Jason DeSantis is not easily fazed. After all, this is a hockey player from the heart of Michigan who turned down a chance to play as a Wolverine for Red Berenson in Ann Arbor and instead accepted a scholarship offer from arch-rival Ohio State.
So when the 25-year-old defenceman, despite an impressive performance during the St. John’s IceCaps’ training camp, kept getting nudged down the IceCaps’ depth chart and then up into the press box, he patiently bided his time and waited for an opportunity with the American Hockey League team.
“Obviously, it’s tough when you’re not playing, especially when you’ve had some experience in the league,” said DeSantis, who previously played with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms and Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins.
“But having already been in the league also meant I knew, sooner or later, I’d get a chance. So I kept quiet and just kept thinking that when that chance came, I would do everything I could to show how I could help out my team.”
His opportunity arrived during the IceCaps’ recent road trip. Prior to that, the five-foot-11, 185-pounder had dressed for just one of St. John’s first nine games. And even though he had performed well in that outing — with two assists and a plus-two rating — he soon found himself returned to his previous perch as a healthy scratch.
But two games into a six-game tour of New England, after veteran rearguards Brett Festerling, Mark Flood and Paul Postma were called up to the parent Winnipeg Jets, DeSantis was inserted into the lineup, and not just as someone to give other guys a breather now and then. He was on the second unit — and with the absence of power-play regulars Flood and Postma, who like him, are right-handed shots, — he got the bonus of plenty of ice time when St. John’s was in man-advantage situations.
And he became what Caps coach Keith McCambridge calls “the poster child” for the team’s roster depth early in the season.
DeSantis responded with two goals, two assists and a plus-four rating in four games, all IceCaps’ wins. (Up until a couple of days ago, it was just one goal, but a tally originally credited to teammate Shawn Weller during a 6-3 win over the Connecticut Whale, was later awarded to DeSantis after Weller insisted he had nothing to do with putting the puck in the net and an officially change was made.)
“That was nice, but stats aren’t important to me as getting to play and knowing I’m contributing. You know, I was out for almost a month without playing and it felt like two years, so getting into games is the big thing,” said DeSantis, although he did admit to being at least a little pleased with his overall plus-six rating.
A native of Oxford, Mich., about an hour northwest of Detroit, DeSantis played 53 games over two years for the United States national under-18 team, where he was teammate of Phil Kessell, Peter Mueller, Nick Foligno and Jack Johnson, among others. He was recruited to play at the University of Michigan for Berenson, but switched to Ohio State after being impressed by what the Buckeyes had to offer during a visit to Columbus.
After four years at Ohio State, he turned pro with the Phantoms, spent the 2009-10 season playing in the Czech Republic and then returned to North America, splitting last year between Wilkes Barre and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
In all, he’s appeared in 85 AHL games, giving him a berth somewhere in the middle rows of the road-trip bus, behind the front-seated rookies.
“In some ways, that (AHL experience) made sitting a little harder. I knew I could play in the league, but I wasn’t playing and it was frustrating. For a rookie, it might be different, because he doesn’t really know what to expect, where he might fit in.
“But like I said before, the experience also taught me to be patient. I kind of knew coming in that as a free agent (he signed an AHL contract with Winnipeg over the summer), where I sort of stood, but I was sure I’d get that chance,” said DeSantis of his status with the AHL-leading IceCaps, who next play Saturday, when they host the Whale in the first game of a six-game home stand at Mile One Centre.