Texan finds a hockey home in Merritt
The Dallas Stars notwithstanding, when one thinks of sports and the state of Texas, it’s good ol’ gridiron football, baseball and perhaps basketball that come to mind.
A tad broader thinking might also garner up rodeo, car racin’ and just maybe a touch of rattlesnake huntin’. But ice hockey! You got to be kiddin’ me!
Try telling that to 19-year-old Ross Man-cuso, a native Texan, and a darn good hockey player to boot. Good enough to play in the British Columbia Hockey League as a member of this season’s Merritt Centennials.
Mancuso, a 6’1”, 195 lbs. defenseman has earned a spot on this year’s Cents’ blueline thanks to some stellar pre-season play in the month of September that helped the team achieve its best exhibition record, 5-1-0, in more than ten years.
Add to that Man-cuso’s key role in a 2010-11 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League championship title last season with the Osoyoos Coyotes, and a third-place finish at the provincial Cyclone Taylor Cup in April.
So why would anyone from the Lone Star State who was in their right mind choose hockey?
“My dad was born in Buffalo, New York,” explains the articulate Mancuso. “He was always into hockey growing up, and played at Colorado State Uni-versity. As soon as I could walk, he had me in skates.”
Both Mancuso’s parents were in the military during his younger years, which meant lots of moving all over the United States.
“I was born in Texas, but lived in California, New York, Washington and Oregon before moving back to Texas to stay at the age of seven.”
Mancuso’s family currently lives in Coppell, a suburb of Dallas and, to hear it described, a hockey hot bed.
“Hockey as a sport has grown a lot in the Dallas area, especially since the [NHL] Stars’ franchise arrived,” says Mancuso. “Now, I’d say it’s just as big as anywhere in the States. Within 15 minutes of my house, there are six different rinks.”
Mancuso’s has played rep hockey right from the beginning, and has traveled extensively as a result. One of the biggest highlights of his minor career took place in Canada.
“When I was a squirt [atom] and a peewee, we won our region and went to two international Silversticks tournaments – in Sarnia and Newmarket, Ontario. We were the first Texas team to win the tournament both years. We shocked a lot of Canadian clubs.”
Travel across time zones became almost a weekly ritual in Mancuso’s midget rep years.
“I played for the Dallas Stars AAA team. We were in the Midwest Elite League. Our division included teams from Kansas, St. Louis and Ohio State. There were also divisions in the Detroit area and around Chicago.
“Each weekend, we would go to these showcases, where we would play all the other teams in a division. Two games on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. We would leave after school on a Thursday and not get back until late Sunday.”
Understandably, by the time Mancuso was playing midget hockey, other sports interests had fallen by the wayside.
“I played field la-crosse, football, baseball and basketball until the end of my eighth grade,” he describes, “but my heart was always with hockey and once high school came around, I pretty much dropped everything else. I don’t think my football coaches liked that too much.”
Drafted by the North American Hockey League junior team in his hometown, Mancuso instead set his sights on Canada and the BCHL.
“Jerry Law, the son of Penticton Vees’ assistant coach Ken Law got me interested in playing up here. I tried to make the Vees last year but got sent down to the Coyotes. I decided that Merritt would be the better choice for me this year.”
Why Merritt? While in Osoyoos, Mancuso met and became friends with local bantam rep coach Marty Campbell.
A former Merritt-onian and MSS teacher, Campbell steered the talented Texan towards Cents’ head coach and GM Luke Pierce who in turn invited Mancuso to Merritt’s spring evaluation camp in Abbotsford.
Mancuso impressed sufficiently at spring camp to not only get an invite to this September’s main camp, but virtual assurance that there was a spot for him on this year’s Centennials’ roster.
Coming from a metropolis like Dallas, how does Mancuso like small towns such as Osoyoos and Merritt?
“I love them,” he says without hesitation. “I think Merritt’s great. I like the feel. Everyone’s been really nice and friendly, and there’s been great support from the fans, even though it’s only been exhibition games.
Mancuso goes on to add, “I really like my billet family [Dan and Janice Post] and I just think that it’s going to be a great place to play this year.”