A lot has happened for Bobby Sanguinetti since he last donned a Checkers sweater.
He made a full-time jump to the NHL. He headed overseas for the first time. He returned for two more AHL seasons. He carved out a pair of impressive campaigns in Switzerland. He represented his country at the Olympics.
And while his hockey journey has taken him around the world, it’s now brought him back to the Queen City.
“Charlotte is a great city,” said Sanguinetti. “I’m really excited to be back.”
Sanguinetti, a first-round pick in 2006 by the Rangers, was traded to Carolina in 2010 and spent three seasons in Charlotte from 2010 to 2013 before departing. The path that the now 30-year-old has taken to get back to the Checkers is a winding one that dates back to the offseason.
“It was something that, coming into the summer, my wife and I wanted to see if we could explore again,” said Sanguinetti of returning to Charlotte. “We just had our first son and so we wanted to be closer to home and family. Spots were filled up early on so it didn’t make sense on their end.”
Sanguinetti, who has called Wilmington, North Carolina, home since 2013, then turned his sights back overseas.
“We just kind of waited it out and by the time we started looking back in Europe the jobs were filled over there,” he said. “We had a few offers that we kind of entertained but nothing really jumped out as anything we really wanted to commit to.”
While he remained a free agent without a team, the defenseman got a chance to get back into the swing of things over the holidays.
“I had the opportunity to play in the Spengler Cup for Davos which was really cool and a good experience,” said Sanguinetti. “It was good to get back out on the ice too and play some games again. They’re not league games or anything but that was good.”
Meanwhile the once-crowded blue line in Charlotte was beginning to thin out. Offseason signee Michael Fora had departed the team to return to Europe early on in the season and Michal Cajkovsky did the same over the holiday break.
“We lost Big Mike, he wanted to leave and I don’t want to hold anyone back,” said Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci. “I understood his opportunity, it was great for him. We just want guys who want to be here.”
Lucky for the Checkers, they knew someone who fit that bill.
“I got the call from Mike [Vellucci] after the first Spengler Cup game against Canada and sat down with my wife and discussed if we could make it work and what made sense. It was a no-brainer, especially with the way they play and where they are in the standings. And that’s not by chance if you watch the way they’re playing. I’m really excited to be back.”
As for the Checkers, anytime you can add a player of Sanguinetti’s experience and talent to an already clicking roster, that’s a positive move.
“Bobby is a huge upgrade for us,” said Vellucci. “He’s offensively gifted and he’s a good skater. He’s a good guy, everyone here likes him, and he just wants to fit in and contribute.”
Sanguinetti has been an offensive force on the blue line across his 10-year career, including posting the best scoring line by a defenseman in Checkers franchise history with a 50-point effort in 2011-12. He continued that scoring trend over the last two campaigns in Switzerland and now joins a deep defensive corps in Charlotte that already boasts a boatload of puck-moving skill.
"It’s hard to sit there and say you’re going to change your game, so I’m just going to try to add to it,” said Sanguinetti. “At the same time it’s about earning the trust from the coaches and doing the right things on the defensive side of the game. When there is that offensive opportunity to jump in, that’s something I’ll make sure I’m ready for. Helping the guys out when I can and being a good locker room guy.”
As with any player moving from the European game to North America – Sanguinetti hasn’t played a game on the smaller sheet of ice since 2015-16 – there will be some adjusting to do.
“I think back to when I came back from Russia, that was just one year overseas and it takes some time,” said Sanguinetti. “It’s quicker here. The pace isn’t necessarily faster, over in Switzerland it’s a fast league and the game is up and down the ice, it’s more the quickness of the game. Guys are on top of you faster and it’s a lot more little passes to tight areas. I think that’s something I’m going to have to continue to work on and get some extra work on that as quick as I can. That’s my focus, every day to get more comfortable and take the positives away from it.”
“We’ll work him in slowly as he gets back to the North American game,” said Vellucci. “But he’s going to be huge for us.”
Whether it’s this weekend or later down the line, when Sanguinetti hits the ice at Bojangles’ Coliseum it will be a big moment, not only for the team, but for the fans who continue to embrace him seven years later.
“The way we were treated when we were here was amazing,” said Sanguinetti. “From the fans and the staff and everyone around the organization, it was amazing. That was the biggest selling point to coming back.”