Oilers prospect John Marino didn’t have to trot the globe when exploring potential university suitors. The sixth-round (154-overall) pick in the 2015 NHL Draft didn’t need to field a number of different campuses across a number of different states to find the post-secondary that could sharpen his excellence in hockey and in the classroom.
There was no need for any that when the defenceman could continue growing academically and athletically at one of the world’s most renowned learning institutions, which happens to be a 45-minute drive from his hometown of North Easton, Massachusetts.
The 6-foot-2 rearguard, playing for the Harvard Crimson in the Eastern College Athletic Conference of the NCAA, is feeling right at home in the brick infrastructure of Harvard University and making the absolute most of the opportunity he has at the esteemed establishment.
With its 5.4% acceptance rate and only 21,000 students, getting into the foremost Ivy League school is a feat in itself. For Marino, going to the supreme learning centre in his home state didn’t seem as though it would be a reality until later on in high school, but it’s a special sentiment for the Bay Stater who bleeds Boston.
“I really didn’t really picture it until in high school, then I thought it was possible,” said the freshman, already with one goal and five assists in 19 games played so far into his first NCAA season.
“Being from Massachusetts kind of makes it more special and you appreciate it a little more, playing for a team from Boston and especially a prestigious one.”
The captivating architecture and bustling nature among the school’s scenic campus grounds – which most people only get a glimpse of in the movies – is admittedly inundating for the first-year but Marino is beginning to acclimatize to the historic setting and its reputation.
“Everywhere you go, there’s something,” said Marino. “There’s tourists all the time walking by. It’s kind of overwhelming sometimes but you don’t really think about it that much, just kind of walk through campus like a normal college.”
You never know who you could be brushing shoulders with while walking the halls, either. With alumni including former United States president Barack Obama, as well as technological innovators Bill Gates (who dropped out) and Mark Zuckerberg, some of the students attending could be the world’s next trailblazers. It might not always be easy to spark conversation with peers of such high intellect but it’s definitely something Marino has enjoyed.
“It’s hard to have a conversation with some of them because they’re so smart,” he quipped. “[I’m trying to] just kind of expand my horizons and make connections with different people as best I can.”
So far so good, in terms of campus life for the Bahnie. The same can be said on the ice, too, as Marino has been the understudy of fellow Massachusetts native, Harvard alumnus and Head Coach Ted Donato. The two have known one another for many years and share an affinity for Beantown.
Even though Marino’s NCAA career is still in its infancy, Donato has relied on him in all situations. He’s paired him up with junior Wiley Sherman – a Boston Bruins fifth-round draft pick – giving him second unit power play minutes and first unit penalty killing duties.
“We had high hopes and high expectations for John,” began Donato. “He’s a guy with excellent skating ability which allows him to be very strong defensively. I think he’s physically handled playing against older kids exceptionally well. He’s done a nice job of getting us out of our zone as well as being an excellent penalty killer and he’s seeing some time on our power play.”
Sherman and Marino’s simpatico results in the blueliner’s fluency on the ice. Sherman is a 6-foot-7 self-proclaimed stay-at-home defenceman that complements Marino’s puck-moving nature. It’s allowed the tandem to defend the opponent’s top lines and chip in offensively in the highly defensive college game.
And although they are both defencemen studying economics, Sherman assured that he isn’t holding his defence partner’s hand or tutoring him in either respects.
“I can’t say I’ve helped him out too much, he’s been a really quick learner on his own,” he said. “He kind of came right in, played really physical, played fast, quick puck-mover. I think that his game from juniors definitely translated well.”
The Crimson currently sit No. 9 in the NCAA’s hockey rankings with a 12-5-2 record. The team is poised to compete as the semester moves along and Marino will have the honour of doing so in front of proud parents.
“They love it,” said Marino. “My dad never misses a game and my mom tries to make it as much as she can. My grandparents come to games, too. My whole family’s very involved.”
Marino’s twin brother Paul is also a Harvard student, only adding to the family’s investment to the famous university.
“It’s a family that – like many hockey families – they’re very close and very supportive,” said Donato. “John’s also got a twin brother, Paul, that’s also a freshman at Harvard, so, a pretty neat family connection.”
Just like a revered university chose to recruit Marino, an established and storied NHL organization did the same.
“It was kind of just a great feeling,” Marino said when he was asked about joining the Oilers franchise. “Unbelievable just to be drafted by a historic organization like Edmonton.”
With the opportunity to continue developing mentally and physically at one of the globe’s best schools, Marino is thriving in the situation. With resources aplenty, the defenceman is in a position to flourish and has the comfort of his family, teammates, coach and friends to draw from when needed.
“From an academic standpoint, there’s so many courses and such a great curriculum to take part of,” said Donato. “From the athletic side, I think the fire burns to have a very competitive [and] great hockey team as well.
“John is proof that you can do both at a really high level.”
Images provided by Gil Talbot // Harvard Crimson