Hometown roots remain for South Jersey’s Vasaturo
Charlie Vasaturo grew up in Sewell, N.J., a convenient commute across the river from Philadelphia. As with most people, his hometown influenced many aspects of his upbringing.
First came his hobbies, as the proximity of Philadelphia sports teams intrigued him. At least two teams have sustained their grasp, even as Vasaturo has taken his own athletic endeavors to other regions.
Vasaturo is now in his third season with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings in western Michigan. His hockey journey has previously taken him to Connecticut, British Columbia, upstate New York. However, his sports allegiances clearly trace back to his roots.
“I was a fan of all Philly sports,” he shared with Pucks and Recreation. “I grew up right across the Walt Whitman Bridge there in South Jersey, so it was probably a 15-minute car ride to the sports complex downtown. Growing up playing hockey, I was a Flyers fan, obviously. And I’m a bigtime Eagles fan, and a Phillies fan, and a little bit of the (76ers), like when (Allen) Iverson was there.”
As a hockey-playing child in the Philly area, Vasaturo has many early memories attending Flyers games. Players like John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Chris Pronger all stood out as influences on the eventual 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman.
The Phillies also stood out to him as he grew up. It started back when they still played at Veteran’s Stadium, where he remembers attending games as a youth. As he advanced to high school, the Phillies had significant success, culminating in his favorite non-hockey memory so far.
“It had to be the Phillies winning the (2008) World Series,” he remarked. “That’s the only championship I’ve been fortunate enough to see so far. I remember I was up in Connecticut for high school at prep school in Avon, Conn., and I was in the common room and watched (Brad) Lidge throw the final pitch of the World Series there.”
As he’s grown up and moved throughout the continent, his hockey preferences have expectedly shifted. While all Philadelphia teams have a special spot in his heart, he admittedly is not a die-hard Flyers fan anymore.
This change results from the number of friends he now has playing throughout the NHL. Between fellow South Jersey friends and teammates, he roots for Calgary, San Jose, Winnipeg and even the Rangers. In addition, with the Wings, he is technically part of the Vancouver Canucks organization.
However, former Union roommate and teammate Shayne Gostisbehere plays for the Flyers, allowing Vasaturo to sustain some of his Philadelphia fanaticism in hockey.
“It’s great to see Shayne do well,” he offered. “It was great to see him get rewarded over the summer with a new contract, he definitely deserves that. He’s playing great and his performance kind of speaks for itself right now. He’s doing really well not only for the Flyers but for the league in terms of success.”
While his dedication to the Flyers has fizzled out a bit, he has been able to get more emotionally invested in the Eagles in recent years. He didn’t start attending games at Lincoln Financial Field until he was in high school. But he now looks forward to doing so whenever he gets to go home.
He does his best to watch every game, although it is admittedly difficult given the ECHL’s frequency of Sunday games. Thankfully for him, the Wings’ schedule has been favorable in that regard this season.
“I’ve lucked out so far,” he said. “I’ve only missed the Denver game this past weekend, actually. I’ve lucked out and have been able to see all the other games.
“But oh yeah, if we don’t have a game, I’m finding a way to watch the Eagles, whether it’s on my phone, laptop or TV.”
The Eagles are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in recent years. Their eight wins at the 10-week mark are best among all NFL teams. They are three games ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East standings.
Given the overall inconsistency of the team in recent seasons, 2017 has been especially enjoyable to watch.
“It’s awesome,” Vasaturo exclaimed. “It’s great to see the team do well. They’ve kind of been up and down. It’s been quite a few years since we won a playoff series. I didn’t realize how long it had been. I know they made the playoffs when (quarterback Nick) Foles was there, but then they lost to New Orleans. It’s been quite a while since they actually won a game.
“It’s great to see them finally have what looks to be a franchise quarterback. It seems like it’s almost impossible to win in the NFL without one of those. Luckily, we made some moves and got that, and gave him some help on the outside and the running back, and the defense is playing good.”
Watching Eagles games has clearly provided him with a lot of enjoyment this year. The success, and ability to watch the games has also allowed him to remain connected with hometown friends.
“I know I and the rest of my group of friends back home, every weekend, we’re all excited,” he remarked. “We all text each other during the games and stuff. It’s really great to watch the Eagles. It’s a lot of fun.”
Some of those friends that grew up in South Jersey are also hockey players. Perhaps the most well-known player from the area is Johnny Gaudreau, current Calgary Flame and former Hobey Baker winner with Boston College.
There are a number of players from the area that are close in age to Johnny and his younger brother Matty all currently playing across many high levels of hockey. This hockey community, which Vasaturo has benefitted from, and enjoyed being a part of, all traces back to one person.
“Their dad, Guy Gaudreau actually runs the rink in our local town, the Hollydell Ice Arena in Washington Township,” he explained. “He actually taught me how to play, how to skate, all of that. He taught a lot of us from around the area.
“Guys who are playing all over, in college, in NHL, AHL, anybody from South Jersey, they were probably coached by Guy Gaudreau at some point. He has kind of a big tree that reaches out over everyone.”
A prime example of this success came in the first semifinal of the 2014 Frozen Four. Second-seeded BC met Union, a three seed. As such, both Gaudreaus were up front, while Vasaturo was on the opposing blue line.
“It’s great to see them finally have what looks to be a franchise quarterback. It seems like it’s almost impossible to win in the NFL without one of those. Luckily, we made some moves and got that.” – Charlie Vasaturo on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles
The matchup was intriguing enough for the South Jersey hockey community, as it featured three players and friends from the area. To expand the allure, the Frozen Four was at the Wells Fargo Center, part of Philadelphia’s familiar Sports Complex.
“We were lucky enough to get there, and then to see that the first game was against Johnny and Matty was great,” he said. “We kind of said our good lucks beforehand. We had all our friends there, they were at the game, banging on the glass and stuff. It was a lot of fun.”
Union prevailed, winning 5-4 thanks to three third-period goals. Johnny Gaudreau would go on to win the Hobey Baker the following night, then sign with Calgary to make his NHL debut.
Vasaturo and the Dutchmen would advance to face the favored Minnesota Golden Gophers in the national final. Once again, Vasaturo’s team came out on top, providing him with an unbelievable memory.
“That was probably the most fun, best memory of my hockey career so far by far,” he reflected. “Just to be able to win, we had a great team that year, great group of guys, great people, great team, very skilled. To be able to win right at home, all of the family and friends right there, kind of just made it all worth it.
“Afterwards we went to the team hotel there to celebrate. To be able to celebrate not only with my team, but all the alumni, people from school, families of the players.
“I was lucky enough to have hometown family and friends also tie into ‘school family’ if you will. I couldn’t ask for a better time or place to win a national championship. That is something that I will always remember and cherish.”
This memory was unique and special because of the outstanding team accomplishment, but also unique for him because of the location. Playing competitive hockey close to home has gone from the norm to a treat in recent years.
With Kalamazoo, the Reading Royals are the closest opponent to his hometown. While trips home during the season are mostly limited to holidays, his roots remain. This year that connection has been even stronger thanks to the success of his favorite hometown team.
Vasaturo and his hockey-playing friends will surely be sharing in the excitement through their group text message as the season progresses. The ability to root for a successful team that they are all emotionally invested in is something that he hopes can continue moving forward.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully continuing to watch the Eagles,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of diehard Eagles fans, maybe because we don’t play football, so that’s why we’re diehard for the same team (back home). So I’m just looking forward to that, and hopefully good things come in the future for them.”