BOSTON -- USA Hockey begun its 2015 National Junior Team Camp on Tuesday morning at Boston University's Walter Brown Arena, and a key member of the team's projected defensive corps was present and accounted for on the first day of practice.
Boston College sophomore and New Jersey Devils prospect Steve Santini hurt his wrist during the Eagles' game against UMass on Oct. 25. He is opening the camp in a bit of a wait-and-see mode but will be cleared to play in a couple days.
"I had some damage in there that they had to repair," the Mahopac, N.Y. native said. "I had my surgery a couple days later and I've come a long way since then. (General manager Jim) Johannson and USA Hockey are being very patient with me and I appreciate that."
After suffering the injury, which required surgical repair three days later, Santini returned home for a quick recovery before returning to school. He did not take the ice for practice for a couple weeks, but has returned in recent weeks to help get completely up to speed again. "Once I get cleared to play, I hope to hit the ground running," he said.
Santini's BC teammates Ian McCoshen and Noah Hanifin are also defensemen in camp, while Vancouver Canucks prospect Thatcher Demko is back for his second straight year in the net.
World Junior veterans Jack Eichel (Boston University), Hudson Fasching (Minnesota) and Adam Erne (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL) lead a talented offensive group but there is some solid depth in the back that will prove invaluable as the camp goes on.
Head coach Mark Osiecki notes that it will be important to use the strengths of his personnel to his advantage as time moves along. While that includes some veteran blue liners, offense looks to be at the forefront.
"We'll have expectations for our players defensively but I think on the flip side, we want to really push the pace," Osiecki said. "We want to control the puck and have the puck and that's going to be our best defense. Looking at the personality of this team, I think offensively is something they're very gifted with and we want to use that best to our advantage as we can."
When examining gifted offensive talent in the United States, look no further than Eichel.
The North Chelmsford, Mass. native is one of seven players who played in last year's World Junior Championship, but has taken the hockey world by storm this year as the leading scorer in Division 1 and in advance of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Eichel's experience in the annual National Junior Evaluation Camp in August has allowed him to establish some chemistry with Michigan's Tyler Motte and Boston College's Alex Tuch.
"It's exciting," Eichel said of beginning his second World Junior go-around. "I've played with and against a lot of these guys, so you're looking forward to this event for a few months. It's always nice getting on the ice."
This year's camp gives Eichel an added target on the back as he prepares for the draft and the competition with top Canadian prospect Connor McDavid, but he deflects much of it and just wants to do his best to help the team win.
But there is definitely added comfort in being a Terrier and participating in the camp on his college campus. On Friday night, Osiecki and his staff will get a look at their team in a game situation as they take on BU in an exhibition match.
While Eichel shrugs off the competition with McDavid, he is very much looking forward to taking the ice with his Terrier teammates. But this time, from the other side.
"It should be a lot of fun. I'll probably have a lot of family and friends coming," Eichel said. "It should be kind of weird playing against them."
"I'm just taking a break from them for a few weeks, getting sick of them over there," he said with a laugh. "We have finals this week and things like that, but it's more about us. I know we'll be taking the game pretty seriously because we want to see where our team is at and get better."