Riverside native Marino staying in shape, staying in pro game
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When opportunity has knocked, Riverside’s Brandon Marino has enthusiastically answered.
This time, though, he wasn’t sure if leaving the front porch light on was such a good idea. The 29-year-old forward and his fiancée were settling into Brampton, Ont., where he was playing for the ECHL’s Beast.
Then the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Utica Comets came calling after a rash of injuries and call-ups to the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s funny,” said Marino. “I’d had a conversation with (my coach) this summer about if I was interested in going to the AHL if an opportunity came up. I told him, ‘I’m engaged and at my age, if I had the opportunity to go up and play, I’d be interested, but if I was going up and be a guy who was on the fourth line and wasn’t really playing, I’d rather stay in Brampton. So go let a young guy go up and have that opportunity.’
“He said, ‘It sounds like it’s going to be a good opportunity, there’s going to be a decent amount of ice time.’ “
That swayed Marino, so he signed a pro tryout contract and entered the last half of March having played 17 games and scoring a goal in the AHL, after having played one AHL game in six previous pro seasons.
“I like him – he’s smart, has good hands and good hockey sense,” said Comets coach Travis Green, who played with the Anaheim Ducks during his 14-year NHL career. “It’s tough say he will stay. Your fate is determined by (organizational) numbers. He seems mature and smart in areas where it takes time to get smart.”
“You want to play at the highest level you can,” Marino added. “I’ve gotten a really good opportunity to play with some really good players and I’ve gotten some power play time. Enjoying the experience and taking it day by day because things can change in an instant.”
Marino, who grew up playing for the Ontario and Riverside Jets, then the Riverside Coyotes, has showed remarkable staying power in hockey.
His junior career took off in Helena, Mont., as an 18-year-old when he scored 63 points in 54 games and caught the attention of Bemidji State University. His playing time – and production – increased each season he was there, capped by the Beavers’ run to the Frozen Four in 2009, “something I’ll never forget,” said Marino.
After embarking on a pro career that reads like alphabet soup (IHL, CHL, ECHL), his scoring surged, highlighted by a 90-point ECHL season in 2011-12 for Quad City and an 88-point campaign for Fort Wayne that led the ECHL two seasons later. The numbers continued last season in Austria.
“After college, the opportunity to continue playing is obviously not guaranteed,” he said. “I got an opportunity in Quad City. Being voted the (Central Hockey League’s) MVP (in 2012) by the coaches throughout the league shows that people in the league you played against respected what you did.”
The 5-foot-9 Marino also takes a professional approach to his conditioning.
“I’m big into the fitness side of things – it’s what I want to do when I’m done playing – be a strength and conditioning coach,” he said. “I’ve done some things already like getting NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) certification to set myself up for after hockey.
“A commitment to conditioning is part of having continued success. You have to be in shape year-in, year-out so you can play the type of minutes you’re going to play when you’re doing well.”
Marino’s fitness fascination started early. His father, Kevin, was an amateur body builder and shared his knowledge of training and a strong work ethic with Brandon.
“Training was something I gravitated toward as I started thinking about what I will do when I’m done playing,” he said. “I enjoy working with people and seeing them progress, whether it’s trying to be a good athlete or trying to be a healthier person.”
For now, the full-time training career can wait.
Photo/Fort Wayne Komets
— Chris Bayee