Super Mario leads the way
There is no question Mario Puskarich knows how to score.
Through 21 games, he leads the Langley Rivermen with a dozen goals.
And those numbers are huge considering the Rivermen struggle to find the back of the net.
Of the team’s 45 goals — 11 of which came over the weekend in a pair of victories, 6-3 over Westside and 5-2 against Vernon — Puskarich has had a hand in 35 per cent of the team’s offence with four assists to go along with the 12 goals.
“He has good ability, a good nose for the net and a good shot,” said Langley coach Steve O’Rourke.
“The question coming in here was would he play defence. And surprisingly enough, he is one of our best defending players.
“He is really smart on the ice; sometimes it can come across as looking maybe lazy but he is always in the right spot,” the coach added.
“You will look up and he is not sprinting to a spot, he is already there.”
Puskarich, a winger, joined the Rivermen this off-season after a couple of seasons in the USHL.
He spent last season with the Tri-City Storm, a Nebraska junior hockey team.
“Langley sounded like a great opportunity,” he said.
He came on the Rivermen’s radar when the owner of the Storm recommended him to Langley owner Roy Henderson.
Being away from home is nothing new for the Pittsurgh-born but Florida raised Puskarich.
Minor hockey is thriving in Florida, but as the players get older, there are limited opportunities as they get older, requiring a move away from home.
So at 16, Puskarich went to Chicago for his midget hockey and then wound up in the USHL after that.
“The first year, you get a little home sick at first, but I am used to it so it is not too bad now,” he said.
His goal is to earn a college scholarship.
O’Rourke says Puskarich has good hockey sense and knows where he needs to be on the ice positionally. The question that remains is if he has the skating ability to play at the next level.
“That’s his biggest knock,” the coach said. “He does a lot of other things well.”
One thing that can’t be questioned is his work ethic.
“He can definitely compete,” the coach said.
“Out of the (21) games, there are not very many he has taken off, let alone a shift off.
“He has been a pretty consistent competitor for us all through the year.”
Another thing working in Puskarich’s favour is his willingness to listen.
“When we are showing video, he is always very open to learn how he can get better, what he can improve on,” O’Rourke said.
“He is very coachable.”