Having a senior class that can guide a mostly younger team is crucial in not only the success of the program but also in the development of their younger players. But, over the last several years, few NCAA teams have been hit harder by non-graduating player departures than Northeastern University.
This season, one such Huskies senior taking on that crucial leadership role is Vinny Saponari.
The Powder Springs, GA native has had what could best be described as a bit of a rollercoaster ride during his collegiate career. He began his NCAA career at Boston University in the fall of 2008. After the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, he and his brother Victor were both dismissed from the team. Following his dismissal, Saponari went to the USHL to play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Then in 2011, he joined the Northeastern Huskies. Saponari was one of the lucky ones that was given a second chance and it’s a chance that he has cherished and not taken for granted, especially this season when he was given the opportunity to serve as one of the team’s captains.
“It was a different journey for me because I came to Northeastern as a junior”, said Saponari. “When I first arrived here, my teammates were unbelievable. They accepted me right away and I just felt like one of the guys. After my first semester there, I felt I like I had already been here three years because it’s just been so great for me. This year, I had the opportunity to be a captain and it’s been an unbelievable honor for me. I’ve had many experiences in many places, so I feel that I have a lot that I can show and share with the (younger) guys.”
Another unique aspect about Saponari is that he is one of just a handful of Winnipeg Jets collegiate prospects that were originally drafted by the franchise when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. Through all of his trials and tribulations of the last few years, Atlanta, and now Winnipeg, hasn’t lessened their interest in or their support of Saponari. The Huskies' senior explains that he has learned a lot from attending both teams’ camps. And now, as property of the Jets, Saponari hopes to be able to successfully compete for a job with the organization when his collegiate career comes to an end this spring.
“Being from Georgia, it was kind of a cool thing to be drafted by my hometown team”, admitted Saponari. “I did three camps with Atlanta and have done one with Winnipeg. I’m really happy with the Winnipeg organization. They’ve been very professional, have a lot of great people there and have a lot to offer. They’re really trying to start something there, so I’m proud to be a part of that. Hopefully I’ll be able to move on with them next year.”
“I think one of the things that I got out of attending Winnipeg’s camp this summer was being professional in everything that you do”, continued Sapinari. “They stressed that you should approach practice the same way that you approach games, and working hard in practice every day. In order to get to the next level (pros), you really have to push yourself. When you’re at the camp, you’re there with a bunch of other really good players and it makes you understand just how much you have to push yourself to be able to successfully make that jump to the next level. And that’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Since his collegiate career began four years ago, Saponari has blossomed into an outstanding, well-rounded winger that can create and finish plays equally well. He plays the game with a bit of an edge and utilizes his 6-foot, 197-pound frame effectively around the net and on the cycle. He has also become one of Northeastern’s most effective penalty killers. Saponari has played in all 27 games to date, posting 24 points (five goals, 19 assists). He is on pace to have the best season of his collegiate career.
One notable and important aspect of Saponari’s development has been his maturation process. Since arriving at Northeastern two years ago, he has come a long way, not only as a hockey player, but also as an individual. He has grown into a leader for the Huskies and strives to be a positive role model for the team’s younger players.
Where Saponari’s leadership has proven to be especially rewarding this season has been in helping the play of freshman sensation Kevin Roy (ANA). Roy, who currently leads the nation in rookie scoring, has played much of the season on Northeastern’s top line alongside Saponari and senior Garrett Vermeersch. Many of Roy’s goals (and assists) can be attributed to the great chemistry that he and Saponari have developed over the course of the season.
“I think it’s a pretty natural fit between me and Kevin because I’m a guy that likes to create chances for other guys and create some space for others by taking or giving big hits, while Kevin is just pretty good with the puck and he knows what to do with it once it’s on his stick and he knows what to do around the net, too” said Saponari of his offensively gifted linemate. “It’s definitely fun playing with Kevin. Some of those shots that he’s able to take makes you turn around and go “whoa!” (laughs). So it’s been a lot of fun. He’s creative and he does things with the puck that makes it fun and easy playing with him.”
So what attributes will Saponari bring to the Winnipeg Jets organization in the future?
“I think I’m a really smart player. I’m good with the puck. I take good care of it and possess it in a way that allows me to make plays. I think I’m good down low in the zone either forechecking or penalty killing. I think I’m a versatile player and hopefully I’ll be able to find my way into the Winnipeg organization.”
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