Ryan Santorsola is proud to say his heroes are his grandmothers, Nicoletta Indelidato and Margherita Santorsola -- and not just because they often cook him pregame meals, loaded with home-made lasagna and other pasta dishes.
"Both are amazing, hilarious, and I love them," Santorsola said. "They are always in a good mood. They attended my games as often as possible and just seeing them (in the stands) makes me happy.
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"They are the loud Italian grandmas (in the stands). They always have something good, or something funny, to say about the game or about the other team."
The senior citizens had plenty to cheer about this season as Santorsola was among the five defensemen skating for St. Viator as the Lions advanced to the state championship game, played March 23 at the United Center.
Santorsola, 17, a senior who lives in Itasca, was playing his second varsity season for the Lions, which ultimately ended with a 5-0 loss for the championship to St. Rita.
Santorsola, who shoots right-handed, scored 7 goals and dished 34 assists in 75 games this season. He's still undecided on his college choice for the fall, though he's narrowed it down to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
"Ryan had a real good year. He just went out there and did his job," said St. Viator coach Chris Lappin. "He's the kind of player who leads by example. Whatever we asked him to do, he did. He's just a good kid to have on the team, in the locker room."
However, behind the shy, quiet front is, admittedly, a class clown, one of the team pranksters.
"I love joking around," he said, laughing.
Santorsola even confessed he was among several defensemen who, during some games, would unscrew the caps on the water bottle, so the water would splash on a teammate's face.
Santorsola and the rest of the team also before the state tournament arrived at school with "ridiculous haircuts." Some had mullets or worse, and Santorsola sported a bowl-cut.
"Our hair was pretty crazy for a day, but the (school) dean told us that if we didn't get it cut, we'd all get detentions," he said.
Santorsola won't be joking around when he takes to the ice in America's Showcase, the annual tournament -- founded as the Chicago Showcase, and held here for its first 25 years -- pitting the top high school players from across the U.S.
Santorsola will be joined on Illinois' Showcase team by Viator teammates Michael Decker, a junior defenseman, and Jeremy Linzing, a senior forward.
The Showcase runs through this weekend in Pittsburgh.
"I'm real excited, real happy to be going, especially with Decker and Linzing," Santorsola said. "I'm really looking forward to playing with so many players who I'm used to playing against. I think it'll be a great experience. It's fun to get to know (the other players).
"Even if we hated each other during the season, we all really get along on the (Showcase) team. It's been a lot of fun."
The offense for the Illinois team at America's Showcase features senior Chris Coyne (Benet), senior Lynden Fields (Stevenson), senior Shawn Nelson (Naperville Central), junior Eric Saulters (Sandburg) and senior Jack Soneson (Naperville Central).
The defense includes seniors Brett Connaughton (Loyola Gold) and Dan Walcott (New Trier Green). The team's three goalies are junior Martin Dignan (Sandburg) and seniors Mike Gordon (Highland Park) and David Krienke (Rockford).
"There are so many big goal-scorers from the (regular-)season; I think we'll be really solid on offense," Santorsola said.
The team is coached by former NHL player Brian Noonan, now the head coach at Naperville North. His assistants are Jeff Nelson (Naperville Central) and Tim Mattila (Rockford).
"There are a lot of good high school players in Illinois. But there are good teams out there (in the tournament), with a lot of good players," Noonan said. "Illinois always seems to have a good team; we just have to get over the hump.
"Hopefully this is the year, but, it's going to be tough just based on who we play. We're in a tough bracket; it definitely will be a challenge for us this year."
Illinois opened play against New England South, then battles New Jersey Red, followed by Indiana. The championship game is Sunday.
Santorsola said he'd like to pair up on defense with Decker, if only for familiarity.
Ironically, though, Santorsola has only been a defenseman for three seasons. As a sophomore on the Viator JV team, his coach switched him from forward since the team lacked defensemen.
"I used to love playing forward and it was a tough change, but I got used to it," he said. "I enjoy defense; it's a lot of fun being able to throw the body around and take slapshots from the point.
"It's also a lot more pressure on defense. If you make a mistake as a forward, perhaps miss (scoring) on a wide-open net, it's not that big of a deal. But, if you make a mistake as a defenseman, the puck often ends up in your goal. You don't get as much glory on defense."
But Santorsola has never been glory-driven, just about wins, especially so his grandmothers are happy.