Much has changed with Vinny Saponari over the last year.
About a year and a half ago, he had been dismissed from Boston University for conduct away from the ice and was re-evaluating his future. He’s a suburban Atlanta kid and the thought of playing for the hometown Atlanta Thrashers, which drafted him, appeared to be a possibility.
Until it was clear that the Dubuque Fighting Saints wanted him even if it was for a year. Exchanging Kenmore Square for the Fourth Street Elevator has changed Saponari and has helped him ultimately return to Boston next year after saying Saturday that he will be playing at Northeastern.
“My academics passed through and that’s where I am going to be next year,” Saponari said. “They have a strong crew coming back. I took a visit there, met some of their players and I felt accepted.”
Saponari will undoubtedly bring a lot to the table and leadership will have to be one of those qualities following the news that head coach Greg Cronin is expected to leave the program to take a coaching position in the AHL. Nearly an hour after interviewing Saponari, The Forum learned from a different source about Cronin’s expected departure.
Coming to Dubuque allowed Saponari to be re immersed with hockey but to also make a few changes in his life. The biggest change has been being a leader.
People like Dubuque coach and former Maine great Jim Montgomery have often said that one of the team’s strongest assets has been the older players like Saponari, who are willing to set an example to the younger players.
Saponari did just that on Saturday night when he rifled in a goal early in the first period in the team’s 3-0 win over the Fargo Force to help the Fighting Saints advance to the Western Conference Finals in the re-started franchise’s first season.
“We wanted to send a message early,” said Saponari, who finished the regular season with 18 goals and 46 assists for 64 points in the regular season. “I think we were able to do that.”
Sending messages has been a pretty common thing with Saponari when it comes to the impact he’s had with younger players like Vermont commit Zemgus Girgensons and Northeastern commit John Gaudreau.
Girgensons, who scored the game’s opening goal, and Gaudreau have played on the same line with Saponari all season. Girgensons and Gaudreau said in their last trip to Fargo that Saponari has been a positive influence.
Being a better leader, a better player, but overall, a better man is what Saponari is striving for when he arrives at Northeastern next season.
“I learned just what it takes to be a leader because I have been a younger guy on the teams I’ve played on,” said Saponari, who scored 47 points in 82 games from his time at Boston University. “I have a passion for the game again and I have to be aware of the situation I am in. That and I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have because you never know what’s going to happen.”