At the start of the 2011-12 hockey season, Quad-City Mallards forward Brandon Marino had two things he wanted for the upcoming year.
First, he wanted the opportunity to play in a system that emphasized his creativity after spending two years under a defensive-minded coach. Second, he wanted to make himself into a point-a-game player.
He never imagined a season like the one he just completed.
Marino finished with 90 points, far from the 66 he set as a goal for himself, and was named the league’s most valuable player on Monday, becoming the first Mallards player to earn that honor.
“I was a little bit shocked,” Marino said. “The five finalists all had great years and were all a big part of their team. I’m definitely grateful that without being in the playoffs, I still got recognized.
“I’m very thankful for the award. I was a little surprised, but I was definitely happy. It’s still sinking in a little.”
Marino nosed out scoring champion Todd Robinson of Evansville for the honor, earning 25 votes to finish 12 ahead of the IceMen star.
Allen’s Bruce Graham, Wichita’s Matt Robinson and Rapid City’s Shawn Limpright were the other finalists, making Marino the only finalist who was not a member of a playoff team.
“I think that shows the other coaches and teams recognized I had a really good year,” Marino said. “In our conference, you had to win 40 games to make the playoffs, and that’s no easy feat.
“I think people took into account the parity in our conference, and I think it shows they recognized I was an intricate part of the team. It’s a big honor.”
Mallards coach David Bell wasn’t surprised to see his top scorer earn recognition. Very early in working with Marino, Bell saw that Marino’s previous lack of scoring was because he had immersed himself in former coach Frank Anzalone’s style of defense first, not because he couldn’t be a key player.
“I didn’t teach him a new shot, a new stickhandling move. I didn’t teach him any skill set that he already hasn’t had,” Bell said. “I just put a system in place that provided him a little more opportunity.
“That shows his commitment to a coach’s style. Last year’s coach didn’t promote that type of style, but he bought into it and went about playing the way the coach wanted him to play. That’s a huge compliment to him as far as his professionalism.”
Marino gave a lot of credit to both the open style Bell implemented and his teammates. The Mallards had 10 other players score at least 20 points, a testament to how well the team worked together.
“You’re only as good as your teammates,” Marino said. “If I didn’t have the guys I was playing with, I wouldn’t be standing here. I think this shows that we didn’t have anyone that can’t play.”
Marino certainly proved he could play, and is hoping he’ll get a shot from an American Hockey League club or a team in Europe next season. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’ll always have this season and the success that went beyond even what he dared to hope.
“This is definitely something I’ll be able to hang my hat on,” Marino said. “I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids that I had a little success and I was the MVP of a league at the semipro level.
“I thought a point a game was a good improvement for me, and luckily, I went above and beyond that,” Marino said. “I’m very happy about that.”