHL’s minor leagues. He played some games with Hartford of the American Hockey League, scored a career-high of 70 points in the 2007-08 season while sharing time with Brampton Battalion of the OHL. The defenseman represented the United States as part of the World Junior Cup under-20 team, scoring a goal and having two assists as Team USA finished in 4th place. His childhood dream became reality two years later during the 2009-2010 season, when Sanguinetti played in five games for the Rangers, although he doesn’t remember much about his debut. He does talk about it at 19:45 of the podcast.
“It’s almost a blur, your first game,” he says with a smile. “From there it settles in where you start to realize mistakes can end up in the back of your net pretty quick, and you’re playing with the best players in the world.”
Reaching the highest level of his profession came with a dose of reality. The business-side of the game reared its’ head, and Sanguinetti grew to learn that staying in the league would necessitate a change.
“For me, I think that’s why I wanted to get out of New York,” he says. “It was tough because they (the Rangers) had so many older guys under long term contracts. There really wasn’t a spot for me to slide in any time soon. That led to me moving down to Carolina which ended up being a really good thing for me.”
The trade to the Carolina Hurricanes franchise in Raleigh appeared to open up new doors for Sanguinetti. But that’s when the he suffered his first major injury. He missed nearly 50 games because of hip surgery. But he battled back, and in the 2012-13 season he played 37 games for the Hurricanes. It was after that season Sanguinetti and his wife Sarah first discovered Wilmington.
“After the season we didn’t want to go back up North, so we stayed in Raleigh for a little while,” he says. “We asked somebody ‘where’s the closest beach?’, and they sent us to Wrightsville Beach. We just fell in love. We were here for one day and from there, the house hunt started and we bought a house a couple months later. It was just one of those things that everybody feels when they are here, the energy, the vibes. Its just a positive place to be and to raise a family.”
Sanguinetti decided to take his talents overseas, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. He chuckles when he talks about convincing Sarah to make the trip. After returning to the US and playing in the minor leagues, the couple moved over to Switzerland, where Sanguinetti and his EHC Kloten team won the Swiss Cup in 2017. This past season, Sanguinetti scored the most goals by a defenseman playing for HC Lugano. He talks about the decision to play internationally at 38:45 of the podcast.
“When you play in the minors for a few years when you’re up and down, it’s tough on the family,” he says. “You want to make sure you know where you’re going to be for the whole season. Russia at that time was the highest league to play in outside of the NHL. So it was important for me to go there and play at a high level. Then it gets to the point where it’s about quality of life. Switzerland is a great place to live. It’s easier on the body. it’s a bigger ice rink, more wide-open hockey, and not as physical, which is nice.”
It was during that 2017-18 season when Sanguinetti’s dream of playing in the Olympics came true. With the NHL deciding not to send players to the Winter Games, which took place during the professional season, Team USA officials looked to give Americans playing internationally and college players the chance to represent their country. Their tryout came during a competition called the Deutschland Cup, a four-nation tournament held November 20-12, 2017 in Germany.
“We knew that was kind of our one shot, and we had to perform well,” he remembers. “That pressure was tough. We didn’t perform as a team well, but individually I was able to show enough to make the team.” Ironically, Sanguinetti says he missed the phone call telling him he had secured a spot on Team USA. That story comes at around 28:00 of the podcast.
Sanguinetti had the chance to start the opening game for Team USA at the Winter Olympic Games. He reflected on the experience during a previous interview with WECT. Being able to take his parents, sister, wife and baby son along made it an even more special time for the family.
“Having my son there, my wife, my parents and my sister as well, it’s amazing to have that support because they’re the people that get you there,” he says. “We’re the athletes, and we go out and perform. But there is so much more that goes into it. Whether it’s the home side of things which my wife does with my son, or my parents and their support in the summers. My sister has always been there to support me. That’s the special part about it.”
Bobby’s sister Lauren holds a special place in the hockey player’s heart. He says she inspires him. The rugged pro athlete even contends that his sister is tougher than he is, after battling liver disease as a child and undergoing three separate transplants.
“It was tough to watch her go through it,” he says. “She’s always been really strong. She’s a lot stronger than me. She’s a really tough person and always been there for me. She’s doing well now. It’s something that brings you down to earth. You realize hockey is a game and life is more important.”
Sanguinetti is a free agent, waiting to hear from teams regarding the upcoming season. You’ll likely find him around the Wilmington Ice House, keeping his skills sharp and working out in advance of another campaign on the ice. He also likes to play golf and is spending a lot of time with Sarah and their son Jackson.
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