It’s been a big year of firsts for Oilers defensive prospect John Marino.
On top of playing in his first United States Hockey League (USHL) season with the Tri-City Storm, he enjoyed a championship season with them, helping the Storm secure their first-ever Clark Cup in May thanks to a 3-0 sweep over the Dubuque Fighting Saints. The championship win was the first by a Nebraska USHL team since 2008.
“It was unbelievable,” said Marino. “Obviously, we were lucky enough to win it all. It’s just a special group of guys who kind of came together and were able to achieve one goal.”
The win marked the third season in four years that there was a sweep in the Clark Cup Final, and the second straight season for a Western Conference team sweep.
Marino was also selected as the CCM Defenceman of the Week in September 2015, after he had three assists in his first game — the only game played in the week — helping his squad to a 5-1 win over the Omaha Lancers. He assisted on two goals in the opening frame and then had another in the third period.
But on top of all of his firsts, it’s also been a season of growth for the right-shooting blueliner, having posted five goals and 25 assists for 30 points in 56 games, as well as recording two points in 11 post-season games.
“It’s a tough league and I think I progressed very well over the course of the year,” said Marino. “Just getting used to the pace of the game was a big change but as the year went on I think I grew.”
The 19-year-old attributes much of his growth to his ability to adjust to the league, but also to staying in touch and speaking with Senior Director of Player Development, Rick Carriere, and the Oilers development staff over the course of the season.
“Keeping up with the pace was a big change for me but once that defensive game came then the offensive numbers came as well, so it kind of goes hand in hand,” he said.
Though his year has been filled with exciting firsts, it’s Marino’s second Oilers Orientation Camp, and he’s relishing this year’s weeklong group development, having found it to be a smoother transition than the year prior.
Oilers defensive prospect, John Marino. Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.
“First of all, I’ve never been to Jasper so that’s a new scene for me,” said Marino, referring to his 2015 experience having taken place in Edmonton. “I feel a little more comfortable this year knowing some of the coaches, knowing some of the guys, so you can adjust a little easier this year.
“It’s good to see some of the guys from last year, it’s a lot of new guys too so that’s pretty cool. You meet a lot of new people here and make a lot of new connections.”
While making these connections with his fellow teammates, Marino said that the exposure he and the prospects have had to Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coaches Jay Woodcroft, Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson have been cherished.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Just to pick their brains and see where they’re coming from, because they know the game so well and they’re just high-end guys that you just try to get everything you can out of this and take it back with you and improve on your game.”
Marino said the bonding experience with the prospects off the ice is equally as important as the learning experience these prospects have on it.
“We’re always together throughout the whole day, doing everything, skating, working out, so you basically get to know everyone here, which is great,” he said.
Ranked 13th among USHL defencemen in scoring this season, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound blueliner is committed to Harvard in the fall.
Knowing that he’ll be joining a new team and playing against what he describes — and what can be expected — as bigger and stronger players, Marino ultimately sees this camp as an opportunity to make an impression and prepare himself mentally and physically for the new season.
“I know it’s going to be a great environment, college hockey, that’s a new step up for me, I’m excited for that, I’m excited for the school, and basically just a whole new scene.”